“You look like one of them Muslims”: My top five experiences with racism

I was born in Westmead Hospital in Sydney Australia in August of 1996. I have lived in this country for nearly 25 years and have no plans of abandoning it anytime soon. Regardless of how long I have lived in […]

I was born in Westmead Hospital in Sydney Australia in August of 1996. I have lived in this country for nearly 25 years and have no plans of abandoning it anytime soon. Regardless of how long I have lived in Australia or the fact that I was born in Sydney, there is always the matter of fact that I am a racial minority.

My mother and father were both born and raised in Kabul Afghanistan, a war-torn nation in South Asia. Afghanistan is an Islamic country and therefore my family is also Muslim. I however do not practice Islam within my life and unlike other Muslims, do not partake in the many aspects of the religion.

Nevertheless the Afghan and Islamic population across the world are my people. I may not identify as a Muslim, but I was raised as one. So when I see France doubling down on its anti-Islam legislation, I take it personally.

For those who do not know what I am talking about here is a quick summary;

• In 2011 French Prime Minister Francois Fillion who served under President Nicolas Sarkozy banned face veils from being worn anywhere other than mosques and or at an individual’s home.

• In 2016 Burkini’s were banned and could no longer be worn by Muslim women at the beach.

2017 saw the Anti-Terrorism Bill introduced which authorised police to search homes, restrict movement and close places of worship after a possible terrorist attack.

• In 2021 the French government put to vote the idea of banning Muslims under 18 from wearing a Hijab.

These four horrific moments of history that have happened within France, specifically the 2021 vote, really got me thinking about racism within my life. I never really talk about or discuss the insane things that have happened to me.

In solidarity with my fellow Muslims and other racial minorities, here are my top five experiences with racism while living as a racial minority in Australia, hopefully giving insight to groups who do not face such adversity.

Having a knife pulled out on me because I looked Muslim

The year was 2015, I was coming back from university and was taking public transport home. A local man was not permitted on the bus because he had open alcohol.

A family of four began to laugh at their own conversation. The man thought they were laughing at him and began to walk towards them. I took it upon myself to tell him to calm down, it was at this point he pulled out a knife and proceeded to tell me: “you look like one of them Muslims.”

He turned all of his attention to me and went on a racist fuelled rant about how I should go home, and that Australia is full.

Being told we look like an ethnic gang in high school

I went to a public high school in Sydney’s West. My friend group consisted of fellow Afghans and other middle eastern minorities. On more than one occasion a teacher who was not very fond of us would tell us that during recess and lunch we could not sit together in a group because it looked suspicious. Of course we were young and naively laughed it off.

Until one day when we pressed him and just asked why he was so bothered by us sitting together at recess and lunch. For him to simply respond: “you all look like an ethnic gang.”

Thank you for that engaging insight Mr you know who.

Countless girlfriends’ families not approving of me because my background is Muslim

You read countless and think I’m exaggerating. I am here to tell you that I sure as hell am not!

To avoid getting into it all, here is a summary of experiences I have had with girls and their families;

Being told to park one street over so they don’t see how Muslim I look

Being told to make jokes about Islam to let them know I’m cool

Having an auntie ask me what I thought about the terrorist attack at Ariana Grande’s concert in 2017 (thought nothing of it until I was told this was a test by my girlfriend after the fact)

Having a girl tell me we have to stop hanging out because my religion is an issue

Finally an experience so insane that I keep thinking it is a joke, being asked if I am ‘that type’ of Muslim by basically every girl I have ever dated.

Having a police officer swear at me

As I was walking from McDonald’s to my cousin’s car after a night out in 2016 a police officer was entering the establishment.

The police officer then loudly said as we crossed paths, “fucking arabs,” leaving my cousins and I shocked.

We sat and laughed when it happened, however to this day I think about those two seconds and those two horrible words.

It is these pivotal moments in one’s life that can shape their view of authority. In all honesty it did shape mine for a short period of time.

Having a man intentionally stay on the train past his stop so he could yell racist comments at me for longer

This lovely experience took place in April of 2021. I was coming back from a day of university only to hear a man bothering a younger girl with question upon question about where she was headed and what her name was.

I finally had enough and told him to stop. At this point the man’s tone changed and he became aggressive. Telling me that this is his country and he can bother who he wants and that if I don’t like it, I can go back to my country.

The man then began telling me I should shave because I look like a terrorist and that Australia does not like my type.

For those wondering how many stops he went past so he could continue his rant, it was five.

These were just five of my experiences with racism. There is obviously so much more to list, but these were the ones that stuck with me and have changed me as an individual the most.

I hope detailing my experiences will make it easier for my fellow ethnic minorities to talk about their own experience.

Image: French protesters march against Islamophobia in the country.
Credit: Anadolu Agency