Part One: Schooled in Racism



This will be part of what I hope to be a series of posts about racism.  Recent debates around the lack of diversity in the knitting and crafting communities in general on Instagram have really brought to the fore thoughts I have always had about race.  Since reading Reni Eddo Lodge’s book and engaging with the work of Robin DiAngelo, both of whom gave voice to a lot of what I could never articulate, I have decided to no longer remain silent.  However, my voice comes with caveats: it is not up to people of colour (POC) to educate the white majority about racism.  We are not here for your use.  Our voices, are not here for your edification and vindication.  Your education into anti-racism is not our burden to bear.  However, many POC do bear the burden of anti-racism education, but the work is exhausting (Eddo-Lodge, 2017).  This work is in addition to everything else POC have to endure: having to explain every little minutiae of our existence; fighting for social space in a hostile world; justifying why we should have a seat at the table every single day; being at the table but never being seen; always, always having to work smarter and harder than our white peers. The sheer existence of a POC is exhausting.  We should not have to bear the burden of your education too.  My voice is for me alone; if you take something from it as a POC, then I am glad to have helped.  If it is educating to the white majority, then I’m equally glad.  But this is not my reason for writing, nor will it ever be.


Let me start by narrating stories, from my own perspective, from my past.  I worked, as a teacher, in a very white, middle-class area.  I taught English, Literature and Media Studies to 11-18-year-olds. I wore, and still do wear, a headscarf.  I prayed on the school premises and I was the only Muslim member of staff in the building.  The few Muslim students who did attend the school would smile and nod at me, even the ones I had no direct contact with.  Suddenly, they had an adult who was ‘like them’ and they were no longer a voiceless minority.

Obviously, I encountered racism, from the Year 8 girl running past my classroom shouting “Ali Baba” and a group of Year 11 boys asking me if I had a “chocolate muffin” (a reference to my private parts) and finally to the parents at Parents’ Evening who often insinuated that a head-scarved Muslim woman, clearly foreign, could not teach English.  Having top marks through school, college and then attending a prestigious university did not help me at all: I was still, and always would be, an alien.  (I was not the only teacher of colour; there was black female Science teacher who left a year after I arrived; I cannot speak for her and talk about the racism she encountered – that is her story).

What stands out now from the whole experience was how it was all dealt with: on two different occasions, two white children (in different classes) verbally attacked me for being Muslim and Asian.  They tried to humiliate me, they spoke to me in mock Pakistani accents, one threw something at me in full view of a class.  When things were reported, the school response was dire: both were moved into other groups – with white teachers – and it was hoped the issue would go away. In mediations, both teenagers said on separate occasions that I was not English enough to teach them: she’s a Pakistani though, why should we learn English from a Pakistani? I do not blame these children; after all, they are products of society: the boy’s father was openly aggressive to me at Parents’ Evening while the boy sat, smirking.  He said that his child was not progressing because, being Asian, I did not know how to teach English; if I did, his son would have made progress.  When I approached a senior manager about it, they ushered him into another room and I never saw either of them again – the senior manager apologised, helpfully holding my elbow: “I’m sorry you had to hear that,” but never was the issue of racism openly addressed.  The situation with the girl was the same: move her out of the class, then you don’t have to teach or deal with her.  Either way, it was brushed under the carpet and never addressed until it was brought up later – but that is a tale for a different day.

Fast-forward to teaching in very racially-mixed school; different environment, different issues and the racism was more covert. And acceptable.  Even when it was not covert, it was acceptable.  And sometimes, I helped it happen.  When teachers would remark, “these black kids” or “these Asian kids”, I would often sit there and say nothing, my silence reeking of complicity.   Once, a middle manager had a run-in with some unpleasant boys and she came to a staff meeting riled.

“Why are black boys so rude?” she exclaimed.  “And if they’re going to be so rude why do they have to come to our school?”

Silence.  Everyone did shift uncomfortably in their seats, myself included, and a few members of staff tried not to make eye contact with me.  Wretched and mute, I did not speak up.  I did not challenge her.  Because I knew from past experience what would happen.  Every time I had previously spoken about race, I was mocked and the eye-rolling would begin: “Ah, here, she is, with her race card.”  Eventually I joined in with the derision, internalising their white fragility and silencing myself with ridicule.  “Look at me, with my race card, let me pull it out of my pocket.”  Writing these words now, I feel a deep sense of shame.  And guilt.  I did not challenge anything, I did not attempt to change the conversation about race for the betterment of students of colour, for the black students, the Muslim students, the immigrants and children of immigrants: the aliens.

Why dwell on these two stories from my past when I could have picked anything else?  Because they illustrate beautifully that racism is not an event, it is a system (DiAngelo, 2018).  The former shows that when there was an opportunity to address the issue of racism amongst students and parents, it was largely ignored, not even creating a ripple.  Why?  Because the system is designed to maintain the status quo; the racism is not contained in the word “Paki”, but in the system that allows such a word to go by unchallenged, unquestioned and ignored.  Even when challenged and students punished for open racism (the girl from the first story was given a sanction), the event was treated as a stand-alone racist incident rather than part of a system; it is easier and more comforting to think of racism as hate speech than to address systemic issues. We would like to believe that because fewer people shout “Paki” in the street anymore, there is less racism; when in reality, the opposite is true.

The second story demonstrates how effectively white people shut down any conversation about race: mockery and ridicule is just one of the many powerful tools of white fragility.  The racism was overt when the staff member commented on the rudeness of black boys, but the racism was in the system and not just contained in one event. Her racism was protected because she was white and in a position of power but, ultimately, the racism is in the silence, the seat-shifting silence, the lack of challenge, the subtle system of muzzling that took place daily and covertly, so I always felt that any conversation about race was ‘playing the race card’.  Truly, I never viewed any of the colleagues in the room as ‘racist’ (and I still do not see them as such) but their silence as  privileged white women, when they could have spoken up just maintained the well-established system of not challenging those in authority – especially when they are the same as us – when it comes to racism.   As white women, clearly in a more powerful position than me, they could have challenged it – no matter what the politics in the department at the time.  Whiteness does not equate to racism, nor is white privilege the same as racism, but it is exactly that: a colour privilege that POC do not have; a position of power; the sheer act of whiteness is a power in itself.  The fact that neither they nor I said and did anything other than shift uncomfortably suggests complicity – just writing that down fills me with more shame than I can handle, shame that I will always carry with me.

In both cases, there were overtly ‘racist’ incidents; what is comfortably referred to as ‘hate speech’, the kind of racism that white liberals/progressives can label and distance themselves from.  We cannot be racist because we do not say these things, is the narrative.  However, in both cases, it was not the racist language that is interesting, but the reaction to the incidents: sweep it under the carpet, move along now, there is nothing to see here.  Silence.  Always silence.  And it is this deafening silence that screams to POC:  It is not that there is racism in the system, it is that racism is the system.

Once again, it is not that there is racism in the system, it is that the racism is the system.  The system is not racist, the system is racism.

Narrating these stories, even in the factual way that I have attempted to is difficult and dangerous.  I know that ex-colleagues may read them and be upset with me since they might recognise the incidents.  So much so that I feel the need to say I did and do have happy memories of working with many of these colleagues, some of whom are good friends – note how I feel I have to say this to avoid censure.  I am acutely aware of the perils of potential employers seeing this and deciding against employing me.  I realise I may lose friends over this, friends who would be horrified at my descriptions of a system of white privilege and racism that they have, however unwittingly, upheld and benefited from.  White liberals/progressives cannot stand the thought that anything they may have said or done could be construed as systemic racism and the defences will come up (DiAngleo, 2018).  These are all risks I am now willing to take.

I have never spoken openly about race with any of my white friends for fear of backlash, because I knew it may (would) be construed as an attack, but not now.  I am older and I am a mother. I see the world for what it is: my girls live in a world that will always be hostile to them because they will never be English enough, assimilated enough, white enough.   And I need to prepare them for this.

They cannot be allowed to go into the world naively believing, like I did, that if they work hard, get a good degree and a good job, they will be treated fairly – the same as white counterparts, because they never will be.  They will need schooling in racism and they will need to be able to navigate such a system – a system that is racism.  Despite the fear I feel right now in just typing and pressing ‘publish’, I need to speak and write to make up for my silent complicity all those years, a complicity that burdened me with guilt and shame, the scars of which I still bear today.


DiAngelo, R. (2018) White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Beacon Press.

Eddo-Lodge, R. (2017) Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race.

If you want a place to start learning about white fragility, listen to this talk by Robin DiAngelo.

I See You


Get married and you can do what you want. We’ve heard it all before, so many times. Too many times. That refrain: shaadi ke baad, shaadi kar te phir. (And I’m sure there’s probably an Arabic equivalent).

I can’t speak for other cultures, but for those of us of Pakistani/South Asian descent this is a favourite refrain when loved ones need to keep a female child from pursuing interests that don’t fit in with their own ideologies. The idea that somehow, after marriage, there will be this magic cap lifted on everything is a narrative fed to us with our rotis and ground into our rice and the very essence of our being. The message is clear: everything you want to do is dependent on whether a man wants you to do it.

So, you want to work/travel/study/volunteer abroad? You have a zeal and passion for it? Perhaps you have an aptitude for Quran or languages and want to specialise in a particular Islamic discipline? So, you do your research, you even look into accommodation and travel expenses and make a plan, tentatively making suggestions to your parents, drip-feeding them the information over time so as not to frighten them. But mainly you drip-feed in the vain hope that if they believe it was their idea in the first place they would let you go. But you gave up one night and just blurted it out at dinner and everyone exchanged glances, apart from your brothers who just kept on eating – this was not their fight, not yet. Your mother looked pointedly at your father who pretended he hadn’t heard, hoping you would disappear, so you said it again, this time your voice smaller, more uncertain.

Those of us who know, can predict how the conversation went. But it culminated in that final, inevitable refrain: get married and you can do what you want. In reality, what this means is “get married and you will be someone else’s problem”. Out of sight, out of mind. As though the baton of your ambition can be passed onto someone else. You’re a commodity, to be packaged up and posted onto someone else. So, you get married, expecting to be able to do all the things you want. Except you can’t.

From the earliest time, as little girls, we are taught to make ourselves smaller: be ambitious, but not too ambitious; get educated but not too educated; be religious but not too religious. Temper yourself and keep yourself from spilling over, lest your ambition and personality, lest your will, prove greater than a man’s. And that’s what it comes down to: overly-ambitious women, whatever their race and background are considered unattractive, but more so in South Asian communities. They’re unmarriageable, flighty and “too free”. Whatever phrase you use, whatever ideology you use, it all culminates in one thing: women can and should be modified, monitored and controlled.

Historically, religion has been used as a justification for modifying and controlling the behaviour of women and girls with a strong element of shame as an all-pervading cloud colouring everything we do. Not specific to Islam, control of women has been a useful tool in maintaining the status quo of a patriarchal society in general, a society designed from the outset to favour men in every aspect. This is much more pronounced in so-called “Islamic” communities where women are cast as home-makers, primary care givers, and even if they work full-time outside the home, maintainers of the domestic sphere. And there is nothing wrong with any of these roles; they can be immensely fulfilling and liberating for women; I know I found myself a privileged position, when, on the birth of my first child, I had the choice to stay at home and care for her, pursuing my postgraduate studies while my husband provided for us. It was a luxury to have such a choice.

Ay, there’s the rub: choice. I take no issue with women choosing the domestic sphere over the work sphere, or vice versa, as long as there really is a choice. But from the earliest time, girls are taught that self-sacrifice is more important than their own dreams and the happiness of the wider family and societal expectations take precedence over their own autonomy and sense of self. Give. Keep giving. Over and over. Give up yourself and give up your dreams. Women are creatures of sacrifice. Women are self-sacrificing by nature. It’s natural for you. When all you are taught is to make yourself smaller, more palatable, you crush your own dreams, there is no need for anyone to do it for you, because you internalise the narrative that you don’t matter; your dreams don’t matter and everyone and everything else in your life takes precedence over you. And that’s when it happens: the choice is stripped away; there is no need for physical restraint when cerebral chains take hold.

We eliminate our own choices when we internalise the narrative that our dreams do not matter.

Your husband is not a bad man; he is not a dictator, nor does he treat you badly; but marriage is not the liberator it was promised to be. Yes, you were passed on like property, but he never treated you like a commodity, like a thing. You were a person. You are a person. Except now, the narrative has been internalised, you have stripped away your own choices and those beautiful children of yours need you and you can’t bring yourself to begrudge them their need. Nurture them and help them grow; they need you. They should not suffer because you want to do other things.

We eliminate our own choices when we internalise the narrative that our dreams do not matter.

There are no easy answers, there is no quick fix. But it just needed to be said. It needed to be acknowledged because there are hundreds of women in the same position; having given up on their dreams for the sake of family, societal pressure, “religious” reasons, they continue to exist but not really live.

This is not a war cry or an attempt to free women from their metaphorical shackles. This is not a call to arms. This is not incitement to a rebellion for you to throw down the mantle of motherhood and enforced femininity and rise up.

This is an acknowledgment: I see you; we see you. For too long we have existed separately, believing ourselves to be alone; we see so many others, fulfilling their dreams and we feel isolated and cut off, as if we are the only ones who had to crush that part of ourselves that was so filled with passion; we are not the only ones who have had to modify ourselves to become more digestible.   We sit here, individually, the sun seemingly setting on own hopes and dreams, but we need to know,  we are not alone. You are not alone. I see you; we see you.

Complete NaNoWriMo and Emerge (relatively) Sane

It was November 2017, the days were darkening, in more ways than one, so I embarked on a novel-writing mission: 30 days, 50,000 words, a complete novel.  NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month was the brain-child of Chris Baty; launched in America it is now a global phenomenon with people logging on from all over the world to upload their manuscripts and “win” at the end of the month.

The idea is you write your first word on the 1st of the month and then finish a novel in 50,000 words by the 30th, uploading it onto the site’s word counter.  There is no monetary prize, but something far greater: the satisfaction of knowing that you did it; you climbed the Everest of novel writing, conquered the wave of self-doubt and planted your 50,000 word flag atop the mountain of procrastination.  And you have a printable certificate to prove it.  And a victory dance – just make sure you film it so you never forget.

I first signed up 8 years ago; newly engaged and waiting to be wed, I thought it would be a great way to while away the winter months until our January wedding.  But given the insurmountable obstacles, I never really got it off the ground: I was working fulltime as a secondary English teacher, planning a wedding and getting ready to move to a new city.  Also, I just did not have the stamina and the discipline – surprising considering I was living with my parents with no husband and children.  Fast-forward 8 years and 2 children later, and I finally found my inner-NaNo and channelled it.  I channelled it so hard that I powered through sleep deprivation, various child ailments and finished fairly sane with only a few minor, pre-scheduled mental breakdowns before the end of the month.

Many marvelled at how I did it, but I will admit, it was easier than I thought, not because of anything I did, but because of my circumstances: I am currently not working, but looking after the children fulltime; my eldest has some hours in a private nursery and I have a husband who has some flexibility in his working pattern.  Despite all this, it still required some effort and dedication so here’s how I did it:

  1. Plan and Prepare

Before you embark on the NaNoWriMo of your writing career, you need to embark on the NaNo of your mind.  Deep.

Prepare yourself.  Plan as much as you can.  Use anything and everything at your disposal to ensure you can make that word count in November.  “Preptober”, as the founders of NaNo call it, is very important.  Some buy some books to help them on their journey, others write in journals or create complex plot maps; some even decide the story is in their heads and they are going to fly by the seat of their pants the following month.  Whatever your method, mentally prepare yourself.

I bought both books written by the founders of NaNo as I like to feel like I’m doing something tangible towards my goal; one was a series of exercises designed to help you plan your novel and other a guide to getting 50,000 words done in 30 days.   So during October, I read them and completed as many of the exercises in the book as I could.  Then I saved the chapters of No Plot, No Problem to read at the start of each week during November.  Often, I deviated from my plans, but they were always there, in the background, like a security blanket: something to fall back on and look through when the words had dried up.  It was comforting to have most of my story arc already planned out, whatever happened during November, the story was already written in my mind.

Prepare your house and workspace.  This is just as important as planning your story.  Knowing where and when you are going to work will help keep you from dithering.  The books help too as they teach you to schedule time.  But ultimately, as a mother, time, space and mental energy after a day of mothering needs to be planned for.  Psychologically, you need to be prepared that when the children are sleeping, or when the eldest is upstairs listening to her stories, you are going to throw yourself at your laptop and type like the wind – no matter what.  This means easy access to everything; if that means the laptop is going to sit on the dining table for a month, that’s what needs to happen.

Make sure everyone has enough clean underwear and clothes to last at least a couple of weeks, if not longer, just in case you don’t get chance to do the washing.  Freeze meals if you need to.  Do whatever you need to do to free up writing time.  Like I said, NaNo starts in the mind, before you even touch a pen or a keyboard.

I found I had very little time for batch cooking, but when I did make a bigger meal, I froze some of it, even if it was just a few curry bases.  It took the pressure off in November when I had to focus my mental energy on writing.

  1. Lower your standards

This one may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but do you really need to shower every single day?  Do you really need to change yours and the kids’ clothes every day?  Do you need to clean the kitchen thoroughly, or vacuum?  The answer is no.  Yes, it might be less hygienic, but no one is going to die if you don’t keep on top of everything.  Typically, women have a tendency to take on more than they can handle, to prove they can do everything, but it does not have to be this way: you don’t have to have everything together, all of the time.  Give yourself a month off from house chores or, like I did, do the bare minimum to keep yourself and the house ticking over.  (Before I’m attacked by feminists, foaming at the mouth, yes, I know men can do chores too, and mine does, but ultimately, it’s generally the person who is in house most who does the housework – this is a post for another day.  Please don’t send me pro-feminist hate mail).

Sometimes, you will have to order takeaway for dinner.  This does not make you a bad person or a bad mother.  It is only temporary.  And it is fine.

Lower your standards for your writing too.  When reading No Plot, No Problem, a sticking point for me was the promotion of what I like to call “fluff” writing.  The premise was that high-fluted, literary prose was overrated and it was always better to write simply.  This goes against everything I feel as a writer; it goes against the very essence of my own personal craft, but for NaNo, it works.

Here’s how: instead of sitting in front of the keyboard, trying to write deep, meaningful prose, I sat down and bashed out and average of 1,667 words a day of simple, easy-to-read, easy-to-write sentences.  That’s not to say I ignored who I was as a writer, but because my focus was on finishing rather than it being a work of literary genius, I picked a plot that I knew I could finish. I knew I would finish because it was plot-driven and always moving forward, propelling my word count quite organically without me trying very much.

I haven’t given up my goals of writing the way I want to write; I just shelved them for 4 weeks so I could complete this project, to prove to myself I could; for the experience and the thrill.  It really did not matter if the finished novel was a masterpiece (it isn’t), but it’s finished.  And for NaNo, that’s what matters.

  1. Kill Your Inner Editor

Although this is part of lowering your standards, it deserved a separate spot.  I can’t stress this enough: DO NOT EDIT.

You are wasting time, precious time that you do not have.  The baby might wake up any second, demanding a go on one of your mammaries; the oldest might come bounding down the stairs needing a poo in the middle of a 40-minute CD – you thought you had 40 minutes, right?  Wrong.  With kids, you never have the time you thought you had.  Don’t waste the time you do have by editing.  Editing is for later, or never if you don’t want to use your NaNo novel for anything.

I dealt with my inner perfectionist by scrolling up as quickly as possible after I had written a section and just putting one word in front of the other.  I resisted the urge to read things back at the start of every writing session by quickly scrolling to the blank space at the end of my document and diving in as quickly as possible.  Initially this was painful: it was not how I trained myself to write, but it worked.  And even now, writing this post, I am using the same technique.  The baby is asleep and I have a limited window so I need to get everything down as quickly as possible and edit it later.

That’s your key word: LATER.  When you hear that inner editor saying, “Just have a look,” in that sexy, sultry voice of hers, tell her, “Later.”  When she nudges you because all those wiggly red lines are spelling mistakes so you might as well read the last section through, gag her and say, “Later.”  When she flashes her sexy bare thigh at you for that cheesy last sentence, that cliché and that eye-roll moment between two characters, drag her to the cupboard by her hair, lock her in there and scream, “Later!”

Because you won’t finish if you spend your writing time editing.  WRITING time, not editing time.

  1. Find your writing time

Ideally, you would find yourself two hours of every day to write your 1,667 words, but it does not always work that way.  Work with what you have.  When the kids are sleeping/in nursery/distracted with some toys, make sure you’re writing, even if you write 10 words in that time.  We’re relatively screen-free, so finding writing time when the children were about was difficult, but there were 10 minutes here and there when they were busy and paying no attention to me, so I took advantage and pummelled out some words.

I found that, apart from nursery times, the evening was the best time for me to write: the three-year old was sleeping and my husband was around to keep the baby entertained for the hour I needed to make up my word count.  It was the most productive and satisfying hour of the day and it made me feel great.  I would bash away at the keyboard, sometimes chuckling away, knowing that the baby had just been fed and would be fine on the sofa for an hour: she was fed, she was changed and she was loved.  Make use of your loved ones to find yourself the time to write.

This was one of the most important things for me.  I could not have made it work without the support of my husband who pushed me to get the laptop out.  We had some horrendous days and nights with the children being ill, and there were a few days I was behind with my word count, but I made use of him and of the Saturday sessions at my in-laws and always got caught up.  Every Saturday, we would sit side by side, clacking away on our keyboards, me working on my novel, him working on earning the money and I would break off to feed the baby and then hand her back to my mother-in-law and continue clacking away.

Wherever you can find the writing time, do it.  You have more time than you think you do, you just have to find it.

  1. Visualise your goal

Thinking you are going to finish, visualising the end point will help, especially in the middle when it becomes a slog.  I found having a wall of post-it notes with the word count for each day really helpful.  Being a visual person, it helped immensely that I could use a marker and strike through each word count goal and see progress right before my eyes.  The first 1,667 words very quickly turned into the first 10,000 this way.

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it – then I can achieve it.” Muhammad Ali.   Imagine yourself finishing, and you will.  InshaAllah. (God-willing)




I also cheated a little and bought myself an early victory present (which my husband ended up paying for) as it meant I HAD to finish.  I couldn’t NOT finish; after all, I had bought myself a present.  (This was actually not intentional; what I wanted as a prize was a limited-edition yarn pack – see this post on Instagram –  and I was worried they would sell out so I bought it prematurely.  Even so, it served its motivational purpose).


  1. Be inventive

Use every tool at your disposal to help you finish.  Binge-watching a TV show?  Steal ideas from it: character names, locations, visuals – just don’t plagarise.  Bizarre conversations with your toddler while you’re typing?  Use her words in dialogue and tell her she “helped” Mama with her novel.

Sometimes, even staring out of the window or at a particular colour can generate ideas.  The room you are writing in is full of ideas and when you’re stuck for a description, just pick something random and describe it.  Eventually you’ll work it into your story.  Remember: the goal is not to write a masterpiece (yet); the goal is to write 50,000, no matter what.

Need inventive ways to increase your word count?  No problem.  This is where those long Arab names are useful.  Give your characters names that are two or three words long: Abdul Rahman, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Umm Habiba.  You get the idea.  Just remember not to hyphenate as they will only count as one word.  Genius.

Be inventive in where you write too.  Technology has moved on so much in recent years.  With the beauty of the Cloud or One Drive, you can access your files across multiple platforms.  Download software on your phone so you can write one handed on your phone and access your manuscript.  I found having One Drive on my phone meant I had no excuse when it came to writing during night time feeds, however, I found it easier to just use the laptop so I waited and made up my word count every chance I could jump on.


Everyone’s situation is different therefore you may need to tweak my advice to suit you, however, I do believe that a 50,000 word novel in 30 days is definitely achievable with two young children – mine were 3 and 6 months old.  I found it easier and more motivating to complete it in November, when the rest of the world was doing it – it meant social media was full of NaNoWriMo posts every time I logged on to procrastinate!  However, there is nothing stopping you from picking a different month for your novel sprint.   Novemeber or not, I would definitely recommend it.

NaNoWriMo has developed my writing stamina, given me an insight into the research process involved in novel-writing and above all, shown me that my goals are definitely more achievable than I once thought.


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Five Tips When Starting Baby-Led Weaning

We’ve recently started weaning little Hikma since she turned six months.  Armed with //“>Gill Rapley’s book which I had stashed on the shelf from when we had Rahma, we dived right in and handed our Yorkshire lass her first food:  a Yorkshire pudding.

But I wasn’t this confident first time around.  I was overly-worried that Rahma was not getting enough nutrition, a balanced meal, I couldn’t measure what she was eating.  Most of this stemmed from having my parenting choices questioned by everyone: baby-led weaning seemed to be a “fad” to everyone around me and I was constantly reprimanded and told my baby would choke to death if I gave her food whole without pureeing it first.

Second time around however, I steeled myself and re-read sections of Baby-led Weaning to reassure myself and dived right in.  But I wish I had handy tips for when I was first starting out, just to reassure me during those first few weeks.  So here they are; the tips I wish I had:

  1. Prepare for mess

This was difficult for me as I did not like food all over the floor.  But as soon as we bought a table cloth for the floor and just wiped it down afterwards, I relaxed.  Massive sleeved bibs were also a big help.  But more than anything, it was mentally preparing myself for mess that helped.

  1. Prepare for her not to eat anything at all.

And once you’ve prepared for this, don’t let it trouble you too much.  Anything your baby eats right now is a bonus.  She is still getting everything she needs from milk feeds (especially if you’re breastfeeding) If you’re already prepared for her not to eat anything, when she does, it’ll be a happy bonus right?  And do not be tempted to give in and start giving her sweeter foods because you’re told she will take them – of course she will take them since we are programmed to prefer sweet flavours.  Stick to your guns and push the savoury first because you know that she will always take a sweet food like fruit later on, it’s going to be the broccoli and swede that may present a problem if she hasn’t ever tasted it.

  1. Follow the baby.

In the early days with Rahma, we were mocked countless times for being “baby-led”.  But this is what helps in this situation.  If your baby is tired and cranky, she won’t try food.  So follow her: let her take the nap, have the breastfeed (or bottle) even if it is dinner time.  She doesn’t care what time it is, she just wants to be a baby.

  1. Plan in advance.

It really cuts down in food preparation time if you know what meals you are having when and how easily they can be adapted to the baby.  (More on this in detail in another blog post)  If you know you’re making daal, just leave out the salt and chilli or take some daal out before you add the less baby-friendly ingredients.  That way you’re not cooking separate dishes but you’re not compromising your baby’s health by giving her exactly what you’re eating because her little tummy can’t take it.  But this is your chance to change your own eating habits too – if she sees you making healthy choices, she’ll grow up to make healthy choices too.

Equally, if you fancy a night off and are having take-away, make sure you have something in the house for the baby.  Porridge fingers are awesome and can be flavoured with pretty much anything.  Savoury muffins are equally good.  I should write some recipes, shouldn’t I?

  1. Relax and have fun.

Right now, food is not for nutrition – it will be, but not in the early days.  The more you relax, the more your baby is going to be willing to try new things.  Give her options and enjoy the messy, dirty, sometimes disgusting ride.



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Schooled in Disparity

Audio to follow.  For now, the audio file is on the Facebook page. Click here.

Written when the recent Disparty Report was published (2017), coinciding with our search for a primary school, I wrote this spoken word poem to reflect all my frustration at how, despite being British-born, third-generation, my child still faces systemic prejudice, discrimination and reduced life chances. It is a system based on structural racism at every level; something that is starkly apparent to us since applying for schools.

Note: The audio references the Macpherson Report as 1996, when it is in fact 1999.  Corrected in the text below. 

Schooled in Disparity

Don’t tell me you’ve only just heard
About what’s in this report of Disparity
Because to me that really is a travesty.
A massive divide between the rich and the poor
but that’s not all,
it’s the Black and Asian minorities who are victims of this barbarity.
Yes, it’s true, but this really isn’t news.
We’ve known it for decades in this nation,
we’ve been in this situation from before 1968,
The Joseph Rowntree foundation
to the Runnymede Trust and everything beyond and everything in between.
Highlighting disadvantage,
Held back in the workplace said Ruby McGregor-Smith.
The Macpherson Report of ‘99 still sticks.
Your racism is institutionalised,
Race and Work Survey 2015, racial harassment of ethnic minorities.
It’s institutionalised say the facts,
David Lammy and the over-representation of the BME;
the injustice system full of us ethnic minorities;
not something you can white-wash, paint over the cracks,
start facing the facts: we’ve been in this situation many times as a nation.
Listen up friends, the red, white and blue doesn’t leave much space for me or for you.


Don’t tell me that my child will thrive and survive in any school that we’re looking,
because my husband said something that got my blood pumping;
in my ears, in my brain, it drove me insane,
I tried to deny it but it came back all the same;
Over and over like an offensive refrain.

He said: Our child’s not white.

It hit me like a bus, that even today we needed to make a fuss about race,
like nothing’s changed.
It’s not the ‘60s, the ‘70s or even the ‘80s.
But he’s right.
Our child’s not white.
Don’t tell me that school’s are all the same, whatever their names because they’re not.
These days I’ve heard it a lot.
They’re not the same to us, because our child’s not white.
Don’t tell me that schools in my area are good enough for us,
because what you’re saying is we shouldn’t aspire for her to be the best.
That she should be like all the rest.
Don’t tell me our child can thrive anywhere
no matter what the colour of her skin and her hair.
Because it’s not true.
Your report says it’s so, even though this knowledge is not new.
You’ve sat on it a while, in your usual style,
pretending you care, when really, if you passed us in the street all we’d get is a suspicious stare.
Don’t tell me it’s a postcode lottery for everyone, I know.
But for us, we can’t move and not because of poverty,
but because your system doesn’t fit with our reality.
So don’t tell me that the Joneses moved for a school for their children,
that was a luxury their skin and their jobs afforded them.
White flight so now their future’s looking bright.
What’s that you say? Keep up with the Joneses?
Save up your pay. Take it to the bank, but wait! That job’s not for you, no thank you,
Your beard’s too long, too much fabric covering your hair, you say it’s not fair.
We won’t say it out loud but we all know it’s true:
Apply for 74 per cent more jobs before an interview,
then we might consider even touching you.


Now we finally got the job, we got the occupation,
now we’re part of the same situation.
Nine to five, or working around the clock,
we’re taking home the pay cheque and things are looking up.
The covert prejudice that says work harder, smarter for our satisfaction,
prove yourself because your melanin’s a distraction.
You see white colleagues lauded, applauded for doing the same as you,
but you can’t speak up because if you do
It’s a race card, conveniently your race card, in our face card.
Just work harder.
We’re not saying she’s better, but she’s definitely smarter.
I got straight As, a brilliant degree from an upstanding university.
I taught all my classes as well as I could, was told by OFSTED I was outstanding as could be.
I knew this teacher, she was an NQT, she needed help and so she came to me.
I planned her lessons, gave her all my stuff, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
Outsider, always an outsider, a minority;
Clearly more acceptable, whiter than me.
Acceptable, respectable, not matter what she said, no matter what she did.
My story’s not unique, my story’s not new, it’s a national reality for me and for you.
It’s not news, your report says it’s so; work so much harder for less recognition,
Just because we’re not Caucasian.


Is that a race card you see? No it’s reality, for her, her and her and for him and for me.
It’s not a brick through the window, it’s more stealthy;
unconscious bias, a prejudice or three.
For us stop and search more likely.
Don’t tell me a school can be anywhere, give her a book and it’s all fair and square.
Because our child’s not white.
Maths, English, Science and a healthy dose of Islamophobia;
Maybe under PREVENT she might be reported for drawing a cucumber.
And all before she hits double digits, and the concern that if she sits there and fidgets
Berated over and over because she’s under-stimulated
Another of the country’s brown misfits,
Not considered to be English though she’s as British as tea and biscuits.


Don’t tell me that we’re in this together, and she’ll be treated the same,
Because white privilege is to blame.
You shift uncomfortably, but I’ll say it again: white privilege is to blame.
Don’t tell me that I don’t care about the plight of the white working classes
and I just talk about the brown masses.
I rhyme what I know, my own reality, because if I don’t who else will speak for me?
Don’t tell me that it’s alright, because I’m seen as middle class,
with my middle-class diction and my middle-class books
and my middle-class house but not my middle-class looks.
Don’t tell me that this report is all new and my words don’t ring true.
Don’t tell me it’s the same for me and for you.
Don’t tell me when you’re sitting in your meetings, reading your papers,
That you really care, that something will change, that you’ll make it all fair.
“Burning injustices” of inequality, for all us browns and all the in-betweens.
You say it’s not about race,
O, serpent heart, hid with a flow’ring face!
Fake contrition, deceitful remorse, you’ll make it your mission, but we know it’s all false.


So, don’t tell me not to worry, don’t tell me not to fret,
About schools and education because she’s young yet.
Because our child’s not white.
We’re being conscientious, because we have to be,
We don’t have the luxury
Of sitting back, no plan of attack, because our child’s not white.
Don’t tell me it’s just primary, for most that’s not the key,
Because our child’s not white.
We’ve got start young, we’ve got to get it right.
Because our child’s not white.
Lay a strong foundation, teach her how to fight, not with her fists, but with other might.
Because our child’s not white.


Do I sound angry? Well, maybe I am.
Do I sound vexed because we have to plan?
I shouldn’t have to do this, I shouldn’t have to fight, it really isn’t right.
But our child’s not white.
She won’t have the same chances, the same opportunities.
We have to do it ourselves, rewriting our histories.
Don’t tell me what to think, don’t tell me what to feel,
Don’t tell me how to act, your concern isn’t real.
We want to be the same as our white counterparts:
We want to be represented in movies and the arts.
And not just as terrorists and downtrodden wives,
but as complete human beings with regular lives.
Because until we’re all the same and until it’s all fair,
There’ll be someone like me to rant and to shout,
There’ll be someone like me, calling you out.
Don’t cry fake news and try to turn the tides;
I never used to worry about race, or class or social divides;
I used to tell my parents it wasn’t true,
until I became a parent and saw it all anew with fresh eyes.
I saw the injustice, the inequality.
I didn’t need a report like yours to open up my eyes and to make me see.
All it took was one little child, with her big brown eyes and her beautiful smile.
I looked at her face and I realised, I would stop at nothing, so I planned and devised,
to get her the best of every experience;
but when it came to schools, I was told:
you deserve a substandard one because of your postcode.
So, it comes true the gulf of disparity, the racial divide because of where we live,
A self-fulfilling prophesy, keep us subjugated throughout history.
The past and the present has become one and the same
It’s not a brick through the window but nothing much has changed.
It’s not a brick through the window but nothing much has changed.
It’s a pig’s heads now, he’s the Lord of the Flies –
What’s the matter? You look a bit surprised, surprised that I’d know that,
surprised that I’m clever, surprised that I’m cerebral? Well, I never!


Is my offense rank? Does it stink to high heaven?
But even knowing Hamlet won’t make me less foreign.
To you I’m still the same, but you don’t realise
I’ve covered up my hair, but not covered my brain.
My opinion is offensive, maybe to you,
people online defensive: these Muslims, these immigrants, these…cockroaches.
I’m flying while Muslim, and in these times,
thrown off a plane for risky Arabic lines.
As Salaamu Alaykum. InshaAllah. Allahu Akbar.
Don’t tell me I don’t have to care and she can go to school anywhere
And she’ll have the same chance, because that’s not right.
You won’t listen to our plight
Because our child’s not white.
You’ve got your own agenda, not the same as ours;
sitting in your suits, you exercise your powers,
feeling vindicated in your ivory towers.
Women worse off, always the women, always the girls,
Why do we suffer when you tighten up the purse?
Don’t tell me we’re the same, because your make up rubs off, revealing who you are.
Your make up rubs off, when my melanin does not.
I do have to care and I do have to shout,
Because unlike you and the privileged few,
Our child’s not white.


A tumultuous black sea between her fingers, the fabric waved and rippled.  Midnight without moonlight, just the way she wanted it.  Hair, face, skin, nothing should be showing.  Shadows loomed on the wall beside her as she pulled on one garment after another, cloaking herself in her own piety.

Control.  Islam.  Superiority. Continue reading

Why Are You Crying, Mama?

I glance in the rear-view mirror and see your face.  “Why are you crying, Mama?”  You look to me for an answer to what you perceive is a perfectly sensible question; one that requires an answer straight away.  An answer that fits with your world-view.  I sigh and choke back a sob, trying not to look at you while you peer at me, searchingly.

I’m crying because I’m so mind-achingly exhausted.  You haven’t slept before nine or ten o’clock at night for such a long time that I feel like I’ve never been without you.  Continue reading

A Rucksack and Spider-man Sandals

“She’s lost weight.”

Inwardly, I sighed.  Outwardly I nodded, affirming her untruth, not wanting to be difficult.  In reality, the Small One hadn’t lost any weight, she was just looking a little slender, possibly because she was taller, but I agreed anyway.  I agreed because it was easier than disagreeing; I agreed because disagreeing would have meant I’d have had to enter into a conversation about it, a conversation I didn’t really want to have.  It was easier to agree and shut down the possibility of any debate.  Looking back, perhaps it was not the best example for the Small One: if she sees me backing down, placidly, will she always do the same?  Continue reading

You Will Need To Fight 

You’ll never be accepted, dear daughter. Your name, the name we were so proud of; the name we bestowed on you because we wanted you to be gentle, merciful and a beautiful soul, your name will always betray you. It’ll rise up against you every time you utter it. We named you Rahma because you were a mercy to us; we named you Rahma because we wanted you to be a Rahma to everyone around you in name and character, but your name, though you can never have another, is not suited to this world. People will mispronounce it, but you won’t mind, but when they say it, sneering, nose turned up at the foreignness of it, you will mind. It’ll hurt you. It will cut you deeply because you’ll be abnormal and abhorrent. That peaceful name we gave you? You may come to loathe it. It makes you too different. Continue reading

You Will Need To Fight

You’ll never be accepted, dear daughter.  Your name, the name we were so proud of; the name we bestowed on you because we wanted you to be gentle, merciful and a beautiful soul, your name will always betray you.  It’ll rise up against you every time you utter it.  We named you Rahma because you were a mercy to us; we named you Rahma because we wanted you to be a Rahma to everyone around you in name and character, but your name, though you can never have another, is not suited to this world. People will mispronounce it, but you won’t mind, but when they say it, sneering, nose turned up at the foreignness of it, you will mind.  It’ll hurt you.  It will cut you deeply because you’ll be abnormal and abhorrent.  That peaceful name we gave you? You may come to loathe it.  It makes you too different. 

Even if you change that beautiful name, you’ll never be accepted, always irregular.  Your skin is just too different.  It’s light, but it’s not light enough. That tan on your face and body, it didn’t come from a bottle or from a week in Benidorm and it won’t fade in the winter leaving you pasty and white.  You’ll always be that golden colour; it I’ll never wash off.  You’ll sit in rooms filled with people and always stand out, never able to blend in. Always be alien. You’ll walk into places and turn heads, because you look different, and always will.  To me, you’re beautiful, you’ll always be beautiful, but I won’t always be around to tell you this.  

I won’t be around when you realise that your mild and gentle nature won’t help you in a hostile world: a world desperate to rid itself of you.  I look at you sleeping and realise that right now, everyone thinks you’re cute.  That little smile and mild manner melts hearts every where it goes.  But you’ll grow up. And those who once cooed over your mannerisms and adorable phrases will hate and vilify you. They’ll stamp on that gentle nature and leave you broken and bereft, wondering what you did wrong.   You’ll take their jobs with your brown face so they’ll hate you and want you gone.  Back to where you came from.  

At the moment, you dislike boisterousness and lack confidence in groups.  You retreat to the corner of a playroom quietly when someone shoves you.  Your meekness will be an enemy to you, my love.  Your retreat will only make you weaker.  Now I realise, I need to raise you to be stronger, to be fearless, to be ferocious, if you are to survive.  You’ll have to fight for the right to access the same jobs, the same education, the same life as your lighter skinned counterparts.  Your alien name will have to compete against more acceptable names, less foreign, less alien, less unconventional than yours.  I’ll have to raise you to fight and keep on fighting, because that’s ultimately going to be your life.  You’ll never be accepted, not really.  People may pretend, but deep down, they’d rather John got the job, after all, his name, his skin, his clothing is all more acceptable than yours.  It always will be. 

We could move.  We could leave and try to raise you somewhere else, where we think you might be accepted. But what then? Leaving one displaced life for another?  Running from our own? No.  As I write this, tears running down my cheeks, I realise something: we brought you into a world that will never accept you, so we have to equip you to survive it.  Because survive you must, my love, there is no other choice.  You’ll fall, but you’ll learn to get back up, I promise.  You’ll be trodden on, but you’ll dust yourself off.  You’ll be vilified, but you’ll smile in the face of hatred. You’ll be proud, you’ll be strong and you’ll be fierce. You didn’t choose this, I know.  But you will need to fight.  I’m sorry, but you will need to fight.