Celebrating diversity to unite our world

May 4, 2023

Collage created with photograph by Najafi Aazra at Pexels

Nikol Nikolova interviews young south Asian women about discrimination, and finds out how they embrace their culture

The dramatic increase in hate crimes in England, reported by the BBC in 2022, has made me more aware of the importance of understanding and celebrating diversity, in an attempt to unite and educate our society.

I spoke to London-born Aarya and Aisha, both 24 years old, and Laila, 25 (names changed).

Aarya and Laila are both Muslim and Aisha is Hindu. Celebrating their colourful holidays and sharing traditional dishes with family is an important way in which they reconnect with their roots.

Aarya and Laila recall their first experiences of prejudice and bullying.

“One day as I was walking home, a guy driving past swore at me because I was wearing a hijab,” remembers Aarya.

“I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t deserve that abuse. I felt angry that some people think they’re superior because of the colour of their skin, the country they’re from or the clothes they wear.”

Sadly, an increasing number of young people face hate speech in their everyday lives

“My close friends and family are always supportive, but I know that the world out there isn’t as understanding and accepting of difference.”

“Once as I was taking the train home, an elderly man, unsteady on his feet, got in. A young guy sitting in the priority seats didn’t move. Eventually someone else got up, for the old man,” tells Laila.

“Next thing I know, I hear shouting. The young guy was saying, ‘Why should I give up my seat for him and his people? They’re the reason there are wars around the world.'”

“The older man stood up for himself, saying ‘I’m a Muslim, yes, but I’m not the reason for these conflicts.”

“I was very scared as I didn’t know what would happen if the guy realised I was also Muslim. I don’t cover my hair so people assume I’m not, misunderstanding what being Muslim means.”

Sadly, an increasing number of young people face hate speech in their everyday lives. The younger they are when this happens, the more devastating the long-term consequences are likely to be. Experiences of hate are associated with poor emotional well-being and feelings of anger, shame and fear.

My culture is something I’m proud of, and I enjoy taking part in religious holidays and spending time with my family

Aarya, Laila and Aisha all agree they feel isolated after experiencing discrimination. When someone insults them for their clothes, religion, accent or the colour of their skin, they feel a part of their identity is being attacked. They are left feeling shame and anger.

“I’ve faced a lot of bullying throughout my life. One particular experience was when a classmate made fun of me after my mum passed away,” says Aisha, who is Hindu.

“I feel many people make generalisations about my culture, basing it on stereotypes. My religion and culture are diverse, accepting and spiritually uplifting. I wish more people took the time to understand other people’s religions so that we can build a more tolerant society.”

To explore and express their unique identities, Aarya, Laila and Aisha shared with each other the cultural aspects they cherish the most.

“My culture is something I’m proud of, and I enjoy taking part in religious holidays and spending time with my family. We cook our traditional dishes which brings us together. It has always been a big part of what makes me feel good,” says Aisha.

“I come from Bangladesh and growing up I was always embarrassed to be seen in traditional south Asian clothes. I was scared of being mocked and rejected for being different,” remembers Aarya.

A more tolerant, accepting and inclusive society is one that is better equipped to tackle hate speech and discrimination

“However, I’ve come to love and appreciate South Asian clothes and fashion, and I see the beauty in it. I celebrate it by fearlessly being different, and now I love to be seen in these outfits.”

“A lot of people think that Islam is a restrictive religion. I blame the media and certain groups who claim to be Muslims. In reality, if people took the time, they might see what I see – an open, inspiring and beautiful way of life,” comments Laila.

“It’s important to take the time to learn about different cultures and religions yourself. Don’t let someone else paint a false image for you.”

For these young women, their religious customs and traditional clothing are a way of celebrating their culture. Growing up in Britain, it’s easy to feel disconnected from their roots. Experiencing hate speech makes it more challenging to fully embody their culture.

With over 45% of Londoners identifying as Asian, black, mixed or “other” ethnic groups, this is the most diverse region in the UK. It is precisely diversity that underpins British society. This should be embraced and revered.

A more tolerant, accepting and inclusive society is one that is better equipped to tackle hate speech and discrimination. It builds a safer and more harmonious world for future generations to thrive in.

Nikol graduated from King’s College London with a first-class degree in Spanish and Portuguese studies. She is of Bulgarian origin, enjoys dancing, travelling and learning about history and culture. Nikol enjoys tackling and investigating difficult and taboo topics in her writing.

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