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Experiences of middle-class British-Pakistani women Research and Academic Insights

Researching the experiences of middle-class British-Pakistani women: Experiencing Islamophobia

The next post in Dr Noreen Mirza‘s series based on her PhD research reveals the many ways Islamophobia is experienced and perceived by middle-class British-Pakistani women.

My research gave me an insight into the type and also extent of prejudice experienced by British-Pakistanis in their daily life. Much to my ignorance, and I suppose naivety, I did not expect prejudice to be widespread among the middle-classes. I had expected ignorance to be the cause of bigotry and I least expected this from people who had been to university, lived in cosmopolitan cities, and were well-travelled. I assumed that these experiences would make people open-minded and appreciate diversity.

The women I worked with believed that Muslims and British-Pakistanis had become a stigmatised group after 9/11. The effects of this were exasperating because of the lack of acknowledgement that the majority of British-Pakistani Muslims are law-abiding citizens who make a positive contribution to society. Prejudice seemed to be a common occurrence in their lives which challenged their sense of belonging and acceptance in Britain. Most were born and raised in Britain, and with rising tensions they no longer felt welcome or safe in a country they regarded as home. Their exposure to biased news in the media challenged their sense of ‘Britishness’.

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British Mosque. Source: RPM (www.flickr.com/photos/rpmarks)

They believed Islam was now being used as a byword for terrorism. And were tired of reading the tabloid press and comments on social media blaming British-Pakistanis for a lack of integration and stereotyping them as living off state benefits. The women I interviewed claimed that this image was far from the truth. It was one reason why the women were happy to participate in my research; it gave them an opportunity not only to air their grievances, but also in their own words, to share what being British-Pakistani and Muslim means to them.

The women in my study shared not only their own experiences of prejudice but also their children’s, which for them was heart-breaking. They recalled a litany of incidents. One was upset when her 10-year-old son told her that it was mostly white British children who were selected for school sports teams and chosen for the main parts in school plays. Her children felt excluded in the playground from joining in with white British children, and therefore played with non-white British children. The prejudice did not end here, their children were rarely given invitations by white British children to birthday parties or play dates. Thus, discrimination was more often expressed by exclusion. The women believed that these apathetic attitudes encountered by their children at school on a daily basis were damaging to their well-being by impacting their self-esteem, confidence and sense of belonging.

My participants also felt excluded in their children’s schools and at work, no matter how hard their efforts to integrate and be part of the work or school community. The prejudice they faced was subtle, but enough to instill in them that they were different, and this difference meant that they did not belong. For instance, when picking up their children, the white British mothers were polite but not inclusive, showing more warmth and friendliness to other white British mothers. This confirmed to them that their British identity was not recognised by those who associate Britishness with being white. Therefore, belonging and friendship along lines of ethnicity and religion was not a deliberate act of self-segregation but a consequence of a lack of acceptance, respect, value and recognition by white British people.

However, the women in my study refused to be passive about their situation. Cultural competence and socio-economic status enabled them to challenge Islamophobia at a grass roots level, through fundraising and social events at their children’s school, workplace and neighbourhood. It was important to them to show non-Pakistanis and non-Muslims that they shared common interests and concerns, and what united them was far greater than what divided them. They referred to this as ‘breaking down barriers’ – a conscious attempt to shatter negative stereotypes about Pakistanis and Muslims.

Related reading

Contesting culture: discourses of identity in multi-ethnic London. G.Baumann (1996)
British Asian Muslim women, multiple spatialities and cosmopolitanism. F. Bhimji (2012)
Where are you from? Middle-class migrants in the modern world. D. Raj (2003)
Debating cultural hybridity: Multi-cultural identities and the politics of anti-racism. Werbner and Modood (1997)
Pakistani diasporas: culture, conflict, and change. V. Kalra (2009)

Dr Noreen Mirza
noreen71@btinternet.com

Dr Mirza’s full PhD thesis will be available to read in our library soon.

By aiucentre

An open access library specialising in the study of race, ethnicity and migration. Part of the University of Manchester and based at Manchester Central Library. www.racearchive.manchester.ac.uk.

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