Baher Al Abd – my experience with racism and taking inspiration from Mayor of Bristol Marvin Rees

25 April, 2023
The below is written by Voscur's Baher Al Abd, Partnership Development Officer for the Bristol Refugee and Asylum Seekers Partnership (BRASP)

It is common for people to offer each other books they have read and liked. But, when you come from a place where not many people can relate, that feels like as if the entire world was handed to you. ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, is a book Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol, lent me to read when I shadowed him in March.

I had told Marvin about my experience with racism in my university community, and how difficult it is to challenge it. A lot of the time, one is discriminated against without being able to say or do anything about it. Other students would not come at you with racial slurs, or push you violently as racists did 50 years ago. It is a bit different now; more subtle. Requires less effort! Now, it is implicit attitudes and unsaid words. Even if the library is full, the seat next to you could be empty for the whole day. You are often told: “Sorry, what did you say? I didn’t understand you!”. Even though you speak perfect English, but happen to have a foreign accent. You know you are treated differently because of where you come from, or how you look. Little you can do about it, nonetheless.

I come from a war zone. A place where, for the past decade, hundreds of people died every day, including my family and many loved ones. I had a lot of dreams when I was a kid. I wanted to be a pilot, so I can fly people and get to see the whole world. Only until I realised that being a pilot would not protect me, or many others like me, from the cruelty of our world. I always asked myself what it feels like to have a safe country and a great leader who constantly works towards its prosperity. I learnt that real change comes with authentic leadership. Since then, I had known that one day, I wanted to be a leader who uplifts his nation, not oppresses it. But how easy is it to dream when the place you live in, the only place in the entire world you can be safe, your skin colour or your accent determines a lot about your destiny? Do I just surrender to a society that cannot see me past my differences?! This is what I thought… only until I met Marvin who resembled a story of courage and inspiration to me that upset my pessimistic pattern of thoughts. We all know about the stereotype that, to ever be a politician, one would have to come from a certain background, class, or education. But, Marvin presented an exceptional story that challenges this constructed image. He proved that hard work along with the will to help the community we lived and grew up in are weapons capable of delivering our aspiration to be part of decision-making and changing lives. His constant empowerment of young people of colour showed me that it is possible to fight until we are able to change the circumstances that made our lives harder.

Thanks to Marvin for restoring the hope in my heart that I almost lost. That we can be people of colour, disadvantaged. Yet, we can reach our utmost goals and aim high if we work hard for it. I learnt so much from Marvin. How to be myself, fight, and most importantly, not let any social construct or norm halt me and push me away from my aims. I learnt about what it is to be a leader and a person of colour, and what challenges come along. But, I now know what it takes. I even know better that I am willing to sacrifice all my efforts for the new place I call home. Thank you Marvin for offering me one of my earliest political experiences.