My Relationship with Race

Aarish Shah
4 min readJun 21, 2020

(It might not be what you thought it would be)

Wilson, a factory worker in Papua New Guinea. Photo captured by me

I was looking forward to writing this post every Sunday, I saw it as a way not only of providing catharsis for myself, but hopefully opening up debate and acceptance of some of the hardest topics I’ve had to deal with in business and in life.

Since the murder of George Floyd by law enforcement officers in the USA, we have seen the culmination of centuries of oppression and angst manifested in #BLM protests across the US and other western nations including the UK.

And as I observe what is happening elsewhere, I have been forced to examine my own relationship with race.

It’s more complicated than you might think.

I used to come across my fair share of bigots out in Papua New Guinea, and I used to ‘joke’ that I was whiter than any of them. Sometimes that was enough to diffuse tension, more often than not it wasn’t. In truth most didn’t even get that joke.

You see I am the product of empire. My grandfather left India in the early 1900s to seek a new life in Kenya. Both countries jewels in the Raj’s crown. My family (writ large) has lived and prospered in the region ever since, I myself was born in Mombasa in the late 70s, well past the country’s own independence over a decade earlier.

But I grew up in the UK, an alumnus of the public school system, a graduate of Bristol University — a city with its own dark history as a principal slaving port in the 1700s. I’ve been afforded every privilege that my peers of a European heritage have been afforded.

In my mid 20s I moved to Papua New Guinea and spent a decade between it and Australia, both again former colonies of the British Empires.

So you see why I might have joked that I was whiter than the bigots.

But that’s just the overview, it doesn’t go to the depth of my relationship with race.

You see, I’ve been spat upon by skinheads on the bus when I was a teenager, I’ve had white people cross the street from me after the 9/11 bombings, I’ve been unncessarily singled out by airport security staff, questioned by immigration staff in the US based on nothing other than the colour of my skin and my name.

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Aarish Shah

Generalist | Thinker | Life Long Learner | Writer | Photographer