Racism in the UK: Our Voices with Dina Nayeri

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Racism in the UK: Dina Nayeri on her Experiences of Alienation

Mixed experiences

Racism in the UK is a pressing issue. This series of Our Voices focuses on race and identityThis week we hear the story of Dina. She is an Iranian refugee who has had contrasting experiences of living abroad. She discusses the way in which she has been both brutalised and embraced in her adopted countries and her experience of racism in the UK.

Dina was born in Iran during the mid ‘80s. It was a time of revolution and, as a result, she had “a tumultuous childhood”. There were, however, positive memories of that period too. Dina remembers the nourishing time spent together as a family, her grandfather’s rambling stories and her grandmother’s epic feasts.

A magical experience

 

Yet, at 6 years old, an opportunity arose for Dina to travel to the UK. Her aunt had emigrated there, along with her maternal grandmother, and her aunt was getting married. The plan was for Dina to spend a few months in London and then return to Iran after the wedding.

Dina reflects on the “storybook houses” she saw in London and she speaks with great excitement about being able to eat fresh bananas for the first time.

The confectionery of the UK was something she also appreciated. She describes Maltesers as “a miracle of culinary perfection.

“Talking about her feelings of being in the UK for the first time, she says “It was magical because it was so Western…so foreign”.

 

During this time, Dina’s mother would convert to Christianity.

Facing Prejudice

 

Dina describes herself as being “delighted” when she found out that she would be going to school in the UK in order to learn English.  There were a few problems, however, one being that she found it very difficult to make friends. One classmate attempted to converse with her but, due to the language barrier, she gave up fairly quickly.

She recounts that she was “largely left alone” at the school, no doubt a consequence of casual racism. This loneliness for a young child must have been very difficult to deal with, but the situation would get even worse. There was a group of boys which would punch her and kick her during break times.They would also make fun of the way she spoke.

                       “It was awful and I wasn’t learning any English.”

 

Unavoidably, these experiences have haunted her since and make up part and parcel of the racism experience.

 “Ever since then British school boys scare me… there is something particularly cruel about schoolboys in general”.

 

Being taught to be fearful due to racism in the UK

 

Even as a child, Dina understood why she was being discriminated against, she was a victim of casual racism “because I was from the Middle East, from Iran”. With war taking place in Iran at the time, the conflict was often broadcast on the news. Dina describes how British people had a very negative image of those from the Middle East which was responsible for her experience of racism in the UK. In Dina’s words:

“People from Iran are peaceful, intellectual, readers of literature. They’re not very different from English families who were obviously scared of us because they were passing down this fear to their children”. 

 

The ugliness of this prejudice was thrown into stark relief through a particularly distressing and horrific incident.

Violent cruelty

 

In great innocence, Dina describes a game of ice-cream parlour. The children were pretending to buy and sell ice-cream in a disused shed in the middle of the playground. She explains how, through the gestures, she got the gist of the game. She noticed that they were using the door handle as a make-believe ice-cream dispenser.

Dina was naturally excited, finally, here was a game she could play as it didn’t require many words. As she was playing, at one point she slipped her finger into the door-jamb and “this kid looks right into my face and slams the door shut.”

 

Dina’s finger was severed at the first segment as a result. She describes still carrying the physical scar today. She fell to the ground in agony and tears, blood pouring from her finger. She describes the kid who had done this to her as being

                                    “horrified… he didn’t know what would happen”. 

 
 Seeing a young child in so much pain due to blind cruelty, did this challenge the offending boy’s prejudice and make him realise that those who look and speak differently are just as human as anyone else?

Success abroad

 

Dina would return to Iran shortly after where “even worse things would happen”. Once it was discovered that her mother had converted to Christianity, the family needed to leave the country for her mother’s safety.

This time they would emigrate to the US but, as refugees, they were starting life from the bottom. Once again, she would face racism but she tried her best to assimilate. She studied hard at school and tried to adapt her personality and attitude to fit in with those around her. Her studies paid off and she was accepted into Princeton University.

She decided to become an investment banker as it was a position she believed would provide security. In a strange twist of fate, this would lead to her returning to London on a placement during her second year of studies.

An uncomfortable return

 

The trauma of her previous experiences began to return to her as she came back to the UK. In the US, she had been safe, coming back to the UK brought back the images of that moment of violence she had suffered.

She was worried that she would be exposed once more as being different, as not having value. She made some good friends in London during her second time there but her experiences as an immigrant meant she never completely felt at ease or protected from the effects of the racism experience.

“We were refugees, we hadn’t been accepted yet, we were stateless. When you’ve had those experiences, you’re never going to feel completely safe. I was constantly worried about saying something stupid for fear of having my entire intelligence questioned.”

 

The mysterious pull

 

Despite her previous experiences of racism in the UK, the country seems to have a mysterious pull for Dina. She would return a third time in 2015. This time she was pregnant and settling with her partner. She had undergone a career change by this point too. She says that her choice of investment banking had been a way of making herself feel safe but it wasn’t really her. She was now a writer.

A changed city

 

Fortunately, the London she encountered was very different to the city she remembered as a child. She describes it as being “warm and inclusive”.

She was particularly heartened by the celebrations which took place during Refugee Week. She saw how refugees had been embraced into the London community and how they were not just tolerated but genuinely valued for their contributions, a far cry from the racism experience she had endured previously.

 “That, for me, brought this incredible closure to this set of experiences. It was a complete 180 to the London I’d experienced during my adolescence.” 

 

Just as she had grown and developed, so had London. Dina realised she no longer needed to hide her true self in order to fit in

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Laura is the mix engineer for the Our Voices podcast. She has a BA in Music from Nottingham University and an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering from Abbey Road Institute. Alongside working for Our Voices she is a freelance sound designer and technician. Her highlights include sound design for JK Rowling audiobook ‘The Christmas Pig’, and sound effects editing on The Outlaws, on the BBC.

For the Our Voices podcast, Laura is typically provided with a Voice Over and interview. She then cleans the dialogue, integrates the podcast intro and outros, chooses the music that will add to the storytelling and pacing of the episode, then bring all the elements together in the mix, followed by mastering and then delivering the final edit.

 

Experience in Industry: 3

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Favourite Food: Potatoes

Favourite Sport: Wild swimming

Favourite Show: Anything Marvel

Favourite Movie: Anything Marvel

Favourite City: London

Hobby: Music

Favourite Book: Northern Lights

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I’m the community manager at Our Voices. I spend most of my time focusing on the implementation of our marketing strategy, achieving goals and KPIs, and the rest of the time listening to the amazing stories of our guests from all around the world. What I love most about working for Our Voices is the impact it has on peoples’ lives. It requires a lot of courage to tell your story out loud so I make sure these stories are heard by as many people as possible.

 

I was born and raised in Pakistan and I’ve been living in Hungary for over two years now. I have a Master’s degree in Marketing and I live for mastering the art of digital marketing.

 

Industry experience: 2.5 Years

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Favourite Food: Biryani – introduced by the Mughal rulers in the Indian subcontinent; this dish is an absolute delight. Also, can never say no to a good burger – extra cheese!

Favourite Sport: Cricket – I grew up playing and watching cricket with friends and family.

Favourite Show: Stranger Things – I love how an odd group of friends fight against challenges bigger than themselves.

Favourite Movie: Harry Potter – The only movie I can watch over and over again!

Favourite City: Prague – Absolutely love the Baroque and Gothic vibe of this city.

Hobby: Netflix, Travelling, and Eating- I want to try different cuisines from every country once in my lifetime!

Favourite Book: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – A fast-paced thriller that keeps you hooked from the first page to the last.

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I run Fascinate Productions, the production company behind the Our Voices podcast. I’ve had a wide variety of roles in media, from underwater videography, to live televised sporting events around the world. But since listening to my first audiobook in 2016, I’ve been all about audio and jumped in with two feet. Podcasts are enabling the world to democratise its most valuable information. They’re about spreading messages, and sharing ideas, and it’s my mission to help those holding the knowledge, to distribute it far and wide.

When Alex approached us with the idea of making a short stories podcast, with a big social impact, he got our attention. As the producer of the show, I’ve heard his guests’ highest highs, their lowest lows, and the moments of change that made them who they are – it’s been a privilege helping to craft their most intimate experiences into stories for you to enjoy.

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Favourite Food: Ice cream. It’s just the greatest culinary invention.

Favourite Sport: Rugby. I played from the age of 5 until 26 when a dislocated shoulder put me out of action. Still like to watch now though.

Favourite Show: The 100 – I love those ‘what if humans nearly got wiped out?’ type shows.

Favourite Movie: Gladiator

Favourite City: London. As a country boy from Yorkshire, I never thought I’d enjoy living here.

Hobby: Listening to podcasts while on long walks with my dog Alfie.

Favourite Book: I love to read anything business/startup related… One of the most recent great ones was Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt

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Richard Willan is the CEO of Fascinate productions, a podcast production and promotion company. Before starting Fascinate, he worked an audio engineer, mastering tracks for artists on major and independent labels.

He is an executive producer for ‘Our Voices’ where he assists with production, creative direction of the show, and marketing strategy.  

 

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Favourite Food: I love Indian food – My favourite dish is a Dansak. It’s a rich combination of hot, sweet and sour flavours, made from lamb and lentils.

Favourite Sport: I enjoy watching combat sports like MMA – Isreal Adesanya is my favourite fighter at the moment, due to his Tae Kwon Do base and speed. 

Favourite Show: Succession – an American satirical drama. The character development is incredible, and the writing is top notch. 

Favourite Movie: True Lies. I find it amazing that someone who can’t act (Arni) has so many great films.

Favourite City: London, because it is a melting pot of culture and the music scene is amazing. 

Hobby: Making music, going to gym and eating out. 

Favourite Book:  The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I love the world she created, and the incremental path the characters take into darkness. It’s amazing.

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I am responsible for writing blog articles for the Our Voices podcast. I have the privilege of listening to fascinating stories on the topics and issues that are of greatest relevance to our society today. Once I’ve done this, I create articles that provide an overview and description of the conversations in order to help spread them to the widest possible audience. My job is to make these articles as engaging as the conversations themselves.

As an English teacher who has worked with students from all over the world for over 10 years, I have got used to successfully communicating with those from different backgrounds and cultures. This has helped me to appreciate the value of connection across borders and boundaries. It has also helped me to appreciate that we are all able to learn from each other’s experiences.

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Favourite Food: Chocolate. It’s an indulgence, I know, but it tastes so good. I particularly enjoy dark chocolate for its richness and smoothness. 

Favourite Sport: Football.Unfortunately, my local team (Nottingham Forest) is not in that top league but I hope that one day it will be.

Favourite Show: The Wire. 

Favourite Movie: The Godfather. 

Favourite City: Reykjavik. I had the pleasure of spending two weeks there a number of years ago and I loved the place for its beauty, culture and calmness. It’s rare that you can be in a capital city and experience genuine space and peace and quiet. There’s also a black sand beach to walk along, although, due to the cold, I wouldn’t recommend bathing in the sea!

Hobby: Watching films. I love films, foreign films, classic films, contemporary films, just all good films.

Favourite Book: “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. 

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Favourite Food:  In a word, sandwiches. The possibilities are endless.

Favourite Sport: Show jumping. When I was little I wanted to be a professional horse-rider, and I still get a kick out of watching the pros in action.

Favourite Show: Fleabag: the writing and acting create a thrilling kind of intimacy I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Favourite Movie: Victoria is an incredible German thriller that’s all shot in one take – it’s a real trip. Plus it’s beautifully soundtracked by Nils Frahm.

Favourite City: Very hard to choose, but it’s got to be Barcelona. The food, the pace of life, the winding streets – there’s nowhere else like it. 

Hobby: exploring city streets on my bike – preferably while listening (safely!) to a podcast – is when I’m at my happiest. 

Favourite Book: Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a stunning, utterly unique portrait of womanhood, race, ageing and the principles we choose to live by.

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I am the host of Our Voices. I help to find the guests that have a powerful voice to share and then I speak to them and help to tease the stories out of them that will have a positive impact on the listener. 

While running Swoosh English, an online English school from 2013 – 2021, I had the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and many of these people had incredible stories. This inspired me to start ‘Our Voices’ because I wanted to give these people a platform to share these stories with the world.

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Favourite Sport: Boxing and football (couldn’t choose one!)

Favourite Show: 2 comedy series: Alan Partridge and The Office (UK version). I just love English humour!

Favourite Movie: Shawshank Redemption: An unbelievable journey full of twists and turns.

Favourite City:  New York – Living there for a year in 2008 changed my life. It made me believe that anything in life was possible if you want something badly enough.

Hobby: Football, boxing, reading, learning Spanish, travelling and watching fascinating conversations on Youtube.

Favourite Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a book about an incredible journey.