Just before we went live on This Morning, Geri turned to me and asked “Are you Indian?”
I smiled, and replied “I’m a Coconut!”
Rylan, in his usual animated style pipes up “What’s a Coconut?!”
“Brown outside and white inside”.
Rylan, rendered speechless, as tumbleweed rolled around the studio floor just as the countdown began to go live on air.
Afterwards, Rylan said to me “I’ve never met a real-life Coconut before – you’re unforgettable!”
You’re not from round here are you?
I was born in Hounslow in the seventies. I lived on a council estate with my Indian and Kenyan born parents.
My dad was in his early 30’s when he came to England drafted in especially on a professional skills working visa in the late sixties from Calcutta.
My mum was in her early 20’s and my grandmother who had been widowed a few years before, arrived here in the early seventies from Nairobi, so they could start a new life following the brutal expulsion of East African Asian’s out of Uganda under the Idi Amin dictatorship.
My mum and dad were both from very different cultures ‘back home’ – but both in the prime of their life. They first saw each other at a bus stop in Hounslow and skipping forward a year later, they were married.
I was born unexpectedly almost a year later, arriving prematurely – and now there were three of us new arrivals.
The seventies were certainly an interesting time to grow up. Immigration was being encouraged by the British government to get skilled professional labour and wealth into the country. My dad was a highly qualified automobile engineer and my grandma had finances on her side.
However, on the flip side, the influx of immigration and allocating migrant workers highly skilled jobs became a real threat to some of the population, and this caused a lot of friction.
We call this type of ‘friction’ racism nowadays.
Back then in the seventies, the word racism had not been invented.
Countries like India offered Britain highly educated and skilled workers who were prepared to accept lowered wages. This was a boost to the British economy and Labour force.
This was a good thing for Britain in economic terms, but unfortunately, this positive economic message didn’t get transferred down to the society level.
I was about 6 years old when I realised I was not the same as everyone else. We had just moved into a new council estate, and on the day we were moving in, I was riding my bike around the estate.
Hey, you – you’re not from here are you?
A group of older kids were playing in the park. I cycled over to them. “No, we just moved in today”, I replied in my jolly way.
Where do you come from? They wanted to know.
“From down the road”.
They looked confused – Did you come here on a plane or boat?
Now, I was confused! “No, a car.”
You drove all the way here from the jungle?
Did they just say jungle? “What jungle?” I quizzed!
They laughed and asked if I brought more monkeys with me?
I laughed, slightly uncomfortable because I had no idea what they meant, so I cycled home and told my parents what happened, and asked them what was wrong with me? Why do they think I live with monkeys in a jungle? Am I different?
Coconuts are Very Important
I was surprised by my dad’s reaction – he actually took me seriously and stopped what he was doing.
He looked very serious and solemn. He sat me down, looked me in the eye and said these very important words.
It’s OK, you are the same as them. They don’t know you yet. When they get to know you – they will realise you are no different. You just need to be nice, and smile and fit in. Just blend in and keep being nice. Okay?
I nodded, and asked him why they thought I lived in the jungle with the monkeys?
He replied: “You don’t get coconut trees in this country. Coconuts are very important, they have many uses. They are a fruit, a nut and a seed. You are like a coconut Dipti. Brown on the outside, and white inside. They haven’t seen many coconuts before. That’s all.”
That was it! Thanks to my dad’s wise words – from that day onwards…
I became a Very Important Coconut!
Coconut (according to Wiki): It is one of the most useful trees in the world, and is often referred to as the “tree of life”. It provides food, fuel, cosmetics, folk medicine and building materials, among many other uses.
My dad was right – after some time – when people got to know ME – they always said the SAME THING –
You are not like the ‘others’ – You’re DIFFERENT.
You’re more like us… We like ‘you’.
After they got to know me, they stopped noticing my colour. This was fascinating. But also scary.
How the colour of a person’s skin can really make a difference to what people subconsciously think and how easy it is to make these assumptions – even if we are not really aware of them.
Name-Calling was Normal
In the seventies and eighties, British society was changing rapidly, and unfortunately some people strongly felt that the pure white waters were getting disgustingly muddied.
Racism was rife. Name-calling was normal, and discrimination was obvious. There was a racial divide starting to form, and you were either on one side, or the other.
However, for us, the second generation babies, we were in the middle, and that was a very interesting place to be.
I was born in West London – I thought that West London was my home. So when a teenager shouted at me across the street while walking to school one day “to go back home”… I walked up to him and asked him if the school was shut? His reaction was priceless – he didn’t know what to say next. It didn’t frighten me, I just didn’t understand.
The thing is, in my mind, I was born here. I grew up here. I didn’t see myself as different. I was the same as everyone else. THIS IS MY HOME!
“Go back to where you came from!” – My reply – my mum’s womb?
I got used to these comments – it became normal.
I turned up to my friend’s house one day and her brother answered the door. He knew who I was, and turned to shout over his shoulder “Susan, your Paki friend is at the door.”
“Andrew, I’m not from Pakistan, I’m a Coconut!”
My life in primary school was peppered with daily discrimination. I didn’t really notice it while I was there, it was just normal. But, now, looking back I can see how everyday I was being judged, thought of as different. The odd one out. I didn’t win prizes, I was never picked for the key roles in the play’s. I was not taken seriously. Even the teachers were racist. One parent’s evening, My dad introduced himself to my teacher and said “I’m Dipti’s dad.” My teacher replied, “I can see that!”
I Always Felt like I didn’t Belong
It didn’t get better in secondary school, in fact it got worse!
On the first day of my secondary school, my name was picked out of the hat and I was chosen to be the ‘monitor’ of the class, which meant I had to go and get the register from the school office, so I went off and got it. When I returned, the whole class was sitting down and all the seats were taken.
I walked in and asked which one was my seat, my tutor said “Sit anywhere you want!”
I looked around the classroom, and the most interesting thing happened while I was gone. All the tables were neatly divided into racial groups!
All the Indian girls were sitting together on two tables, and all the white girls were sitting together on two tables, and exactly the same thing had happened with the boys – all Indian boys together and all white boys together! I found that really interesting.
I also found it confusing, as I just stood there unable to move. From exactly that moment, I realised that I didn’t know which table I belonged to.
There was one girl sitting over in the corner, on her own, and I decided to sit with her. We were the outsiders.
I always felt that I didn’t belong. My dad brought me up to be a real life coconut, and this was obvious to the other Indian girls in my class, and quite often, they would refer to me as the coconut. They used that term in an offensive way. I was often called the “Bounty Bar” in a derogatory way, and now looking back – it seems like such a ridiculous concept to suffer racism from your “own kind”…
As I got older, I started to understand that these words, thoughts and opinions were not actually a personal attack on me. They were simply an acknowledgement of difference, which lead to a discomfort with difference.
Human beings are subconsciously tribal beings. This was blatantly evident when I walked into my tutor room with the register on the first day of school, and even as early as eleven years old, we have subliminally decided who to sit next to based on some kind of familiarity even though no one knew each other because it was the first day in a new school.
We make these decisions of who to trust based on a primitive instinct of feeling safe and comfortable. Feeling like we belong. Feeling like we fit in. Feeling like we have a place. Feeling familiarity.
Race and gender are the most obvious familiarity codes, so it seems that is how we make our instinctive choices of who to ‘trust’ and who will be a ‘safe bet’ – even from an early age.
Being a real life unforgettable coconut is a unique feeling, and I’ve learnt to be comfortable with it, and I am very happy to be a very important coconut.
What Category are you in?
Now, with my Hypnotherapy and Psychotherapy hat on – I understand how the brain works, I watch human behaviour and have identified that people are generally divided into 3 categories:
- We are the same – so I feel safe and comfortable – which is the same as: We are different – so I feel unsafe and uncomfortable
- We are the same – so I feel unseen and want to be different – which is the same as: We are different – and I like that.
- I don’t notice our differences. We are one human race and one human kind.
I’m in category number 2.