Thursday, August 7, 2014

You never forget

It's an emotive topic...the topic of colour...prejudice based on the colour of your skin and I recall listening to the experiences of my parents in the UK back in the 70s...people refusing to sit next to them on buses, bosses in the NHS being open that Indians shouldn't be in "high positions"...and then I look back at my journey and it's a darned difficult topic to discuss or talk about.Reports such as "Snowy white peaks of the NHS" are a reality check, a discomforting feature for uncomfortable truth which grates with many, but a reality nonetheless.

And I will tell you why it's difficult for me to discuss this. One one hand, here I am, rabble rouser-in chief, made my reputation for good or worse in the world of diabetes, stepping down from a 5 year tenure as Clinical Director when most people begin...would I have been able to do this if there was a severe colour bias? On the other hand, is it not because I have some friends I work with, who have been comfortable with me being the lead albeit the youngest of us all,a group for whom colour has meant little?

I say so as throughout my career, there has always been never dad always used to say, and still does say to me..."don't aggravate people, it's not your country after all, colour bias will come through in the  end".. And I have for ever tried to rail against that...I was born here, I contribute to taxes, do everything any British citizen would need to do..this is my place too, right? But you never never forget a senior Consultant telling you while you are looking for a substantive registrar post that it was better to apply in the Midlands as that where "your type stood more chance". He/She of high fame..great endocrinologist, great doctor...slip of tongue, didn't mean what was said? Who knows...but you never forget,right?

For those who have never faced any race bias, being questioned on the basis of your colour, you will never understand the impact of just won't.  Every single word uttered grates, makes your teeth grit, and depending on your personality, either creates a fire to consume all or a state of resigned depression and acceptance that colour is a bar and there isn't much point in railing against it.You never forget...I recall a conversation with a nurse specialist and a research registrar while at Diabetes UK, many years ago..during my tenure as a trainee..we were talking about job opportunities...2 educated women, high flying and in the course of time have become well established too...their collective view..why didn't I "bugger" off from where I came? Was it a joke? Was it tongue in cheek? Who knows...all I do know it never forget,do you?

Patients are no dissimilar think racism is associated with poor socioeconomic conditions and lack of education? Au contraire amigos, some of the most educated have said things in clinics, in ED,on the wards which have elicited mostly a witty response back...("You are a Chink,aren't you?" "No, actually I am Indian..the high cheekbones are just features of my dashing good looks"...keep it deadpan, Partha, keep it deadpan)...but they never forget. Beyond the veneer of polish and education, the nastiness of racism bubbles away.Society has made it more difficult to be explicit and open about your inner feelings but it bubbles away, ever exists in a different garb..what did that report on the snowy white peaks say again?

To be honest however, for me, that has always acted as fuel. Fuel to prove that I belong, as much as anyone else. On the contrary, it makes me wryly smile to see any achievements which perhaps inwardly makes the covert racists wince. I see educated Consultants, holding positions of power and authority making fun of accents, the way people dress, the food they eat- and now ensure they dare not repeat it again- at least not in front of me. Don't demonise UKIP when the so-called educated ones harbour similar feeling albeit beneath the facade of  charm.
You never forget the never forget who threw them..and you never forget as well that a few rotten apples don't make the barrel bad. The reality however,still is that you have to work that bit harder, that bit more differently to make a mark..everyday in the NHS. Some deal with it by battening down the hatches, some stop caring and some relish the challenge of the odds. Either way,as with anything, documents will do only so much, bold statements from Simon Stevens will only go that far...we shall see with time whether the NHS or for that matter society has it in them to narrow the divide.

Till then, you never forget.


  1. Beautifully articulated, and an inspiration to those who not only never forget, but may also never overcome bias in its many guises :-)

  2. It wasnt much fun for the Irish in the UK 1960s-1990s either!
    Even now, a Conultant told me "the dole over here is very generous to YOU PEOPLE" (ie, Irish) telling me I couldnt work anymore as a T1D
    The casual, insulting racism of a HCP on Tuesday making a mock.Irish.accent in the ED - he thought it was hillarious - but it made me question his values and feelings towards minorities? The solution was to discuss his stupidity and rudeness in Portuguese with a nearby Nurse (from.Portugal of course) to show that she and I could do so, and embarrass "culturally inferior".
    As you may agree, its not always colour - accent, language and culture seem to be an acceptable target too?
    When I moved to South America, my Dad told me that how I conducted myself in manners and behaviour and my respect for other's culture would determine the treatment of the next Irishman passing through. I lived by that good advice ever since.
    Your latest blog saddened me; a cultured, well spoken and intelligent HCP in his own country ought not to be treated in this manner.
    I hope times change.
    And I hope you never face this casual rudeness from Irish people.
    Just keep on being you Dr Kar. Don't compromise. Stay polite -Anglo Indian people are delightfully well mannered, and guys like you are a beacon to English people of whatever heritage.
    Your friend & patient

  3. I was racially abused by one or two while working in England in early eighties as an Irish doctor. It's very annoying but I must say I eas extremely well treated by nearly all. I'm not shy and I went for the detractors. I shamed them. Don't take it..

  4. There is never a reason to excuse it. Not all are able to respond to it though (variety of reasons). But, those who do say something racist, even for the first time, are not that innocent. They probably have been thinking that way for a while, before something escapes their lips. Its similar in theory to how some chancers get caught out eventually. There are plenty good people too as you say.

  5. Kudos P. What brings you down, only makes you stronger. Humanity needs to regalvanise irrespective of race, religion, colour, creed or sex.