Combating bias

Writer’s argument with white supremacist turns into a lesson in history

Writer Amna Saleem's Twitter argument with a white supremacist went viral. (YouTube/BBC News)

A Scottish-Pakistani writer has spoken out about her attempt at educating a British white supremacist online that led to a massive debate on social media — and a surprisingly educational show of support for the contributions of immigrants to the history of Great Britain and, in particular, its military. Amna Saleem, who goes by the Twitter name @AGlasgowgirl, said that she had been left angry and frustrated after seeing a Tweet that suggested people of Pakistani descent had no right to live in the U.K. because only “ETHNICALLY BRITISH WHITE people (sic)” had “[defended] Britain for 100s of years.”

“Yeah, we did actually,” replied Amna. “My great grandad was in the British Army and died at war but keep trying it hun.”

Amna’s response generated a lot of traction — including from racists who insulted her and tried to claim that she was lying — but the far greater response came from a variety of commenters who chimed in to explain that “vast numbers” of troops from India, Nepal, the Caribbean, Africa, and countries all over the world had all served in and alongside the British military during the country’s long and storied history. During WWI alone, for example, more than 74,000 Indian soldiers fought and died in the British Army.

“People like me have great-grandfathers who fought and died for them, too. Yet I’m the one who’s supposed to ‘Go home,’” Saleem told BBC News. “If you’re British, you should surely know that the British army was made of all sorts of ethnicities — including my great-granddad who fought and died in the British army. My personal history differs from whatever this fantasy that you’ve built in your head.”

“It was just such an education and beautiful thread,” she continued. “I was really warmed by the response from people who are honestly educated and do know their history. They were coming to my defense, I guess, but also just horrified by the lack of knowledge from someone who professes to be proud of his country and doesn’t think I should be in it, which is wild.”

Not all the responses were positive. But Saleem said she’s learned to take such insults in stride, and that the sheer outpouring of supportive and educational comments was more than enough to outweigh any negativity.

“One of them did insinuate that I was a brown Buffy the Racism Slayer, which was amusing,” she recalled. “He didn’t realize what a compliment that was. It kind of highlighted the worst of humanity combated with the best of humanity. It was a beautiful moment that came from something pretty dark. I didn’t expect that response whatsoever, but I’m really glad that it happened … People were coming together, despite their backgrounds and ethnicities, just to educate this one racist person. I don’t think i’ll ever forget that, it was quite an experience.””

Ignorant and distorted imaginings of history, Saleem suggested, appeared to underlie many people’s racist and xenophobic views about immigration and the rights that they believed non-white people should be entitled to in countries such as the U.K.

“The British empire was vast and had a huge impact. When people wonder why we’re here, the answer is in our history — British history,” she noted. “It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, and it shouldn’t be used against us either. So when people ask, ‘Well, why are you here, then?’ it’s like, ‘Well, why were you over there?’”

Watch Amna’s full interview with BBC News below.

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