Warning: this piece contains offensive language
“A guy called me a shoebomber once. That was new to me and I was laughing about it because I didn’t know what he was going on about. It was only afterwards, when reading up on it, did it become an insult.”
As Hammad Miah prepares to compete in the Championship League on Sunday, he speaks to BBC Sport about his own experience of racism following the death of George Floyd in the USA.
Floyd, an unarmed black man who screamed “I can’t breathe” while his neck was pinned under an officer’s knee, has become a symbol for change with the #BlackLivesMatter movement that has sparked huge anti-racism protests across the country.
This week, sports stars including Serena Williams, Paul Pogba and Lewis Hamilton have added their voices. And there was a display of protest from snooker world number 75 Alfie Burden, who took a knee before his match against Ryan Day at the Championship League on Wednesday.
The concerns raised are all too familiar for Miah, who takes the 64th and final spot at the event in Milton Keynes, host to snooker’s first tournament since the season was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I did have problems growing up; I faced a lot of racism,” Miah said. “But that has shaped me into the person I am today.
“It is because of Islam that I have calmed down a little bit. That experience of being called a Paki or taking the piss out of me because I am Muslim was really tough.”
In a open and honest interview, Miah talks about:
- Sympathising with those rioting in the USA to make their feelings known
- How he would “100% be in a gang” if he still lived in London
- Bare-knuckle fighting with a fellow snooker player
- Being harassed by police when growing up
‘When I was growing up, the only way out was fighting’
Americans have defied curfews in cities and the threat of military action from President Donald Trump to take to the streets in their tens of thousands, with violence spreading in some parts.
“When I was growing up, the only way out was fighting,” Miah said. “Slowly people started to realise that what they [racists] were saying was wrong.
“The reason why people keep getting away with it is because they don’t get punished. Islam is not about violence – I understand that now as I have matured as an adult – but that was what we grew up with.
“Some people have no idea what we go through and that is why we can relate to this #BlackLivesMatter movement taking place at the moment. We get it because we feel discriminated against all the time.”
‘I feel I could have become a boxer’
Miah, whose family are from Bangladesh, was born in London and later moved to Hertford. It was his dad who first took him to a snooker club, spotting the talent after his son made a century break at 13 and won amateur tournaments at 16.
Now 26, he is one of only two British Asian players on the 128-man tour, the other being Welshman Kishan Hirani.
Looking back on those early days, going to the snooker club with his dad, Miah says he used to “enjoy it”. But while the sport brought him “contentment and peace, taking my mind off a lot of things”, he pin-points his early experiences as a reason why he has failed to fulfil his potential.
“What happened in my childhood plays a big part in my snooker and is probably the reason I get so angry when playing,” said Miah, who is ranked 96 in the world. “It is my character and I feel I could have become a boxer.
“It is not good for my well-being because it plays a part in the house and those around me. If I was still living in London, I would have 100% been in a gang.
“The boys that racially abused me growing up, I had a rage and anger towards them. I did not see them for a couple of years and then I got a bit bigger so if I bumped into them I was going to slap them hard.”
‘I was offered a bareknuckle fight for £20’
Miah explains how he once had a run-in with a fellow player at a tournament in a holiday park in Wales.
“A couple of other players were around too and he started acting up and offered me a bareknuckle fight for £20 – I took his money off him,” he said.
Miah also recalls suffering harassment from the police.
“Growing up, I remember the police would give me and my black friend more trouble than the rest of the group,” he said.
“Once I got pulled over in my car by two separate police officers in the space of five minutes. They asked what I was doing here in Hertford, I told them I live here and asked whether they pulled me over because I was Asian.
“People say it is worse in America but it is just as bad here. If our coppers carried guns, there would be so many deaths and I am thankful they don’t.”
So how do you solve the issue of racism?
“People that are silent, the people that are trying to justify other crimes or responding with #WhiteLivesMatter, they are the problem,” Miah said. “There is always someone out there trying to justify something inhumane.
“At school, we learn all sorts of stuff and no-one is born racist. If they taught us properly about race and religion, things could change.
“These protests will make a slight change but nothing major; the change starts from the beginning.
“Teach everyone how to love each other, how to care for each other no matter the colour of the skin. We all bleed the same.”