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Book week: Profile - Rabina Khan
14th September, 2007

Writer Rabina Khan's second book, Ayesha's Rainbow, was about a young seven year old Bangladeshi girl growing up in an inner-city London borough and her unlikely friendship with a white neighbour suspicious of other cultures. The book, published last year, covers issues affecting both Bangladeshi and white working class families living in inner London.

What inspired you to write your book?
The inspiration are the experiences of when I worked as a Community Safety Officer on the Isle of Dogs (East London) during the time BNP candidate Derek Beacon was elected. Racial tension between communities was stirred up even more by the local politics and people blamed Bangladeshis as getting a better deal.

I remember seeing Combat 18 members working around the Isle of Dogs and I myself was harassed during the time of my post. However in the midst of all this, there were community, outreach and youth workers trying very hard to bring communities together and eventually through tireless grass roots work they did come together not only to challenge the racist political party but the social issues that affected their lives.

Tell us about your project Monsoon Press
Monsoon Press was co-founded by myself and Rekha Waheed and we then later involved Denise Browne and Reba Parvez. We received Arts Council funding to run three different projects called: Roots, Behind the Hijab Project and Unearthing the Somali Voice and each will result in three different books next year. Monsoon has also secured Helen Fraser (MD of Penguin) to sit on its steering group. Monsoon is part of the Associated Artists Scheme and is based in Oxford House, Bethnal Green.

What sort of problems do you think ethnic minority writers face?
The Arts Council and Bookseller magazine completed a research project called 'Full Colour: Diversity in Publishing' and their results showed that there was massive under-representation of black, Asian and minority community writers and workers in the publishing world. Unknown ethnic minority writers have great problems of which race and class are the two biggest factors.

My own experiences of initially trying to get published ranged from literary agents not knowing where Tower Hamlets was and publishers believing most Bangladeshis still could not read properaly. Deep seated preconceptions often mislead people and I think the publishing world needs to realise that there is a large untapped potential readership who wish to read books that both redefine stereotypes and offer alternative perceptions. The changing tastes in readerships is related to the changing diversity in Britain.

Do you think racism is getting better or worse in your area?
In some areas in Britain racism is getting worse. This can be identified through areas where there are elected BNP councillors. Again, lack of community investment to alleviate both community and individual isolation and alienation lead to prejudice and breed racism. They are also breeding grounds to recruit young dissatisfied British white people for the BNP.

However where there have been investment and positive community projects leading to improvements. In the last fourteen years in Tower Hamlets there have been major improvements in many areas such as housing, health, education and crime but there is still work to be done.

As people learn about each other, the better their understanding of each other and the greater chances of communities accepting each other and celebrating differences. That is what my book Ayesha's Rainbow is about.

What else are you involved in?
Currently I am involved in Monsoon Press and delivering workshops around Ayesha's Rainbow for Tower Hamlets schools. I am also a Writer in Residence at a secondary school.

I am working on my second book called 'Nari: A Story of a Woman' surrounding the life of a young Bangladeshi girl in 1971 after the Liberation War. I have also finished my first screenplay called '71, again around this subject. I'm also working on a drama/comedy script based around the life of a community worker.

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