As an applicant for a Creative Writing MA degree at two renowned London universities, my Pakistani nationality wasn’t an issue at any point. In fact, diversity and versatility were encouraged as valued attributes. I went through the screening process all applicants go through, which includes a submission of their portfolio to date, followed by a one-on-one interview with the course co-ordinator himself. Having been through that process at not one, but two UK universities, and having been granted admission to both, it was then the simple matter of choice. I wasn’t just proud of myself for having secured a place, but was profoundly thrilled at having had the opportunity to fulfil my life’s ambition of becoming a qualified writer. Time hurled by amidst a kaleidoscope of criticisms, workshops and tutorials. During the initial assessment, I was informed by my tutor that I could expect somewhere in the region of a C+ to a B-, and that I should be happy about that, because a B grade for me would be the same as an A for a native speaker. Although the use of the word ‘native’ did strike me as odd at the time, I was nevertheless happy about the assessment, as I was told I should be. Could I really get a B? Could I really be as adept at my skill as a native speaker? As it was, I couldn’t. The lowest grade I got was a B+, with the rest all being A grades, including for my dissertation. Well, well, what was I to do? Could I now consider my writing ability to have surpassed that of my English-speaking peers? Of course not, I couldn’t dare; but wait, isn’t that what I’d been told during my assessment? No, no, that assessment was obviously meant to help me feel better if I didn’t get good results. Not to land me on Cloud 9 if I did.
I was up for a distinction, and couldn’t wait to jump into my career as a writer! I started applying for jobs over the Internet. As it happened, I came across an ad for an internee copywriter. Perfect, I thought to myself. That’s just what I need. I skimmed the page in excitement, until a phrase jumped out and held me paralysed for a few insignificant ticks of the clock. It was a phrase I hadn’t expected to come across in my wildest dreams. In retrospect, that was my naivety, for I was to come across it quite frequently during the next few weeks of my job search: Only native speakers may apply!
Do you see what I was up against? I mean, I could gain a distinction, my thesis could be recommended for publication by my tutors, I could graduate top of my class, but heck, I couldn’t become a native speaker, not in this life, at least. I wasn’t up against my skill and my craft; I wasn’t even up against my nationality (as if that makes it any better). I was up against my ethnicity, the very ethnicity that had given me a voice in the first place. Read the rest of this entry