As a British Asian man, nothing about Azeem Rafiq’s story comes as a surprise - Nick Ahad

I was thinking of quitting The Yorkshire Post this week.

Azeem Rafiq giving evidence at the inquiry into racism he suffered at Yorkshire County Cricket Club, at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee this week. (House of Commons/PA).

I’ve not worked in the building since 2014, but as the paper’s Theatre Critic At Large I still like to feel I’m a part of the YP’s fabric – it’s certainly a part of mine.

In the face of a sometimes overwhelming workload, I have regularly discussed at home if I can really keep writing weekly articles about the region’s theatre scene, but the conversation always ends in the same way: I love it too much to stop.

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But this week I made the mistake of reading comments on The Yorkshire Post’s Facebook page; ones posted beneath articles about Azeem Rafiq.

The ones posted before the editors decided to switch off the comments because of the disgusting racism on display. It really, really hurt me to read those comments. “He’s saying this now for the money.” “It’s only his word we have for it.” “If it was so bad why did he stay?”

The above were three of the categories the commenters fell into. There were more – and more that were far worse. And I thought: “Do I want to write for an audience of people who think like that?” See, as a British Asian man, nothing about Azeem Rafiq’s story comes as a surprise. Nothing.

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Coincidentally, two weeks ago I was taking part in a production by Leeds theatre company Eclipse called My White Best Friend and Other Letters Left Unsaid for which I wrote a letter to someone in my cricket club, where I played from 14 years old until a couple of years ago.

The letter was about the racism I experienced at my club and it also took in the racism I’ve experienced in my industry, at every job I’ve ever worked, at university, at school. I wrote about how damaging it is.

And then two weeks after my letter was read out as part of the Eclipse production, I read comments on articles printed by my newspaper in which many readers were claiming either to not believe the reports of racism Azeem Rafiq encountered or belittling them.

And I thought my conscience wouldn’t let me keep writing for that audience. Then I realised I have an opportunity, if I stay, to share a message.

The arts teach humanity. For the love of humanity, if you were one of the people writing the remarks that caused the editors to shut down the comments on Azeem’s story, please, find some space in your life for art.

As someone once said: ‘Art is when a human tells another human what it is to be human’.

Some people desperately need that in their lives and if I can share that message here, I’ll keep doing so.