Stories of Men

Zainab Khan on racism and hate crime

The brutality of racism and hate crime

 “I’m not the type of person who judges people by their skin colour. So for someone to judge me by mine was just quite patronising, and, quite honestly, soul-destroying at the same time. And I wanted to never experience that feeling again.”

The brutality of racism and hate crime

In this week’s episode of Our Voices, we hear a story involving racism and hate crime. In particular, the heinous crime of racially motivated arson. We also learn how Dr Zainab Khan is using the trauma she has suffered to help others.

A typical immigrant’s story

Zainab describes herself as  “a British-born Pakistani Muslim”. She grew up in Bristol but currently lives in London. Her parents came to the UK in the 1960s as Pakistani immigrants. Zainab says that her father’s story is fairly typical of the British Pakistani migrant experience. “He came to the UK when he was 15, with a couple of quid in his pocket, worked in factories to establish himself and my mum followed a few years later.”

Making progress

Coming from this background, Zainab has shown a great ability to make progress. She has a PhD as a trained barrister and she is also Pro-Vice-Chancellor at London Metropolitan University. A university she describes as “one of the most diverse universities in the UK.” She also works as the director of the university’s Centre for Equity and Inclusion. Her choice of work is influenced by her own experiences. 

She is focused on “advancing change” and making life better for people who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. But she particularly relates to those with whom she shares the most similar experiences. “As a person of colour, as a woman of colour, as a  Muslim woman, all these different parts of my identity, I feed that into supporting other people.” These are also some of the people who are most likely to experience racism and hate crime.

A form of escapism

Yet, despite these responsibilities, Zainab’s life is not only focused on work. She has embraced the country’s national obsession: football, describing herself as a massive Manchester United fan. Talking about her feelings regarding the sport, she says: “football has provided me with escapism. 

It’s given me a sense of belonging outside of the reality of our daily lives, where, for 90 minutes, we can escape and be part of something really magic.” It makes sense that Zainab would truly value this escapism. Arriving at the place she has in life has not only been difficult due to her family’s modest beginnings. She has also had to face racism and hate crime from a very young age. The most dramatic occurrence of this being a racially motivated arson attack.

“Token ethnics”

Zainab talks about growing up in an all-white neighbourhood. “We were the token ethnics. Not just on the street, but probably in the whole postcode.” She lived in a modest 1930s-style house at the bottom of a hill. But, despite its imperfections, that house was Zainab’s home. “It was the only home I’d ever known because I was born into that house and we lived there for the majority of my childhood.” She could never imagine that this would be the scene of racism and hate crime.

Racism and hate crime

During a winter night in 1995, Zainab and her family were driving back to that home after breaking their Ramadan fast at a friend’s house. As they were approaching their street, they noticed thick smoke drifting through the air. They then saw a myriad of fire engines as they turned the corner and reached their street. 

It was clear to Zainab that something had happened but she didn’t for one moment think that it was anything to do with her house. It was only when her father gasped that she realised it was her house which was on fire. “The whole place was alight. The whole upstairs story of the house had giant plumes of black smoke and flames.” 

A family scarred

Zainab and her family were offered shelter and comfort from one of the neighbours. Whilst there, Zainab describes how her father, who was in ill-health at the time, was so traumatised that he went into a state of shock. The experience of seeing her father so vulnerable and overwhelmed has haunted Zainab to this day. “Seeing him in that state, and he seemed so scared. I don’t think any child should see their parent in that state at that age.”

Racially motivated arson

The firefighters did eventually manage to get the fire under control but the house had already been destroyed. It turned out that the fire had been a case of racially motivated arson. But the arsonists had not only burnt the house, they’d burgled it and defecated in multiple rooms. 

The level of premeditation was such that they had created a bonfire in one of the rooms using the family’s clothes. They’d done this to ensure that the intensity of the fire would be such that it would likely destroy the entire house. The arsonists had achieved their objective. “They had soiled the whole house and trashed everything that was dear to us.”

Loss of innocence

The impact of this experience was naturally devastating for the family. Zainab describes how she became withdrawn for many months. The experience of racism and hate crime had taken away her innocence. Never again would she truly feel safe as a child. Shockingly, those responsible for the racially motivated arson attack were never found by the police.

“So that also sort of promulgates that fear that they’re going to come back and… victimise us again.”

A victim of racism 

The event also made Zainab very much aware of how she was often defined by wider society by her race and religious identification. This difference was the motivation of another attack she experienced while driving her car listening to pop-rock. She had stopped at a traffic light and noticed two teenage boys who were on the pavement opposite her.

She sensed danger immediately from the way that the boys were staring at her. “I remember looking at these two thinking, oh god, they don’t like the look of me.” Suddenly, she saw that the boys were picking up excrement from the ground and throwing it at her car window. Fortunately, they missed the gap where the window was slightly ajar but the excrement hit the window. The boys reinforced their violence by shouting racial epithets at Zainab. She drove away humiliated.

Wanting to take action

Reflecting on the experience, Zainab says that, after a few days, she had almost normalised what happened due to being a victim of racism so often. Yet she wishes that she had taken action against these boys in order to help to challenge the racist violence which occurs far too frequently.

In her career, it is her goal to make a positive difference. She was awarded for her work on promoting opportunities for those from minority backgrounds by the Guardian Awards and the Inclusive Companies Awards. She has taken the experiences of racism and hate crime that she and her family have been subjected to and she has channelled them into striving for a better future for the younger generation. 

Striving for a better future

She describes her current role as being focused on “advancing equity and inclusion for all of our staff, all of our students.” Despite her experiences, including the racially motivated arson that she was exposed to at such a young age, it is clear that Zainab is a high-achiever. She has put herself in a position to make a profoundly positive difference for young people who come from similar backgrounds to herself.

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Laura is the mix engineer for the Stories of Men podcast. She has a BA in Music from Nottingham University and an Advanced Diploma in Music Production and Sound Engineering from Abbey Road Institute. Alongside working for Our Voices she is a freelance sound designer and technician. Her highlights include sound design for JK Rowling audiobook ‘The Christmas Pig’, and sound effects editing on The Outlaws, on the BBC.

For the Stories of Men podcast, Laura is typically provided with a Voice Over and interview. She then cleans the dialogue, integrates the podcast intro and outros, chooses the music that will add to the storytelling and pacing of the episode, then bring all the elements together in the mix, followed by mastering and then delivering the final edit.

Experience in Industry: 3


Favourite Food: Potatoes

Favourite Sport: Wild swimming

Favourite Show: Anything Marvel

Favourite Movie: Anything Marvel

Favourite City: London

Hobby: Music

Favourite Book: Northern Lights


I’m the community manager at Stories of Men. I spend most of my time focusing on the implementation of our marketing strategy, achieving goals and KPIs, and the rest of the time listening to the amazing stories of our guests. What I love most about working for Stories of men is the impact it has on peoples’ lives. It requires a lot of courage to tell your story out loud so I make sure these stories are heard by as many people as possible.

I was born and raised in Pakistan and I’ve been living in Hungary for over two years now. I have a Master’s degree in Marketing and I live for mastering the art of digital marketing.

Industry experience: 3 Years


Favourite Food: Biryani – introduced by the Mughal rulers in the Indian subcontinent; this dish is an absolute delight. Also, can never say no to a good burger – extra cheese!

Favourite Sport: Cricket – I grew up playing and watching cricket with friends and family.

Favourite Show: Stranger Things – I love how an odd group of friends fight against challenges bigger than themselves.

Favourite Movie: Harry Potter – The only movie I can watch over and over again!

Favourite City: Prague – Absolutely love the Baroque and Gothic vibe of this city.

Hobby: Netflix, Travelling, and Eating- I want to try different cuisines from every country once in my lifetime!

Favourite Book: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – A fast-paced thriller that keeps you hooked from the first page to the last.


I run Fascinate Productions, the production company behind the Stories of Men podcast. I’ve had a wide variety of roles in media, from underwater videography, to live televised sporting events around the world. But since listening to my first audiobook in 2016, I’ve been all about audio and jumped in with two feet. Podcasts are enabling the world to democratise its most valuable information. They’re about spreading messages, and sharing ideas, and it’s my mission to help those holding the knowledge, to distribute it far and wide.

When Alex approached us with the idea of making a short stories podcast, with a big social impact, he got our attention. As the producer of the show, I’ve heard his guests’ highest highs, their lowest lows, and the moments of change that made them who they are – it’s been a privilege helping to craft their most intimate experiences into stories for you to enjoy.

 Experience in Industry: 5 years


Favourite Food: Ice cream. It’s just the greatest culinary invention.

Favourite Sport: Rugby. I played from the age of 5 until 26 when a dislocated shoulder put me out of action. Still like to watch now though.

Favourite Show: The 100 – I love those ‘what if humans nearly got wiped out?’ type shows.

Favourite Movie: Gladiator

Favourite City: London. As a country boy from Yorkshire, I never thought I’d enjoy living here.

Hobby: Listening to podcasts while on long walks with my dog Alfie.

Favourite Book: I love to read anything business/startup related… One of the most recent great ones was Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt



Richard Willan is the CEO of Fascinate productions, a podcast production and promotion company. Before starting Fascinate, he worked an audio engineer, mastering tracks for artists on major and independent labels.

He is an executive producer for ‘Stories of Men’ where he assists with production, creative direction of the show, and marketing strategy.  





Favourite Food: I love Indian food – My favourite dish is a Dansak. It’s a rich combination of hot, sweet and sour flavours, made from lamb and lentils.

Favourite Sport: I enjoy watching combat sports like MMA – Isreal Adesanya is my favourite fighter at the moment, due to his Tae Kwon Do base and speed. 

Favourite Show: Succession – an American satirical drama. The character development is incredible, and the writing is top notch. 

Favourite Movie: True Lies. I find it amazing that someone who can’t act (Arni) has so many great films.

Favourite City: London, because it is a melting pot of culture and the music scene is amazing. 

Hobby: Making music, going to gym and eating out. 

Favourite Book:  The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I love the world she created, and the incremental path the characters take into darkness. It’s amazing.


I am responsible for writing blog articles for the Stories of Men podcast. I have the privilege of listening to fascinating stories on the topics and issues regarding men that are of greatest relevance to our society today. Once I’ve done this, I create articles that provide an overview and description of the conversations in order to help spread them to the widest possible audience. My job is to make these articles as engaging as the conversations themselves.

As an English teacher who has worked with students from all over the world for over 10 years, I have got used to successfully communicating with those from different backgrounds and cultures. This has helped me to appreciate the value of connection across borders and boundaries. It has also helped me to appreciate that we are all able to learn from each other’s experiences.



Favourite Food: Chocolate. It’s an indulgence, I know, but it tastes so good. I particularly enjoy dark chocolate for its richness and smoothness. 

Favourite Sport: Football.Unfortunately, my local team (Nottingham Forest) is not in that top league but I hope that one day it will be.

Favourite Show: The Wire. 

Favourite Movie: The Godfather. 

Favourite City: Reykjavik. I had the pleasure of spending two weeks there a number of years ago and I loved the place for its beauty, culture and calmness. It’s rare that you can be in a capital city and experience genuine space and peace and quiet. There’s also a black sand beach to walk along, although, due to the cold, I wouldn’t recommend bathing in the sea!

Hobby: Watching films. I love films, foreign films, classic films, contemporary films, just all good films.

Favourite Book: “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. 

I’m the Editor of Stories of men. I craft compelling narratives from the stories of our fantastic guests, editing their interviews and scripting the episodes. I’m a freelance journalist and audio producer from Northern Ireland, currently based in California. I cover social issues, health and gender – with reporting in The Guardian, Vice, NPR, Cosmopolitan and many others. My focus is shining a light on the communities and initiatives that improve people’s lives. I have a background in the nonprofit space, having worked in communications for a mental health charity, as well as an education start-up. I mentor young female writers and sit on the board of an NGO that empowers women in global supply chains. 

Favourite Food:  In a word, sandwiches. The possibilities are endless.

Favourite Sport: Show jumping. When I was little I wanted to be a professional horse-rider, and I still get a kick out of watching the pros in action.

Favourite Show: Fleabag: the writing and acting create a thrilling kind of intimacy I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Favourite Movie: Victoria is an incredible German thriller that’s all shot in one take – it’s a real trip. Plus it’s beautifully soundtracked by Nils Frahm.

Favourite City: Very hard to choose, but it’s got to be Barcelona. The food, the pace of life, the winding streets – there’s nowhere else like it. 

Hobby: exploring city streets on my bike – preferably while listening (safely!) to a podcast – is when I’m at my happiest. 

Favourite Book: Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a stunning, utterly unique portrait of womanhood, race, ageing and the principles we choose to live 

I am the host of Stories of Men. I help to find men that have a powerful voice to share and then I speak to them and help to tease the stories out of them that will have a positive impact on the listener. 

While running Swoosh English, an online English school from 2013 – 2021, I had the opportunity to meet men from all walks of life and many of these guys had incredible stories. This inspired me to start ‘Stories of Men’ because I wanted to give these men a platform to share their stories with the world.

I love the detail that people go into and how people craft stories in different ways. My dream and vision for the future would be countless people messaging to tell us how a particular episode has changed their lives!


Favourite Food: Avocados – an incredibly delicious fruit that can be used in so many dishes. My favourite is guacamole with nachos!

Favourite Sport: Boxing and football (couldn’t choose one!)

Favourite Show: 2 comedy series: Alan Partridge and The Office (UK version). I just love English humour!

Favourite Movie: Shawshank Redemption: An unbelievable journey full of twists and turns.

Favourite City:  New York – Living there for a year in 2008 changed my life. It made me believe that anything in life was possible if you want something badly enough.

Hobby: Football, boxing, reading, learning Spanish, travelling and watching fascinating conversations on Youtube.

Favourite Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – a book about an incredible journey.