Today’s post is inspired by a very recent conversation that I had and a result of observing social attitudes in Britain for over 10 years. I often wonder if things change for the better or if they have to become increasingly violent, devastating and evil before that change for good eventually occurs.
Living in a post 9/11 world has not only changed international relations, but drastically changed the way that millions of people view themselves with regards to ethnic identity both communally and individually. The words “Muslim” and “Islamophobia” are rampant and rife in our society. We are regularly shown images of crazed gunmen wearing turbans, wielding guns and proclaiming their hatred of the West in the deserts of faraway lands.
Ignorant people begin to make the flawed connection of brown skinned men with beards and turbans equating to terrorists, haters of the West and Al Qaeda members. Soon heart breaking stories of young Sikh men being battered to death because of their beards and dastaar reach our ears. Young Asian men with beards are being attacked without reason and young women have their hijabs ripped off in public because they’re being “oppressed” and not “being British.” And the icing on the cake is when the media coldly says: “It was a case of mistaken identity.” Yet if a white man has a beard, he’s considered “cool” and doesn’t get stopped at Customs. And if a white woman covers her head, she’s deemed “cosmopolitan” and “appreciating culture.”
To not be who you are is a painful and draining experience
Upon seeing this, many people of ethnic descent begin to feel unsafe. They hide aspects of themselves in order to conform and fit into Western society. I remember soon after 9/11 how anything non-European was viewed with disgust. I kept my religion a secret, didn’t speak my mother tongue in public and did almost anything to not bring attention to my brown-ness. And it wasn’t just me, but many Asian kids I knew suddenly felt ashamed of their background, their name, families, their cultures, religions and heritages. To not be who you are is a painful and draining experience. It was a clash because every single day of my life I had been told: “Be proud you are Punjabi.” Yet the people around me had lumped all brown people into one ugly box and made sure that we felt and knew it.
There were days where I longed to correct an ignorant individual who made nasty comments about my culture and how everyone who wasn’t white should “go back to where they came from.” And when I look back on it, I really should have said something because I would have been standing up for a lot of people and not just myself. The day I felt confident enough to speak Punjabi with my grandmother in public, speak openly about my faith and my culture was the day that I felt like I had freed myself. I didn’t – and still don’t – care if I get given a dirty look for speaking my mother tongue in public. It forms a crucial part of who I am.
My friends hid who they were out of fear and because being brown was a bad thing. Til today, there are probably thousands of people who hide their roots because they are scared of being judged or attacked. The ironic thing is that we have nothing to be ashamed of and so much to be proud of. The actions of a few cannot and is not a good enough excuse for entire communities to be condemned.