This photo story is from Humans of New York, whose creator Brandon Stanton, is currently in Hunza Valley, Pakistan. I’ve followed his photo project for a very long time – with keen interest – but this one has particularly struck a sensitive point. So much so that I had tears in my eyes and felt moved to write tonight’s post about this.
What resonated with me was that the way this young woman feels, is exactly what thousands of people from BAME backgrounds often experience and feel (including myself). This feeling is not just exclusive to immigrants; it can even extend to those who have been born, raised and live in a particular country or from a particular ethnicity.
Sometimes, when I look around at the current state of things, I feel a sense of despair mixed with sadness. Sometimes I think, ‘when did it get so bad?’ or more recently ‘when did being intolerant become so fashionable?’ I find it increasingly difficult, to remember that there is always more good in the world than bad, which is why I love what Humans of New York champions. Throughout Avid Scribbler I have discussed the issues of growing up Asian in contemporary Britain as a woman, as first-generation, as an identity, as well as exploring the social and psychological difficulties of being brown in a post 9-11 world. But what I haven’t blogged about, is the ever widening gaps appearing between various South Asian communities, which is causing us to unravel.
It is too easy to hate someone, something or a particular culture
I’m of Panjabi heritage and my family came to the UK via East Africa after the Empire collapsed. It’s how so many stories of South Asians, who live and work in Britain today, began. Due to the political and social climate back then, Indians were forced to live in townships along with other Asians, regardless of background, religion and culture. I always recall the stories that my grandmother tells me about how everyone got on well enough to celebrate each other’s festivals and weddings. There was so much social cohesion, that they even spoke and understood each other’s languages. Now, contrast that situation with the scores of individuals, who feel it appropriate to disrupt interfaith marriages happening in various places of worship. We can further juxtapose this, with the various tensions that South Asians create with other South Asians because they hail from a different region, speak a different dialect of the same language or are from a community who have a few trouble-makers. This is all happening and is very real.
I have always maintained the belief that it is too easy to hate someone, something or a particular culture. It is too easy to blindly join a witch hunt or follow a particular belief system which demonises a group of people. I grew up in an ethnic community, which has had a notorious sense of hatred for Pakistanis and Muslims, for centuries. This animosity has been heightened since Partition and saw various wars happen between India and Pakistan, the influx of drugs flowing into Panjab and a reluctance for both sides to call it a day. Let’s not be naive about this; historically some pretty bad atrocities have been committed by both and I can understand why it is difficult for certain generations to be forgiving. For many years, I struggled to understand why that hatred has seeped into my generation and for future generations to come.
We, somehow, ended up becoming unappointed ambassadors for a crassly-packaged label
Following 9-11, myself (and probably thousands of people) felt like we had to constantly justify our religions, ethnicities, firmly state that we were not Muslim and apologise for the actions that a few senseless individuals would commit.
We, somehow, ended up becoming unappointed ambassadors for a crassly-packaged label of ‘brown-people-who-could-be-terrorists-but-we’re-not-really-sure.’ We end up apologising for idiots we don’t even know, we tip-toe around in the hope of not rousing suspicion, we make an extra effort to appear as Westernised as possible and go as far as backstabbing/turning on each other. Not only has this created an obvious friction between ethnic minorities and mainstream society, but it has once again reignited that age-old hatred from my grandparents’ generation.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” ~ Martin Niemöller
The major difference here, is that this revived animosity, can have horrific consequences because contempt, ignorance and intolerance of anyone with brown skin is now so widespread, and the concerning part is that it is not as explicit as it used to be. My grandparents’ generation stemmed their animosity based on what they experienced and what Panjabi history had told them. Their disdain was sustained for years (like a toxic time capsule) because they knew who was a Muslim, who was a Hindu and who was a Sikh. Today’s herd of ignorant people do not know the difference, which is why it is so dangerous to sustain such animosities, because they will attack regardless. This is why I am vehemently against my generation from upholding such beliefs; we are all extremely vulnerable to this. What is the use of turning a blind eye to a woman in a hijab being harassed because she’s not of the same faith? What is the point in brushing off the attacks that happen to young men with brown skin and beards because they’re not from your ethnic community? Yes, we have different cultures, religions and our histories are sadly intertwined with bloodshed and violence, but we must accept these differences and start to properly help each other, before we fully unravel.