While I was thinking up ideas on what to blog about this evening, I came across an article in The Guardian which immediately spoke to me.
It discussed the polar difference in how an older generation of South Asian descent chooses to identify itself in contrast to the last two generations. It made for such stark reading that I found myself overcome with emotion and ended up doing a lot of soul searching afterwards. In all honesty, I still am.
For example, it is interesting to note that an older generation is more likely to identify themselves by their ethnic group (Bengali, Panjabi, Sindhi etc), whereas younger generations of South Asians choose to identify themselves through their cultures, nationalities and/or religions. This unusual method of self-identification comes into play despite us being far more Westernised than our older counterparts.
This concept holds true when I consider the way that my grandmother identifies herself as a Panjabi woman, whilst my younger cousins and I describe ourselves as British Asian.
One would think that the older generation would identify themselves in the way that the younger generations currently do – given that they are closer to a more accurate image of South Asian cultures and heritages than we are. Arguably, we are just walking talking capsules of what we think our cultures should be like.
So what is a plausible explanation for this relatively new method of self-identification?
Whenever I talk about the alienation and anger that myself (and many of MENA and/or South Asian descent) feel, it is almost disheartening to hear the following words come out of the mouths of our parents and grandparents: “I don’t understand this generation. Why are you all so angry? Let it go.”
I remember the time when I was told to ‘let it go’ after discussing the nuances of white privilege and racial profiling that anyone with brown skin and dark hair continues to experience following 9/11 and 7/7.
I remember shaking with emotion; a mix of anger, despair and hopelessness as I tried to tell myself that it probably was all in my head and that I probably should let it go. But for many, it is much easier to say this than put it into practice.
Why is it so hard for us to let it go? Is it because the method of discrimination and prejudice has become psychological? Has it gotten under our skin because we cannot physically place when and where it will come from next? Has it been swept under the carpet following a culture of political correctness which acts as a social strait-jacket, instead of a pacifier?
It is this inability to understand a younger generation that continues to fuel apathy, heartbreak (because it is a social rejection), feelings of disengagement that more and more individuals of North African, Middle Eastern and South Asian descent (including myself) continue to experience.
I can’t help but feel that – in a way – we were duped.
I remember growing up and hearing the buzzword: ‘multiculturalism.’ It came with smiling people dressed in suits who came into schools to talk about how different cultures made life better, more colourful and was a force for good. Everyone sampled various curries, jerk chicken, jolloff rice, biryanis, Peshwari naan and wanted to know snippets of words from different languages.
I remember my parents being full of hope that I would be part of a generation which wouldn’t experience the discrimination, racism and prejudice that they had faced in the 1970s and 80s when they first came to the UK from East Africa.
Fast forward a decade and we find ourselves in a social narrative which views people of a certain disposition, immigrants, people who speak a different language or belong to certain religions as an irritant. The most obvious example is the current demonisation of Islam, Muslims and the rise of Islamophobia.
This demonisation isn’t just exclusive to mainstream society; it exists in the subconscious minds of many non-Muslim South Asians. There is now this reluctance to align ourselves with the struggle that Muslims face, despite the fact that we are also at the mercy of Islamophobia because of our physical appearances.
For years, I grew up in a stereotypical Panjabi family who were staunchly against Muslims because of our ancestral heritage, and it never ever sat well with me. It wasn’t until 9/11 occurred that I realised that we cannot continue to live on divisions within the South Asian Diaspora, because we are now equally vulnerable and susceptible to the toxic narrative that we are currently living in. Thus, it logically makes sense for us to band together and support one another, make peace with our various ancestral conflicts and move forward together. Is that so much to ask for?
“I don’t understand this generation. Why are you all so angry? Let it go.”
It wasn’t too long ago that the Western world feared communism, the Cold War and the impending threat of nuclear war. Today, that fear has been renamed as terrorism and to be different is akin to being a leper – everyone avoids any form of interaction with you.
Then came in political correctness which has only exacerbated the situation. We have now swung to the opposite end of the scale and tip toe around each other as we live in fear of offending someone or starting unprovoked arguments. Beneath this new culture of walking on eggshells, lies a myriad of social tensions. On one hand, there are those who are fed up of having to watch what they say, and on the other, there are those who are on edge and live with their guard up in case it all kicks off.
As humans, it is in our nature to want to belong in a group and be an active member of that particular group. The phrases ‘safety in numbers‘ and ‘birds of a feather flock together’ aren’t without reason.
So while this generation of South Asians are aspirational, display most behaviours that we associate with Millenials and Generation Z and are keen to escape the tribalism and ‘community’ concept that we grew up with – it is ironic to note that while so many of us hate labelling ourselves, others and putting each other into pigeon holes, we end up doing it anyway. Even though we know that it’s wrong and fuels conflicts.
In addition, we find ourselves being sucked into newer, more discreet communities who maintain similar ideals (or worse) to the ones that we were exposed to as children. The bittersweet twist here is that these are the same communal groups which we swore that we would never ever continue or uphold – regardless of our belief systems.
It makes me wonder: are we progressing into an unknown world blindfolded or regressing in response to what is going on around us?