Badamaash

For the last few weeks and months I’ve really been thinking about the way that I, as a woman of colour, view myself and others against the backdrop of the society that I live in.

When it comes to writers of colour expressing themselves and talking about aspects of their life, there’s a tendency to focus on issues that an older generation faced. This includes things like colourism, the struggle between cultural roots and Western society and more.

As a younger generation of Western born and raised children of colour grow up and begin to document their world, it’s safe to say that the issues that affect them today are very different to those which affected an older generation. That’s not to say that things like colourism don’t affect us because it does. What I have noticed is a widening gap between older British Asians and younger British Asians in terms of what matters to us in today’s society.

An example of this is technology. Another is 9/11 which was a massive game changer for every single person of colour regardless of age, background and level of wealth.

I was born and raised in London. I spent the first decade or so of my life in inner city south London before moving out to the suburbs. It was an odd neighbourhood because at the time there were two worlds existing in one area. One was very middle class and the other was working class. I hate to use the class system as an example, but it’s the only way I can describe how different life was for two groups of people who interacted with one another, lived alongside each other, but never really understood how the other half lived.

Memories from my childhood have been on my mind following a Channel 5 documentary I watched last night. It was called Gangland: Turf Wars. I wasn’t exposed to gangs directly, but I do remember the interest a lot of classmates had in it by the time I finished my education.

I spent much of last night, and today, wondering what’s happened to them.

I’d heard stories about the Kray Twins in East London, numerous murders of young men and how they’d been killed but never really thought about what drove them to join a gang or live a life of crime. I hadn’t been exposed to that and, in essence, I’d grown up in that safe bubble where things like youth violence weren’t a part of my direct everyday life. Even though I’d grown up alongside it.

When it comes to gangs, the first image many of us think of are angry, young,  black men, white men and a handful of Asians who are marginalised from society.

Then we subconsciously think of gangs as being like organised criminal groups (such as the Mafia) when the whole idea of a gang has changed. It’s changed from being an organised ‘brotherhood’ to one which is much more fluid; individuals who deal drugs are technically part of a gang but act as their own agent to reduce the risk of violence and competition.

As I grew up, I noticed that there were a lot of British Asian boys who started to adopt mannerisms and behaviour I’d seen local boys in gangs do. But these boys weren’t from council estates; they were mostly from pretty well off Asian families.

It’s a well known fact that in many Western countries, South Asians tend to live in fairly affluent areas and experience high levels of financial success which results in most of us being economically privileged. Despite this, there are Asians who live in deprived areas and end up having to make decisions such as dealing drugs or joining a gang. 

Whenever I think of a South Asian gang member, I tend to visualise the goondhas (thugs) or badamaash (gangster) from Bollywood

Yet this is something I think many British Asians don’t fully visualise. We can see rich South Asian boys pretend to be gangsters by talking and dressing a certain way; we almost accept it. But we don’t seem to realise that this could be reality for a lot of young Asian people in our cities. That tends to sit uncomfortably with us because it’s an aspect of society we don’t want to engage with.

Whenever I think of a South Asian gang member, I tend to visualise the goondhas (thugs) from Bollywood films. Larger than life, sporting massive moustaches, overly muscular and being the epitome of macho men.

Perhaps that’s why many affluent South Asian boys feel the need to behave as though they’re from a deprived area, deal drugs or are part of gang culture: because they believe that is what it means to be a ‘manly man’ or to be cool.

The reality of this couldn’t be further from that image of hyper masculinity. The glamourisation of gang culture, being a man or a woman involved in that or dealing drugs in order to survive is wrong.

I don’t think people become criminals for the thrill of it; for some of the kids I went to school with it was a way out of poverty and social marginalisation. For others, it was a way to gain control over their life and a sense of identity in horrible socio-economic circumstances that most of us will never face but are happy to become armchair critics about it.

We actively distance ourselves from it and stick our heads in the sand because ‘it’s not how Asians behave, we’re not all like that.’ We do this to escape the responsibility of admitting that South Asians can be susceptible to economic hardship, poverty, drug use and/or dealing, human trafficking, gun and gang culture.  It just adds to a long list of things many South Asians are in denial about and tend to dismiss as irrelevant when it actually does matter.

 

 

 

The Politics of Shame

There many things that come with being a person of South Asian descent. The vast majority of us descend from a rich and vibrant heritage, a different personal history, stories of immigration, struggle and eventual success.

There are even more things which link South Asians, regardless off where we originate from. We can all, more or less, relate to having big families, the problems that come with that, an annoying relative who ruins life, delicious food etc. But the one thing which affects and binds South Asians, both in the Diaspora and the sub-continent, is shame.

Shame is a concept which many people of South Asian descent are keen to explore in books, film, documentaries, blogs and everyday conversations.

Shame seems to be a universal factor, which we are able to relate to and understand because we’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives. You only have to look at posts from photo blog, Humans of Bombay, to see what the devastating impact shame and fear of social rejection does to South Asian children and when they become adults.

Shame; a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.

The shame of not marrying the ‘right’ person. The shame of not having lighter skin. The shame of acting upon sexual desire. The shame of being divorced. The shame of rejecting religion. The shame of hiding abuse (in its many forms) and the shame of actually speaking about it. There is even shame in wanting to get help for mental health problems.

Shame manifests itself in so many ways in our lives; it’s gotten to a point where it is now a major cause for concern. The reason why is because silence walks hand-in-hand with shame. That shroud of silence is what makes victims of shame suffer and their perpetrators get away with it.

Think about this. Think about how many instances of shaming have happened in your own family; to your parents, your grandparents, your siblings and cousins. Who spoke out? What happened as a result of that? What we see emerge from this observation is that shame, like abuse, runs in cycles because of the silence which accompanies it.

Silence walks hand-in-hand with shame.

There is an overwhelming reluctance to admit that we have a huge problem when it comes to shaming ourselves and each other. Not only does it erode self-esteem, destroy people and their families, but it also has huge ramifications for how particular ethnic groups view each other and people living within these communities

I often read articles about the rate of suicide increasing in young Indian women, fresh stories of rape occurring, honour based violence, acid attacks and often wonder what is the fuel behind them.

Many of us blame our cultures, South Asian men in general, patriarchy, poverty, socio-economic situations, a lack of education and resources – the list can go on. However, we have not fully realised the impact that shaming men and women from a young age (consistently) has upon the society they live in.

I personally believe that shame is one of the root causes. When we shame someone a series of toxic behaviours emerge. They include: loss of self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, feeling powerless, helpless, insecure, repressed, anger, paranoid and frustrated.

Anger and violence are never the cause but merely the symptom

Frustration is often the very last emotion because it is from this point that we see abusive behaviour start to happen because, subconsciously, people are prepared to do anything to try and regain a sense of power or control in their lives.

The psychology of rapists is an interesting case to look at. Many people believe that South Asian men are repressed because of how high the rate of rape is across the sub-continent.

This is naive because rape is never about fulfilling sexual desire; it is about power and for the rapist to feel a sense of power that they believe was stolen from them. By raping another person, they temporarily regain a sense of sovereignty – which never lasts and they may rape again or become violent/abusive.

The politics of shame is just as damaging because it strips us of self-esteem, confidence in ourselves and others. A loss of self-esteem is particularly important here.

We stay silent because silence is all we have ever known

When we are at this level, we do not know how to respect or value others, let alone ourselves. And this is not helped by the fact that so many men and women have grown up in families, cultures and communities where shaming is considered to be ‘normal.’

It’s no wonder that we are unable to defend ourselves or our loved ones when they are being shamed. We can’t even detect it! We fall silent because silence is all we have ever known, and those who speak out are the ones who get ostracised and shamed even more.

The idea that ‘every generation must be better than the last’ is one so many of us hold dear. We invest our hopes and dreams in the youth because we believe that they will be our redemption.

We believe that they will be confident and braver than us. We believe that they will tackle honour based violence, abuse, forced marriage and cultural practices which stifle us.

We place hope in a generation because deep down we long for a change.

 

 

A Mexican Standoff

I love old films; even the crazy Spaghetti Western ones. There’s one scene which always grips me with suspense (no matter how old I am) and that’s when the two main characters have a Mexican stand off.

They meet a High Noon, intensely out stare each other, look angry as hell and slyly reach for their guns without breaking eye contact. The first one to show the slightest movement, but isn’t quick enough to get their gun, gets killed on the spot.

I can’t help but think that, mentally, we find ourselves in a Mexican stand off-style situation post-Brexit. 

With the future of the UK hanging in the balance, it’s understandable that many people are currently feeling a sense of unease and insecurity. Nowhere has this been more evident when speaking to young people and British born ethnic minorities.

The backlash and fear that many anticipated is now happening; days after the result was announced we saw that the number of hate crimes being reported to the police had risen by 57%.

Then of course, came the deniers and voices of people saying that such hate crimes were ‘made up.’ I wish the latter were true, but the fact is that when one is racially abused or experiences racial abuse, only they know what it feels like.

Social circumstances have changed; but the psychological experience of leaving one’s country and coming to another hasn’t.

I certainly didn’t expect myself and two young Chinese women to be called ‘dirty f*cking immigrants’ on my way home from work last week. I didn’t call the police. I didn’t get angry and start a fight with the man who’d said it. I looked at him and felt nothing but shock.

Until last week, I hadn’t experienced racism for being Asian for over 12 years. But I was determined to not stay quiet and had my experience written here in The Telegraph by Anita Anand.

We are seeing more and more experts, TV presenters, journalists and papers begin to analyse this spike in racial abuse/attacks.

But the angle which interests me the most is a Mexican stand off between ‘good’ immigrants and ‘bad’ immigrants. Nowhere is this compare-and-despair situation more evident than with British Asians/South Asians and newer immigrants.

Now we have a Mexican stand off between ‘good’ immigrants and ‘bad’ immigrants.

I’m not too sure how we define ‘good’ and ‘bad’ when it comes to talking about waves of immigration to the UK, because humans are so much more complex than simply being ‘good’ and/or ‘bad.’ But there appears to be an unspoken definition as to what a ‘good’ immigrant does versus a ‘bad’ immigrant.

A ‘good’ immigrant does what my family did: you come over, you have economic worth, you build your life here, you already speak a good level of English, you contribute to the system and you integrate (or in some cases assimilate) into British society.

A ‘bad’ immigrant does the opposite and this is what makes people angry . Even individuals who themselves were immigrants 30-40 years ago!

This is what confuses British born ethnic minorities even more. How can an older generation of Asians who arrived as immigrants in the UK play such a large role in demonising newer waves of immigrants?

There are many answers to that question, but one which has continued to fascinate me, is that this particular generation has fundamentally changed the way it views itself. They do not regard themselves as immigrants anymore because they’ve lived in the UK for so long, they speak very good English, hold a British passport, believe themselves to be like the English and are now an integral part of British life.

This was never about outdoing one another in terms of how/why we came to this country.

In their eyes, they did everything by the book and struggled very much to get to where they and their kids are now. And along that journey, they were exposed to horrific racial tensions (the Brixton riots, murder of Stephen Lawrence, the Bradford riots etc), which shaped them into the people they are today.

Despite experiencing so much social, mental and emotional distress, it’s a total surprise to younger Asians to see this level of apathy.

It’s as though they ultimately don’t want to seen as immigrants or the child of immigrants. They are British through and through (whatever that means!). This is then contrasted with my generation who celebrate being children and grandchildren of immigrants, the Empire and are keen to explore that side of our identity both digitally and in real life.

Right now, regardless of nationality, status or economic background, we are having a very dangerous Mexican stand off which we cannot afford to participate in.

The only move we have left now, is to drop our guns and unite for whatever the future will bring, because it will affect every single one of us. And we need to be ready for whatever comes.