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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

Louder, Browner and Prouder

Image source from: https://www.theguardian.com

This week’s blog is one which I have been wanting to write for a number of months now. It’s an issue I feel so strongly about, but am painfully aware of the consequences it may have, which is why I so often kept telling myself to not write it.

As a writer, and a journalist, I am bound by something innate to talk about difficult issues and share stories which may unsettle people. I’ve even received death threats and threats to my loved ones for doing this. The reason why I don’t stop, is because it highlights a need for change. If I stop, they win and we don’t see/hear the stories of those who so desperately need to be heard.

It is never easy to criticise one’s culture; especially if you are of South Asian descent as I am. It’s not in our collective mindset to challenge elders, religious leaders, scholars or theology: it’s viewed as a sign of disrespect and those who don’t conform get shamed or ostracised.

I care about the culture that I come from; it’s the fertile soil which has allowed me to thrive in a nation where I am miles away from where my ancestry began.

I care about the culture which runs through my veins, so much so,  that I am prepared to write a blog which could piss a lot of people off. But what I see happening across the quilt of South Asian communities concerns me enough to feel unsettled.

Today’s bunch of South Asians across the world are louder, prouder and browner than ever before.

I feel pride when I see Diasporic Asians – and our girls – use social media to reclaim aspects of their heritages, stand up to racial hatred and to write out their experiences in blogs.

In comparison to older generations, today’s bunch of South Asians across the world are louder, prouder and browner than ever before. But it is naive to think that such gains have not come without a cost. And it’s a cost which none of us have really foreseen.

We are now seeing levels of extremism pop up in the most unlikeliest of communites. I guess I can describe as a quiet hum which is eventually getting louder, as more and more voices join it.

For example, a self-defense programme has been set up in Uttar Pradesh, India by Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal for Hindus to participate in. I’m all for self-defense and being able to protect yourself, but when a group states that the purpose of this camp is to ward off ‘the enemy,’ without clearly stating who that enemy is, then we have to start asking questions.

Similarly, the debate which Mehdi Hasan challenged Ram Nadhav (former spokesman for the RSS) about the rise of neo-fascism in India is cause for concern in Diasporic Asians. You can watch it here – it’s from last year, which proves that this discussion is very much needed today.

Some readers may pause and think: “Why has she picked on Hindus? Everyone always picks on Hindus! She must be a Hindu-hater and hate her Indian heritage!” Do you see how we can’t even comment on our cultures and religions without being damned?

During my uni days, I was once called a Sikh-killer in broad daylight by a British Sikh man, because he believed that my non-Sikh family were responsible for the events of 1984. Despite the fact that my entire family have been in East Africa for the last three-four generations!

It broke my heart. To actually experience Asians turning against each other in a heartbeat

The reason why a wave of extremism and right-wing thinking in Diasporic South Asian communities (across all faiths) deeply concerns me, is because we’ve got a shared history where being united has allowed us to thrive and survive in the UK.

There are people out there, who will have you believe that there is greater freedom in being divided. I wish I was joking, but I’m not, because this way of thinking has more or less seeped into many pockets of the wider societies and countries that we live in.

When it comes to addressing extremism in South Asian communities, the first one that we all point to are Muslims. It’s the most obvious point of call and living in a post-9/11 world which is racked with austerity, it’s not a complete surprise to see South Asians keen to separate themselves from the Muslim community and Islamophobic attacks.

The irony here, of course, is that we all are still targeted because of our physical appearances: brown skin, dark hair and ‘funny’ sounding names. Therefore this deliberate act of separation is a waste of time and collective energy. Yet there are still so many South Asians across the Diaspora who partake in this type of behaviour.

Post-Brexit, social media has been flooded with the number of Asians who have been racially abused and attacked. Considering how divided we currently are, I can’t see the former unity and solidarity that Asians showed to one another in the 1970s,80s and 90s making an appearance.

For most Diasporic Asians, we’ve acted like sponges and simply absorbed ways of thinking which do not seek to help us evolve and progress. We have become individualistic and now operate in social silos, without realising that we are all inter-connected. If someone falls, we all tumble down too.

If we are unable to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly in ALL of our cultures, our societies and the state of the countries that we live in, then we have truly failed as human beings. And I’m not one to lose faith or hope so easily in us.