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.

 

 

 

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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.

The Shroud of Shame

 

This week’s blog post is a very difficult one to write. It’s only Tuesday, but after the events of yesterday (the Orlando shootings) I feel as though I’m ready for the weekend and a long lie down in a darkened room.

I should also say that this blog post does contain some content which may upset or unsettle some readers because of the topic I’m discussing. It’s one that I’ve never really blogged about, probably because it’s so personal, and one that many people don’t talk about.

Last night, I took part in a Twitter chat, held by SayftyCom, about child sexual abuse (CSA). The thought of someone harming a child in any way is enough for me to feel physical pain. And that’s just the thought of it happening.

Statistics from the Crimes Against Children Research Centre show that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys have been victims of child sexual abuse. In addition to this, an estimated 20% of adult women and 5-10% of adult men recalled an incident where they had experienced sexual abuse as a child.

When I read these statistics, and the stories of other people sharing their own stories of child sexual abuse, it felt like something had hit my heart hard enough to make me cry.

As a journalist, we’re exposed to some pretty horrible things (to put it lightly) and are expected to maintain a sense of professionalism and decorum while reporting or writing about horrific events. But this really got to me because of how close the topic is to me.

The discussion made me think deeply about this issue, and more importantly, how South Asians deal with incidents of child sexual abuse. It’s not something we hear, for rather obvious reasons, let alone discuss things like domestic violence,  in an open manner.

Dealing with something  as sensitive as child sexual abuse is understandably complex. For people who have experienced it, whenever they talk about it or think about it, it’s like reliving the trauma. What makes it even worse is when people don’t believe them, don’t take them seriously or shame them for happened.

And South Asians are notorious when it comes to shoving shame into each other, themselves and their children. Yes, that sounds harsh, but how many of us are overly familiar with the shroud of shame?

It’s one thing to shame someone for leading a double life, or having a secret partner – both of which are not valid reasons to shame someone, but it something quite altogether to shame someone for daring to speak about a trauma they faced as a child.

It is damaging on every level to shame someone  who dares to open their mouth and say: “I was raped as a child” and/or “I was sexually assaulted as a child in my own home by a relative.”

As a woman of South Asian descent, I can just about handle being shamed for not being slim enough, not being fair-skinned enough or having straight hair, but I draw the line at South Asians who shame/mock those who have been sexually abused.

On a superficial level, nearly every single person believes that they would never shame someone who’s experienced this. But shame manifests itself in different forms; some of which we aren’t even aware of. This includes asking why they didn’t fight back, why they didn’t tell someone straight away, not believing the victim, fearing that abused children will become abusers, saying things like: “Oh that sort of thing doesn’t happen in our culture” or asking them what type of clothing they wore when it happened.

When people think of sexual predators, paedophiles and abusers, they generally think of images of mad-eyed men with snarling faces, salivating jaws and deranged facial expressions.

We think of them as monsters; we categorise them as ‘the other’ so that it creates some sort of space between us and them. And we take refuge in that tiny bit of space and we sit in our ivory towers with a sense of smugness about ourselves. They are the monsters; we are the rational human beings.

But the truth is that within our human bodies, we have the choice to become monster, in the same way that we have the choice to listen with empathy  and to not judge to individuals when they speak up about childhood sexual abuse.