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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The Monster Within

This week my heart feels heavy. My heart aches, it screams in anger and it cries out in pain as to what has happened.

The murder of Qandeel Baloch is one which has shaken people to the core – especially South Asian women and girls who were born and/or live in the Diaspora.

It is an aspect of South Asian cultures and societies that the Western world knows about, judges all South Asians against, but doesn’t fully understand. I say all South Asians, because this issue is not exclusive to Pakistanis or the South Asian Muslim community. This is not an excuse to bash Pakistanis for their culture, to say that your faith or your culture is better than theirs or say that this kind of behaviour only happens in Muslim communities.

I say this because 94% of Indian women don’t feel safe travelling alone, because dozens of South Asian women (of all faiths) I personally know have experienced childhood sexual abuse and because British Asian women are three times more likely to commit suicide than a white woman – regardless of their faith. The latter is from seven years ago: I shudder to think what it’s like now.

Qandeel’s murder (yes I’m calling it for what it is: murder) has affected every single one of us because it is a reminder of what each and every one of us is up against and has been from the time that we were born. It’s also a reminder of the price we could potentially pay for wanting to live life on our own terms.

There are hundreds of South Asian women who blog. These are women of all ages, backgrounds, nationalities, ethnic groups and religions. I know some of them personally and we all have a mutual understanding as to why we blog and express ourselves online for a myriad of reasons. But one stands out because of how common it is.

Last year, I spoke at a Bloggers Conference which was open to South Asian bloggers in London. There weren’t any requirements: you just had to be South Asian, have a blog or be interested in blogging. That day the entire room was full of South Asian women of all ages: particularly older women. There wasn’t a single South Asian man in sight.

One of the guest speakers, a South Asian man, commented: “There’s so many women here: I don’t understand why.”

His words hit me that day: so much so that I still remember them and who he is. I remember them because of the rush of anger, the shock and the frustration I felt inside when he said those words. Because I, like so many other South Asian women, know why.

It’s because, deep down, many of us know that whatever we blog about is stuff we can’t say without being judged, ostracised, threatened or told that we are bringing shame on ourselves and our families.

We worry about losing our families, our home and the safety net of our cultures because it is all that we have known and we blindly accepted it thinking that we were nothing without it. We have never been taught to be alone, to be our own person, to have our own individual identity, to fully believe in ourselves and to not care what people will say about us.

This isn’t our fault: it’s probably the only model of communal values and living that we know. The very thought of going against these things, is enough to silence many of us. It silenced our mothers, our grandmothers, our great-aunts and countless women before them.

But this generation of South Asian women refuse to stay silent and for that we get labelled as being too curt, too outspoken and too opinionated. We are told that no man will marry us because we are not ‘good, simple’ girls, AKA, easy to control and manipulate.

We are shamed for wanting to live life on our own terms and for wanting to experience it. We are born into societies and a mesh of cultures which shames us, calls us burdens upon our families yet we are constantly told that we hold the family honour. How can someone who is degraded and viewed with disdain be a vessel of family honour?

When a woman is murdered for ‘bringing shame’ upon the family we feel shock, sadness and anger. But then we blame society, we blame religion and we blame our culture. The reality is that we should be blaming each other because we make up our societies and we make up the ideas which form our cultures. If we don’t stand up against micro-aggressions towards South Asian women, we do not stand a chance of combating domestic violence, rape, sexual assaults and feticide which happens across the sub-continent and the Diaspora.

So many South Asian cultures, despite having a strong history of powerful women, have an overwhelming patriarchy and it destroys the spirit of South Asian women everywhere.

It almost feels like South Asian men, subconsciously, are prepared to do anything to keep them in line and under their control: even if it means raping them or murdering them to maintain ‘family honour.’ This blog, by Saurav Dutt, explains this concept beautifully.

Violence against women happens anywhere; regardless of your faith, your culture, your ethnic background or the amount of money you have in the bank. This is a problem; a huge social problem which we are all responsible for because we still can’t even talk about it honestly. And the fact that our collective way of thinking still results in the lives of women being taken before their time makes me sick to my soul. Shame and dishonour don’t kill our girls. We do. We are the monsters within who destroy our girls.

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.