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.

 

 

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You are Beautiful

 

Image sourced from https://www.womenskorner.com

Beauty. I find it amazing how one word is enough to send scores of women around the world into a flurry of anxiety, open up the floodgates to insecurities and be willing to do anything to be considered ‘beautiful.’

Our collective desire to look and be considered as ‘beautiful’is one which transcends labels such as race, background, ethnicity and nationality. Everyone everywhere wants to be ‘beautiful’ yet we don’t even have a solid definition of who/what is considered to be ‘beautiful.’

So if looks fade eventually and all we’re left with is our soul, our character and our personality, why do we place such an emphasis on something which is as interchangeable as the leaves on the ground in Autumn?

As a South Asian woman I, like many others, grew up with two  views on what is considered to be ‘beautiful.’ The first is a South Asian (in particular Panjabi) lens on beauty and the second is a more Eurocentric view which I’ve grown up in.

However, I don’t believe that the two views are necessarily in conflict with each other. I believe that it’s the merge of both views which is producing conflict in many South Asian women.

Pick between the two: one which doesn’t exist anymore/isn’t as strong or one which you are surrounded by.

South Asian beauty varies, depending on what region you’re from. So for example what is considered to be beautiful in northern states (such Panjab) is  probably very different to other regions.

Yet there are some defining commonalities that exist across the board: fair skin, large brown (or lightly coloured) eyes, full lips, long, thick dark hair, full eyebrows and a slim or shapely physique.

Now, there’s a far more stronger European influence as to what constitutes a South Asian woman who is ‘beautiful’ – hence the use of skin bleaching products, lightening your hair and physically altering facial features (such as Roman noses seen in Panjab and sculpting jawlines).

It’s the merge of both views which is producing conflict in many South Asian women.

I’ve seen – and certainly felt – the effects of South Asians moving from wanting to be ‘beautiful’ by their own ethnic groups’ standards to now wanting to be considered as universally ‘beautiful’ by all standards. This impossible to achieve because it’s also where this inner awful conflict begins.

A new fear rises up: I want to be universally ‘beautiful’ but I don’t know where to begin or what to do. Many South Asian women feel as though they’ve been put in a precarious position where they neither fit into a traditional lens of South Asian beauty, which they used to fall back on, yet they do not adhere to this new universal idea of being ‘beautiful’ for which there is no social safety net for them to fall into.

So many find themselves pushed to pick between the two: one which doesn’t exist anymore/isn’t as strong or one which you are surrounded by. And it’s pretty obvious which one they will prefer  – yet there has been a recent revival to components of South Asian cultures (including beauty) which have been cast aside in favour of a Eurocentric look.

Granted, when it comes to discussing ideas of racial identiy crises or the remnants of colonial thought rearing its ugly head, this new blurred merge of Eurocentric and South Asian beauty standards isn’t the first thing which springs to mind.

However, I believe that it is a reality which we aren’t paying enough attention to.

It is coming at the cost of thousands of South Asian women’s self-esteem, self-confidence, self-belief and erodes at the value they once instilled in how they view themselves as South Asian women living in a Western society.

 

How to Become a Fundamentalist

 

Image sourced from https://www.lemon-sugar.com

 

Every generation grows up with its defining moment that changes the way that they view the world for good.

From both World Wars, the Cold War, the Soviets and threat of nuclear warfare to the financial crash of 2008 and terrorism that we are experiencing today, every generation has taken its own fair share of social battering.

It goes without a doubt to say that the events of 9/11, were one which has radically shaped the current worldview of young people – especially those who were born after it.

For many, they don’t know anything else, apart from growing up in a world governed by fear of terror attacks, people dying in bomb blasts and seeing revenge attacks take place in their own cities on innocent people.

But the angst of the last 15 years has not gone without a significant amount of collateral damage. It has cultivated a culture of suspicion, xenophobia and the racial profiling of millions of people across the world who resemble the ‘mad, bad, brown men with great big bushy beards‘ wielding guns on TV and veiled women with a sinister agenda.

Soon we were confronted with grainy images of men in the Middle East – dubbed as Jihadi Johns by tabloids – who were brandishing blunt knives and wished to commit mass murder.

On both ends of the scale, we’ve seen modern life (in all its glory) fall apart to both extremes. One being terrorism (which has existed since the beginning of time; to put things into perspective) and the other extreme has seen the rise of right-wing leaders across the world as a rather tepid attempt to ‘balance’ things out.

‘Mad, bad, brown men with great big bushy beards’ vs clean shaven men in suits running for office

Seeing such developments is enough to make people either feel an overwhelming sense of apathy, a spurt of victory  and the feeling that ‘something’ is finally being done, or more fear on top of what some are already experiencing.

But what fuels ideas of fundamentalism on both ends of the scales? Many reasons have been given as to why young men and women go off to join terrorist groups (from across the world), but there hasn’t been the same level of scrutiny given to the rise of fundamentalism happening in front of our eyes.

The single thing that both situations have in common is a desire to create stability; often based on a distorted idea of what they deem to be a reality.

It’s paradoxical to think that establishing fundamentalist ways of thinking can establish social stability. This is because the very notion of what fundamentalism is contradicts what we (as a collective society) believe stability to be yet it exists and we are living right in the midst of it all.

Consider the language used from a variety of voices across the fundamentalist spectrum; a budding politician, the proposed actions of a government and from an extremist group:

“We will make ____ great again!” and “We will make _____ suffer and rule over you” to erasing 200 years of history from education books.

These are just three examples of radical statements (from both sides) that clearly demonstrate a desire to establish stability – just by using different methods.

While each case attempts to distinguish itself from other fundamentalist narratives and tries to prove that they are better than the other, it almost always results in two questions.

Who is easier to blame? And which voice appears to hold more credibility?

Is it those mad, bad, brown men with great big bushy beards wielding guns in the desert or clean shaven, well-educated individuals in corporate attire?