Square Eyed Monsters

It’s safe to say that in our modern world things have changed; whether it’s good or bad is entirely subjective of course. We are living longer, have better access to vast amounts of information, generally have a higher standard of living and our world is ever shrinking thanks to continuing developments in tech.

Despite having the world at our fingertips (quite literally) I find that many of us are swimming in oceans of data and information. We feel connected yet disconnected, at the same time, and  are unable to seek out sources that are full of originality, knowledge and wisdom. We find ourselves in a situation feeling overwhelmed because we simply have too much to sift through – let alone choose from!

An article in The Guardian stated that there is simply ‘too much television’ and estimated that there are approximately 400 shows on our televisions. And it makes sense; these days it feels like there is too much on TV for us to watch. In addition, even if we forget about the onslaught of new shows and series, the vast majority of them are poorly made and/or badly written. When I think about it, it makes me question the whole purpose of why so many sub-standard television shows are even created in the first place.

I like to think that television, at its best, is like the Arts

Which brings onto my topic about TV shows that are specifically designed to engage with and/or target a particular segment of society or ethnic group. Regardless, it is a slightly reassuring sign, to see contemporary television begin to use actors from an ethnic background or write stories which involve characters of ethnic heritage. I have found that such shows and story lines tend to be very hit-and-miss: they either become classics (like East is East) or adhere to cringey stereotypes or end up being left in the past where they belong.

There are usually a number of intentions behind the creation of TV shows made for those of an ethnic background: monetary gain, increase viewings as well as creating unique programmes which are more inclusive and reflective of a contemporary, diverse Britain. It is very rare for the latter to occur, unless there is some serious funding, a renowned film maker’s involvement or if a particularly convincing pitch has been made.

I like to think that television, at its best, is like the Arts in that it is a possible reflection of the world that we live in. However, I particularly question the originality of shows that are created with the sole intention to appeal to young British Asians. Many turn out to be the brown version of popular, mainstream television shows or films (which really is most of Bollywood if we think about it) and are not as innovative as they claim to be. For example, you can cover a pile of excrement in glitter and claim that it’s magic until you are blue in the face. The fact of the matter is that it’s still a pile of excrement. With a bit of glitter on it.

Is it any wonder that scores of young people (including myself) are heading over to YouTube

We see this happen, time and time again, whenever documentaries (or  reality TV shows) are created and purport to discuss modern British Asian life. I cannot stress how disappointed I feel whenever individuals decide to create a TV format which ‘busts the myths about <insert particular ethnic group>’ or tells the rest of Britain that ‘we’re just as normal as you guys are.’  Sometimes it can be a revelation and prove to be some sort of social breakthrough. But most of the time it falls short. Newsflash: we’re not unicorns or mythological creatures who need to be discovered, diluted, patronised and scrutinised against a mainstream gaze. I’m pretty certain that many of us face that level of scrutiny on a daily basis.

However, some of the pit falls of creating television with this sole intention, is that these shows often become unintentional ambassadors/spokespeople for their target audience. This itself is hugely problematic for both ethnic and Caucasian viewers because it is impossible to represent every single person of a particular ethnic group. We cannot claim that EastEnders is an accurate portrayal of how people live in East London, in the same way that, Bollywood does not represent the lives and thoughts of South Asians living in the motherland or Diaspora.

When I was younger, I remember watching shows such as Desmond’s, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, My Wife and Kids (yes I am well and truly a Millenial child) and many more. Sure I was British Asian, but that didn’t stop me from watching such TV shows, because they were original pieces of television that were relatable and great to watch.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I still feel like I can’t relate to many of the South Asians who grace my TV screen. This comes, despite there being several films and television shows, which follow the lives of British Asian women and South Asian experiences since the 1990s. Is it any wonder that, now, scores of young people (including myself) are heading over to YouTube to watch vlogs, video series and channels that are created by people who either look like them and/or feature those who they are able to connect with?

For some television might be all about making money, becoming famous and milking particular social situations. But for the vast majority of people, television is an important format which often acts as a sophisticated mirror critiquing the types of attitudes, mindsets and societies that we are living in.

 

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Empower

(c) photo taken by Anila Dhami

(c) photo taken by Anila Dhami

Last night I had the immense privilege of appearing on Zee Companion, with my mentor Mandy Sanghera and presenter Anila Dhami, to talk about International Women’s Day, Feminism and general girl power.

The topics discussed ranged from domestic violence, forced marriages, empowerment and Feminism to the women who inspired us on a daily basis. It led me to think about empowerment; what does it mean and how can we go empowering ourselves?

~ (a) To give authority or power to (b) to give strength and confidence to

Empowerment has become a bit of a buzzword which many of us talk about and use on a daily basis. We use this word whenever we speak about the problems that women face, yet it all becomes incredibly vague when it comes to creating solutions for these problems.

I usually hate those Instagram pictures with a philosophical quote, but I came across one which said: “Happiness is an inside job” and made me think. Empowerment, in a nutshell, is directly linked to self confidence and self-worth which increases self esteem. So on an individual basis, empowerment is rooted in the way that we view ourselves. The issue with this is that many of us are quite cruel and hard on ourselves (including me). It ranges from obvious things like: comparing yourself to others and fat talk to having chronic low levels of confidence. It could also be linked to your family and the atmosphere that you were raised in. After all, we are products of our environment and the effect that this has upon us is profound.

There’s many reasons why the vast majority of women find it hard to be kind to themselves and feel better about themselves which makes it difficult for us to feel empowered. It took me a long time to feel good about myself and comfortable with who I am; it started with changing the way that I viewed myself. It began with baby steps: writing a list of five things I liked about myself (physical and non-physical), saying something nice about myself and I’m aware that this all sounds very cheesy, but you know what? It worked and has been a good platform to continue to empower myself.

Another way that we can begin to feel empowered is to be mindful of ourselves and others. Practising mindfulness often results in us becoming very self aware of our words and actions to ourselves and those around us. It makes us more intuitive, kinder and compassionate as well. These are tools that we can apply to ourselves in helping us to become more empowered. Mindfulness is basically taking a few minutes to really appreciate and savour the present moment for what it really is. For example: enjoying the feeling of the sun on your face or how good a morning cup of tea tastes. It’s a rare opportunity to unplug from a fast world and connect with ourselves.

Finally, having a good support system and network is also a great way to begin feeling empowered. Think about how good you feel when you’re around a good friend or your favourite cousins. Amplify that feeling by 100 and that’s the closest I get to describing what empowerment feels like.

“But how do I find these networks?” Social media and technology has made this part slightly easier. It’s easier to connect with people in cyberspace and build up friendships than to meet new people in real life. The best bit of advice I could give to anyone feeling apprehensive about networking is this. When meeting a new person (or someone whose work inspires you) say this to yourself: “They have two eyes, a stomach and a bum” and then go speak to them. There’s a variety of professional networks that you can join – online and offline – as well as various websites like Meetup where you decide what kinds of events you want to attend.

One of the best mantras I tell myself is this: “Just show up and meet five new people” which has been a building block into creating a network. After all, if you don’t show up you ultimately miss out and the world does not see you for the wonderful person that you are.

 

 

The Crab

 

There was group of four crabs in a small bucket and life was cramped, monotonous and frustrating. They did the same thing day in and day out until one of the crabs decided that enough was enough. “I’m going to see what’s outside,” she declared to the others.

“You can’t do that! No one’s ever gone outside. It’s impossible,” one replied. The others agreed, “It’s too risky and dangerous!”

“Well it has to be better than being stuck in here,” she retorted. “Don’t you want to do something different?”

They murmured among themselves and reluctantly decided to help her. The plan was simple; they would stand on top of each others’ shells until she could reach the edge of the bucket and hoist herself out. As they began, one crab began to panic. What if the others decided to leave the bucket as well? With this in mind, he quietly said to the others: “We don’t do things like this; you know it’s not right.” The other crabs agreed, “But how can we stop her without creating a fuss?”

The first crab smiled and replied, “Copy what I do.” As the other crabs stood on top of each other, he reached up and firmly pulled her claw down. She lost her balance and they all tumbled down. As they tried again, another crab firmly pulled her claw down and they all fell down again. This went on for some time, until the first crab cried: “It’s impossible! We’ll never get you out of here!” The others echoed his words and went away silently praising themselves for thwarting her plans.

In a gentle way you can shake the world ~ Gandhi

My grandmother told me this story when I was in primary school. Initially I thought that it was a nasty story about selfish crabs, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that this simple story is widely applicable to the way that we treat ourselves, our communities and each other.

The last Census showed that 14.5% of the UK is comprised of ethnic minorities. It’s a surprising figure given that when you switch on the television, there’s not that many BAME faces, histories or stories on our screens.. It is estimated that the number of black, Asian and ethnic minorities working in the UK television industry fell by 30.9% between 2006 and 2012.

With these statistics in mind it is alarming to see this and surely this is a call to action that everyone needs to take, including ethnic minorities themselves. Recently, television programmes such as “Desi Rascals” and “Indian Summers” have brought South Asian faces to the forefront of mainstream television. At a glance, many would – i theory – be happier to see more brown faces on TV. This has been met with a mixed but largely negative response which is understandable. Many British Asians feel that “Desi Rascals” is not an accurate portrayal of Asian communities in London, while many feel that “Indian Summers” is an age old romanticism of the Empire from a white perspective.

I’ve been in a pensive mood since Sunday night having read a lot of people’s comments and opinions about both programmes. The anger directed at “Indian Summers” is justified because it’s an aspect of British history which is largely ignored and idealised with no regard for the colonised. As someone whose history is intertwined with Partition and the British Raj, I felt sad when I started watching “Indian Summers” because it is a very triggering point in my family’s history. I have no family left in Punjab because of it and it’s a part of my heritage that I can only hope to reconnect with one day. And it brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about the pain, suffering and number of deaths that occurred as a result of this which mainstream history and television ignores.

But what made me even more thoughtful was why I didn’t feel the same level of anger as others did. I felt like there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t angry and didn’t feel a sense of outrage that a white man had created a show about the British Raj in Simla. And I’m still wondering why I’m not angry. Is there something wrong with me?

Instead I feel a sense of sadness that this pain exists in many South Asian communities and that it will take a few generations for us to heal from this scar. It is infuriating that the Indian rhetoric has always been hijacked by a white face which manipulated and destroyed the faces, names and souls who were the very essence of that story.

But a part of me also thinks that shows like “Desi Rascals” and “Indian Summers” could provide us all with a starting point to make our voices heard and expose the reality of what the British Empire really did to its colonies. Of course, they’re not the ominous be-all-and-end-all solution, but surely it is a stepping stone in the morally right direction?

It is all too easy to dismiss, shoot down and criticise those who strive to make a change for the benefit of others. This can rub people up the wrong way especially if they believe that an inaccurate portrayal of historical events or a specific ethnic group is being wrongly presented. By all means, voice your concerns, because it is imperative that we continue to speak up against injustices and discrimination. However, it is also worth remembering to speak up in defence of those who are trying to change things for the better and give them the leg up that they need.