“Fuck you, bhenchod!”
The word was foreign to me. My fifth-grade classmate spat it out at me venomously. I knew she said it out of distaste, but as a recent newcomer in Pakistan, a brown girl who solely spoke English with a British accent — Urdu, my mother tongue, became an unknown language to me, other than a few courteous responses I was taught. Genuinely confused, I went to my single-father to inquire further about the word I had heard. We had just finished dinner, and I decided to prompt questioning him then, rather than allowing him to complete digesting his food. He chewed on his chicken karahi, and upon hearing the word come out of my naive and inquisitive mouth, his chewing slowed and his normally brown shade turned into an aubergine, resembling the salan of the chicken he had been chewing on. He clenched his jaw as he responded, “whoever said that word to you, I’m going to break their fucking legs!” remains of an oily, deep-red chicken came spitting out of his mouth, as did his rage. And I never did discover the meaning of our most commonly used, vulgar and misogynistic (the word means sister-fucker) cuss word until years later.
I was consistently bullied as a child, especially when I returned to Pakistan as a nine-year-old, simply for emanating my imprinted (learned) whiteness — and it was the opposite growing up in Dubai, attending a culturally British school and attempting to assimilate with my expatriate peers — I was mocked solely for the darkness of my brown skin and I was deemed ‘unclean’ by a handful of kids. Shortly after returning to Pakistan, I coerced myself into learning how to read, write and speak Urdu, a language that I felt uncomfortable being unable to speak, since it was used to belittle and gaslight foreign Pakistanis by xenophobic children of the same culture (but not really of the same branch, right?).
Years later, I changed schools and stumbled across peers who were closely linked to my own family, who came from the same elite social construct, whose families projected the same pseudo-liberalness and were fortunate enough to attend university abroad. These were the kids, who like me, embraced a unique ‘third culture’ — whether they were the hybrid result of interracial (Pakistani and foreign) parents or not. I felt a sense of relief upon befriending these people, these kids who revelled in their whiteness, with whom I could discuss episodes of The OC and One Tree Hill with. With whom I could quote Sylvia Plath to, and with whom I could listen to Death Cab for Cutie with — while simultaneously listen to crass Punjabi music, driving around and eating roll parathas, and with whom I could improve and expand my vocabulary of Urdu cuss words.
I began embodying a disparate identity, never fully leaning towards either side —disparaging my culture but loving it, too.
Despising whiteness and the power white people had over me, their ability to make me feel less educated or ‘small', but wanting to immerse myself in it, too. Dreaming of dismantling the patriarchy while being deemed an outcast in Pakistani society by religio-cultural standards. Being too prudish for white men, and too open-minded and opinionated for Pakistanis. I am in a constant state of flux, being unaware of which side to pick - loathing my circumstances for being a privileged minority, the by-product of two Westernised Pakistanis, for being educated and aware enough to know how to assimilate to both sides. I am no longer certain if I should feel grateful in knowing there is ‘more’. I have learned the art of chameleon-like socialisation, to alter between personas and accents dependent on the ethnicity and diversity (or lack thereof) of the group I am with. I am a people-pleaser, in that I adapt to social situations accordingly, a grey matter being unable to identify with black or white. And it has left me inevitably and indefinitely at a loss of my identity.
I’m in a perpetual state of identity crisis.
Upon moving to Toronto six years ago and undergoing albeit embracing a culture shock, I still find it difficult to integrate — rotating between habits of sticking to my familiar peers, and non-Pakistani ones with whom I am intellectually at ease with, but never culturally. There have been only a few individuals with whom I am able to completely relate to and identify with, and I yearn to meet and collaborate with more. I do not relate to the diaspora kids of the West, who are so attached to a culture with whom they have little to no first-hand experience with, nor do I relate to the urban-Pakistanis anymore, who are privileged enough to receive a Western education, and a lifestyle fully-funded by their parents. Those who are spending their fathers money on alcohol, drugs and their materialistic entitlement, refusing to mature and only to return home soon after to follow the same path as designed by the patriarchy.
Discovering post-colonialism and related theories have allowed me to identify the cracks within my own identity, it’s enabled me to fill in the gaps by understanding the harrowing effects of colonialism and imperialism. Homi K. Bhabha, a prominent postcolonial theorist, has assisted with providing conceptual thought and words to define how I felt. His most knowledgeable work include the terms hybridity, derived from Edward Said’s Orientalism, mimicry, “the effect of mimicry is camouflage… it is not a question of harmonising with the background, but against a mottled background”, and third space, a space that "challenges our sense of the historical identity of culture as a homogenising, unifying force, authenticated by the originary past, kept alive in the national tradition of the People". Three terms I struggled to define until coming across Bhabha’s work. I no longer feel like ‘the other', but rather, I have developed awareness that being ‘the other’ is objective, rather than universal. Being raised in an Anglo-Muslim elite neopatriarchy that heavily fetishised eurocentrism and whiteness (while maintaining religious faith) may have, indeed, left me perplexed — but in embodying true progressiveness, rather than a pseudo kind, has left me feeling much more gratified than it would if I were to consider myself a hypocrite. Irrespective of the fact I grew up confused and felt like an outcast, wishing I could mimic my peers — I have grown to love, and deeply appreciate my unique hybridity. Instead of berating myself for being unlike ‘the others’, I find hope in myself. A hope that I can provide insight to those in a similar, eternally displaced disposition.