Where Are You From?

CW: Racial slurs

One of the simplest and most innocent questions is one I’ve almost grown to dread over the years; as interestingly, the instigator of the question almost always tends to have their own ideas, and one answer never seems to suffice, either for them or myself.

My parents moved to England from India and have lived here for over 30 years where they had both my brothers and myself. I’d say my own answer varies depending on who asks it, as according to their own origins, their expectations differ. If the people asking me, for example, are themselves from England where migration is an accepted thing, I’d most of the time answer ‘Newcastle’; an answer that would be accepted without question. When abroad, however, if I say ‘Newcastle’ or ‘England’, the city and country where I was born and raised, it often elicits confusion and I’m met with a confused smile. Clearly not the answer they were expecting.

Alternatively, I say ‘India’ – which prompts a similar response: “but you’ve never even lived there?” However, when I answer with the former, and follow up with "but I’m originally Indian" they exhale a sigh of relief: “oh yes I thought”; because to them, to be ‘English’, is to be white.

Ultimately, I’ve found myself in a mixed sort of half-life. Either I say England and people think I’m trying to deny my roots, which couldn’t be further from the truth, or say India, and incite confusion because of my lack of residence. I’ve resorted to saying I’m Indian, but was born and brought up in England, because I feel I have to justify my skin colour to what are almost always innocent inquires. It’s almost sad that in this post-racial society - an increasingly fictional and farcical fact with every passing day - where identity and pertinence are of such significance, such confusion remains regarding the seemingly simplest of questions.

I remember my first experience with racism quite vividly.

When I was 6, maybe 7, I had an obsession with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. So much so that whenever I’d finished learning the latest details of their salacious adventures, I would head to ASDA (which happened to stock books) to purchase the next one. This became somewhat of a ritual, and despite the trashy content of the books that my parents disapproved of, at least I was reading.

One day I was just looking for the latest instalment of ‘Two Of A Kind’ when I was approached by a boy, about the same age as me.

‘Aren´t you a p*ki?´ he said.

‘Um what?’

‘Yeah, you’re a p*ki.

‘No I’m not, I’m Indian’.

He didn’t seem to understand the difference, and was adamant that I was a p*ki. He seemed confused when a 6 year-old tried to explain (probably incorrectly) the Hindu-Muslim divide and that India and Pakistan were in fact different countries. The only obvious and clear fact that transpired from the conversation was that he thought that I didn’t belong, or that that was something inherently wrong or bad with being a ‘p*ki’, or being different. After that I haven’t been back to ASDA, as I associated it with those feelings of unwelcomeness, and in my mind if I could avoid these sentiments and remain in confined spaces of safety then everything would be okay.

Nowadays sadly, it seems like the whole world is that aisle in ASDA. Donald Trump is President. Theresa May is Prime Minister, a figure that has repeatedly vilified immigration, and it seems as if ‘othering’ is a tactic increasingly employed day by day.

This is 2017, 11 months after the Brexit vote, and a country which supposedly wanted more control is in a more uncertain and confused state than before. The world is not and has never been certain, and an often cited piece of advice worldwide is that ‘one can learn from their mistakes’, but apparently not our politicians, or ourselves.

Blame is an inherent part of human nature but to blame an entire race of people for the actions of a minority is ridiculous and has to stop. Muslims don’t need to apologise or even have to condemn the actions of so-called IS as it has nothing to do with them. What they preach isn´t linked to Islam. They are terrorists , and an act of terrorism is something all people should condemn, regardless of race, gender or class. Of course ignorant people who believe that religion is the cause are often the same people who blindly discriminate against any person of colour, as immigration and refugees are constantly mired by negative connotations of job-stealing, overflow, terrorism, and threat. In amidst the hasty generalisations and fear they tend to forget that they are in fact people, and the schismatic process of othering and rhetoric of us and ‘them’ serves no one.

Martin Luther King Jr once spoke of the innateness of how we justify our actions, and that in  “our tragic inclination for mistakes [we] use our minds to rationalise our actions”.

Let us rationalise no more. What we so often take for granted is everything. This isn’t the first article where the need for unity is stressed in a somewhat naïvely optimistic manner, and nor will it be the last. But the message should resonate. The pressing need to talk about identity, and more importantly, be accepting of the plurality of diversity is not necessary, but imperative.