How it Feels to Be Brown in Britain

Do you know what I was thinking as I watched the police swarm the cordoned sites of London following the recent attacks? Things are going to get a lot worse.

Not in terms of more cowardly attacks by the ever alienated Daesh, rather in terms of racial hate crime in Britain.

There have been a multitude of acts of kindness following the devastation of Manchester and London- people have come together in droves, presenting a stance of solidarity and unity. Simultaneously, the uneducated and intolerant amongst us have risen like scum to the surface, capitalising on fear and preying on the brown people. Naturally my response has been to unfriend on social media as appropriate or to attempt to present a rational argument to an irrational bully. From my experience so far, it doesn’t work.

You cannot create dialogue with someone who is overcome by hatred. The parallels between the neo-Nazis I’ve faced online and the perps identified from recent terror attacks are blatantly apparent. An extremist is an extremist, no matter what colour they are or where they come from.

The irony is, I’m less afraid of shrapnel bombs than I am old white men, who seem to find themselves entitled to jab greasy sausage fingers in my face and tell me I need to go back to my own country.  It’s a tired routine and a problematic demand (as I was born in this country, pal) and yet, at the age of twenty-two, it still packs an emotional punch.

Most small-minded bigots fail to recognise that the Asian umbrella happens to accommodate for many other faiths other than Islam including (but not limited to) that of Hinduism and Sikhism. Since bullies cannot distinguish a difference, everybody is Muslim (which apparently is synonymous with terrorism) and therefore all brown people are the enemy. Half of my life has been spent being taunted by welfare-exploiting chavs, shouting ‘paki’ at the top of their lungs. They weren’t even intelligent enough to insult me right. Now I’m grown up, so the response has shifted more to the subtlety of lingering looks on the train or confusion by my appearance (the tattoos tend to trip people up). There are the odd people who take an interest in me but this is often played down by the delivery of that classic line, ‘you’re pretty attractive for an Asian’. You know what? I’m tired of this shit.

And this would be bad enough but I made the mistake of talking to an Alan from Wibsey, with whom I became embroiled in a spat after the Manchester attacks. I want to highlight some of Alan’s fundamental arguments so that you might see exactly how it is that I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s bloody stupid.

  • Alan’s viable solution to radicalisation is to deport brown people. His logic, I think, is that if there are no brown people here then there is nobody to radicalise. And no Sharia Law, which is interesting because as far as I’m aware, we don’t have Sharia Law here… If all Asians went back to where they came from, terrorism would apparently come to an overnight halt. Theresa May wouldn’t even have to stop trading with the Saudis because there is no link between our government and the financial perpetuation of terrorism- the fault is with the Quran and the brown people who read it… Alan has actively excluded his children from engaging with Muslims and ‘religious people’ on account of the fact he thinks they are bat-shit crazy. Obviously, he is yet to realise that in raising his kids this way, he is breeding the same intolerance and ignorance that are said to lead to acts of terrorism… I will not dignify this deportation argument with a proper response because I actually feel like I might lose brain cells in having to engage with this level of idiocy.
  • Alan, like many others, practically spits out immigration as though it’s a dirty word. News flash: it’s not. As for the refugee crisis, he disagrees with the notion we should be taking in children and vulnerable adults from war-torn countries (that we’ve helped to destroy). I imagine if the tables were turned and Britain were reduced to rubble that Alan might change his stance as he fled across the channel, begging for solace and comfort at another country’s border. Admittedly, I feel that there are numerous ways we could strategise immigration. Yet we must also recognise that the foundations of society as we know it, including services such as the NHS, have survived only with the crutches of influx from abroad. This stereotype needs to stop: I’m sorry mate, but my relatives didn’t immigrate to this country under the premise of wanting to steal your jobs or your women. In fact, they came over (with their own women) and with invaluable skills such as teaching only to be demoted to working industrial jobs that supported the British economy. And did they complain? No. They worked their measly hours and supported their families. As a result, I grew up with the privilege of an extensive education with a policeman for a dad and social worker for a mum: I grew up in the company of people from a plethora of cultures and religious beliefs. If we’d have stood side-by-side at high school, we’d have had more skin swatches than Loreal’s new foundation range. I am proud to know so many wonderful people who transcend any ethnicity/religious belief/sexuality boxes on an application form. I hail from one of the most diverse cities in the country and I will not see it be ruined by the likes of you, Alan. I am just as entitled to belong here as you are.
  • According to Alan, Muslims are the poster-boys and girls for terrorism. I don’t think Alan is well read as he seems to be oblivious to the KKK, IRA, Westboro Baptist Church, Holocaust, Rhineland Massacres and British Imperialism (to name but a few) which have caused death tolls in the millions all in the name of some omniscient god or power-crazy leader. I am willing to bet the rest of my student overdraft on the fact that Alan obtains his views directly from The Sun. I can hear the faint echo of Rupert Murdoch’s bitches, those fictional writers with not a scrap of dignity to their names, in his sentiments and it sort of makes me feel violently sick. The Islamic faith should not be tarnished by the actions of some barbaric, disenfranchised sub-humans. I think the repulsion towards Daesh has been explicitly evidenced: Muslim leaders have refused to grant London attackers religious funerals, thousands of Muslims have marched across Britain in condemnation of the acts and the entirety of Manchester were united in a synchronised ‘fuck you’ stance that was comprised of people from all backgrounds.

Alan, you’re wrong. And I know that deep down inside you will realise someday that your toxic beliefs are deadly for everyone, including yourself.

I also know that you will not be the last.

Many people have repeatedly stated that love will prevail and do you know what? I really think it will. I will not be spending the rest of my days trembling in fear. I will not be granting the Alans of the world the satisfaction of giving in but I won’t be chasing trouble, either. Those who want to dehumanise me will inevitably be drawn like flies to shit- my skin colour is enough for a really small minority of people to feel like they’re entitled to swoop in and spout their nonsense. I’m going to make an active effort to welcome that nonsense with calmness and composure, when it’s possible. I don’t have the time to feel this angry and this tired, anymore. So instead, I’m going to use the dregs of these negative emotions as the fuel for everything I do from here.

There is hope so long as there is potential for change and right now, this country is on the precipice. There is no going back- we are mixed together and despite our differences, we must persist and remain vigilant as whole communities. There is beauty in difference and I’m blessed to be surrounded by compassionate friends and family who embrace this. We’ve strived to derive as much positivity from the responses to the awful events recently because it’s the only way to move forward and the only way to overcome.

 

Fine, Fresh & Fabulous

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I’ve never been an athletic person. As a kid, I was lanky and dealing with a really problematic lack of hand-eye-coordination. Sports Days filled me with a silent dread and I would count down the days until it arrived, watching the enthusiastic kids armed with eggs and spoons tear up a track while I tried to blend in with the shrubbery behind me at the back of the line. I did try dancing for a bit and realised I was flexible enough to fall into the splits but, apart from that, struggled at the best of times to even walk properly, never mind catch a ball or bat impressively like the boys who played cricket at school. Competitive sports were simply never my thing and I had resigned myself comfortably to the notion that my grand purpose in life was clearly not to take up a spot at the Olympics.

Flash forward to high school and before I knew it, I was frozen at height and yet harboring an ass that grew at a sense-defying rate. My relationship with food had blossomed and I went from being classed as ‘underweight’ to a ‘healthy weight’ according to my BMI. This bugged me a tad. I’d grown accustomed to being ‘underweight’ in the eyes of society and part of me relished that, I think. Just a year before, I’d gone through a stint of avoiding food and making myself feel physically sick just considering the idea of eating. I’d found myself stunted at six-stones- I was fifteen and tiny. So to see that I’d changed disappointed me. But many assured me that I shouldn’t worry because I was finally healthy, so, I tried not to. I squeezed into jeans and accepted the new era of curves and actually fitting into clothes as opposed to having them drape over a flat chest and shapeless form.

All was well until I found myself at a pivotal point- I’d gone on a bit of a rampage following my first experience with heartbreak in my late teens and erased negative people and thoughts from my life. Part of this process involved trying to find a way to eliminate negative thoughts about myself. I began a journey with the intention of leaving the zone of self-hatred and landing at a place where I could tolerate myself, flaws and all, at least to the degree that I could actually stand to be in my own company without descending into a full on anxious breakdown. I decided to spruce myself up a little. Work on Pip. Find a way to look at the mirror and like what I saw staring back, even just a little bit. Develop some healthy habits like eating regular clean meals and maybe, eventually mustering up the courage to join the gym. To find a form of exercising for the first time in my life that would work for me.

And so, I chose to deal with my irrational fear of inadequacy by telling myself that the only person I was in competition with was myself. I didn’t have an aim to lose a particular amount of weight, yet I found myself monitoring my weight with a morbid curiosity every morning as some sort of autopilot ritual. I told myself religiously that I didn’t need to be tiny again to be ‘happy’. I didn’t have an end-product in mind. I knew I just wanted to feel better in myself and that alongside walking and yoga, trying something completely new could bring me that feeling of being content.

At my induction, I was shown around the equipment by a really friendly member of staff and I noticed on the horizon a line of guys with bodies bulging as if their muscles were in a bid to break through skin, all crowded round the weights area. When the staff member left me to venture, I decided that whilst I’d taken a massive step in signing up, perhaps I’d stick to the Ladies Section for fear of embarrassing myself in front of the Arnie-wannabes.

The Ladies Section taught me a lot of things. I walked into a range of women. Different ages. Different ethnic backgrounds. Different levels of experience varying from novice to professional. They were all awesome. I walked into a room of people who smiled at me as if to say, ‘well done for bringing your ass here on the quest to feeling fine, fresh and fabulous’. One thing I learned was that I was accepted. And also I realised that the gym I had imagined in my ignorant bliss, full of judgmental buff people, was actually non-existent. In fact, the gym was not just the primal arena of testosterone-pumped jocks (who transpired to actually be the friendliest people about, always saying hi with massive grins) or the prescribed treatment for the obese: it was also a place for people of all sizes and fitness levels who just wanted to sustain healthier lives.

It wasn’t a fashion show. People didn’t look over your shoulder at what gradient or speed you were going. They were too busy working hard, pushing themselves on their own goals. Nobody gave a shit about how much you sweat, if anything, it was a sign of dedication if your shirt was drenched.

This was great because I was good at getting my shirt drenched. I was really, really good at collapsing into a starfish on the floor after a session on the treadmill. I moved from machine to machine, following the step-by-step diagrams and building up my own sense of routine. Sometimes I’d end up chatting to people who offered advice so that I could improve technique. And soon enough, my body began to improve in efficiency and capability. I also began to notice that baby abs were making an appearance and that my legs were starting to tone. Most importantly, I started to find myself hooked on the way it made me feel. I went whenever I could. I even went during my lunch breaks from work which were sandwiched in the middle of nine hour shifts. I had defeated the voice of the lanky spirit within and actually come to find that I enjoyed going to the gym, even missing it when I was away or ill.

Flash forward another two years: I’m at a different gym now and I love it. I am still not Olympic-material but that’s okay because I’m still fine, fresh and fabulous. I don’t weigh myself anymore because BMI’s mean nothing to me. I’m bigger but it doesn’t bother me too much. Let’s face it, I was not genetically programmed to be the next Jessica Alba and anyways, a bequeathed culture of large family gatherings centered around food and drink is more important to me than having a flat stomach.

I have the best gym buddy in Regina that a person could possibly ask for. We don’t spend our time admiring the poised and glamorous models of glossy magazines fantasising about being them someday. We mop up sweat on our shirts in between sets, make stupid faces and dance to whatever is playing on the overhead speakers as if nobody else is there. She pushes me to go up a weight bracket or give just two more reps, even when it feels like the veins in my head will explode. I do it, too. Afterwards, I feel that little glow inside, that little reminder that I’ve come a long way from passive couch potato believing only in my inabilities to the girl challenging herself to try new things. The girl no longer bound by an obsession with the scales. I semi-confidently wander over to the free weights section even when I’m by myself and follow the routines she’s taught me. Resistance training has overtaken hours of hogging up a treadmill. There’s designated days for different body parts, recovery days spent limping and struggling to get down the stairs. The sweet satisfaction of working hard at a goal to be stronger in myself that only I can achieve, because it was set by me for me.

I suppose the most important thing I’ve learned from this very random entry is that self-imposed limitations are just that: self-imposed. And just as they can be formed, they can be defied. I always told myself that I wouldn’t enjoy exercise and I always told myself that I wasn’t good enough (For what? For whom? I still don’t know) but none of that matters anymore because I’ve essentially rewritten what it means to be me. I’ve finally found myself at that place: where I can tolerate myself on most days and even better, actually like myself.

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