I couldn’t write this piece without you.
I attempted a detached prose but saw red. Fury. I clenched my jaw and surrendered, cried. Why? I was only able to get the words out when addressed directly to you. My shelter from the storm, you bring me calm; oneness.
When I was eight, your mum – my stepmum – asked what I’d like for dinner and in jest I replied: “you’re our slave”. That day, my eyes opened. It was the first time I’d ever seen your mother cry and the first time our father slapped me. When it happened, I wasn’t sure why what I’d said opened such a wound. I hadn’t yet learned about racism or oppression. I was unconscious to a pain mapped so far back and yet with us in the present and well, let’s just say my heart opened that day too.
I want so badly to wrap you in cotton wool but I can’t and it bugs me. I feel frustrated that I won’t always be there to protect you from ignorant behaviors: unnecessary remarks, racist jibes: piercing through your hearts and minds. The fact I will never know how it feels to be a young black male means I write this with objective stance: a mere onlooker. Your experiences will ultimately be your own – just know your sister’s got you.
Lesson number one: people are ugly. Not all of them, but a vast amount.
Real ugliness shares no correlation with the physical form, no. Ugliness is found in the depiction of backward attitudes, racial bias; superiority, haste; name calling, privilege. Unwarranted venomous judgment. Sometimes, even those with good intentions, even those you consider your own, will show you something ugly.
I’ve had many encounters with ugly people and I’d like to share some with you. For instance, every time we’d (your mother, myself, Gordon, Dad) would eat out in predominantly Asian, London-based areas – the undercurrents became so tense we found ourselves gasping for air. We’ve had people gawk at us, slur insults, shake their heads disapprovingly – unable to comprehend how a brown skinned man could marry an East African woman. Don’t fret, Dad has good taste.
You’re part Indian, so it’s important to be aware of Indias’ complex caste system: hierarchical structures, categorizing citizens based on race, religion and class. As a result of this, the fairer you are the more you’re deemed worthy. Cosmetic stores in India are plastered with “Fair and Lovely”, a well known product promoting the gradual increase of lighter skin. I know it’s disheartening – but change is coming. Men and women have finally started to protest condemnation of their skin; taking a stance through progressive ideas and knowledge. You only have to look at our immediate family to know not all hope is lost.
But we’re not perfect. I’ve had relatives warn not to date black men; remarks made on the texture of your (beautiful) hair and questions such as “Is your dad still living with ‘that black woman'” hurled at me. You’re probably wondering why I’m sharing all this? Well, the world isn’t free of hateful attitudes. People hold on to the things they’ve learned, keeping themselves small; closed-minded. I don’t associate myself with such people anymore: ties have been cut, relationships severed. And I’m not sorry about it. Anyone who rejects you, rejects me. Besides, what kind of losers wouldn’t want to know the coolest kids in the world?
I saw a bunch of young (mostly black) teenagers waiting for the bus one day and folks were literally jumping out of their way, anguished. The kids were all sporting football boots and gym bags – obviously just finished training. I thought of you immediately and my heart raced – to make a point I stood in the midst of them. I was met with “after you”, as they waited in turn to tap their Oystercards.
The media is largely responsible for racist stereotypes. Biased newspaper headlines and blasphemous articles, racial typecasts and narrow on-screen representations are all contributors to mass brainwashing. We, the onlookers, have soaked up so many limited ideas over the years that it is up to us dissect them and decipher truth. Shows I grew up with fell from grace, as I made note of either scarce or damaging representations.
I also saw my west African friend – barely tipsy – being refused entry to a club. My other friend – caucasian and paralytic – crawled his way in. I challenged management, who gave the whole “Yeah but our bouncers are black so how can we be racist?” spiel. Sometimes, our fear is so far ingrained we condemn ourselves, blinded by denial.
I tense up when people fawn over your hair, even when they do so with admiration. I don’t want you to ever feel like your features make you human exhibitions. I spend much of my time watching how you react to things. Most of the time you seem delighted. Still, if the actions of others ever makes you feel uncomfortable – you don’t have to succumb to politeness. You’re permitted to speak up, or move away with full support.
I promise to work on myself, as I try to do often. If I find myself generalizing – I’ll correct my thoughts. If I make a judgement – I’ll question my reasoning. If I begin to stereotype, I’ll ask myself why. I will constantly acknowledge any inauthentic thought, unconsciously absorbed; unfair and untrue.
Sometimes, I want to cover your ears, so you won’t ever have to hear racist slurs at football matches.
Sometimes, I want to cover your eyes, so you won’t read headlines highlighting race over incident.
Sometimes, I want to march into your school and interrogate your teachers, for advising you not to grow your hair.
Which again, is beautiful.
The truth is angels, one day you will consciously take heed of racism. You’ll acknowledge its existence like an uninvited guest and wonder, like myself, when the fuck it’s going to leave.
Our parents did good by raising us in London. Look around, nobody here’s been left behind. Plus, the majority of Londoners are savvy; they’re open to conversation, which sparks a conscious breakthrough. Not only that, but you have a support system of steel. Exempt from your parents, Gordon and I will be your best friends – you ours.
I imagine when you’re grown, we’ll share political consciousness. I wonder what experiences you might’ve had and how you may’ve dealt with them. Will you communicate your pain or remain indifferent? However you choose to deal and process, there’s (mostly) no wrong or right way.
Little brothers, your views and feelings count. If you feel something isn’t right, it probably isn’t. And if you find yourselves feeling lost, downtrodden? We’ll be here. Ready to remind you just how perfect you are.