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 to you directly.
When I was eight, your mum – my step-mum – asked what I’d like for dinner and in jest I replied: “Haha, you’re our slave”. That was the first time I’d ever seen your mother cry and the first time our dad slapped me. When it happened, I wasn’t sure why what I’d said caused such a stir. 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 cried 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 certain behaviours: the micro-aggressions fuelled by racism, 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 as an outsider: your experiences will ultimately be your own but I’ll always be on your side.
Lesson number one: people are ugly. Not all of them, but many.
Real ugliness shares no correlation with the physical form, no. Ugliness is found in the depiction of backward attitudes, bigotry; superiority, brutality; venom and hate. 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. Back in the day, whenever our family would eat out in predominantly South-Asian, London-based areas, the undercurrents became so tense we’d find ourselves gasping for air. We’ve had people stare at us, slur insults, shake their heads disapprovingly, unable to comprehend how a brown skinned man could marry an East African woman. It’s not you, it’s them.
You’re part Indian, so it’s important to be aware of India’s complex caste system: hierarchical structures, categorising citizens based on race, religion and class. As a result of this, the fairer you are the more you’re deemed superior. 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 on the way. Men and women have finally started to protest the discrimination against their skin. In fact, you only have to look at your parents 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 hate just yet and you need to be prepared. Old habits die hard, leaving room for the small and closed-minded. Over time and because of this: ties have been cut, relationships severed.
Anyone who rejects you, rejects us all.
I saw a bunch of young (mostly black) teenagers waiting for the bus in a predominantly white area and folks were scurrying out their way in a panic. The kids were all sporting football boots and gym bags and to me, it was obvious they’d just finished training. I thought of you and my heart raced, as they made way for me to pass.
We can thank the media for continuous racist stereotypes. Shows I grew up with fell from grace, as I made note of scarce and damaging representations. Biased newspaper headlines and blasphemous articles, racial typecasts and narrow on-screen representations have all been contributors towards mass brainwashing. We, the onlookers, have soaked up so many limited ideas over the years that it is up to us dissect and decipher the truth.
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. So you see, what may come across as a social norm may often be linked to oppression.
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’ve spent much time observing your reactions: most of the time you seem nonchalant. Still, if the actions of others ever makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t feel you need to succumb to politeness.
I promise to work on myself, as I try to do often. If I find myself generalising, 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 forcing you to cut your hair.
Which is beautiful, as I said.
The truth is, 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.
I imagine when you’re grown, we’ll share political exchange. I wonder what experiences you may’ve had by then and how you may’ve dealt with them. Will you communicate your pain or remain indifferent? Knowing you, the latter.
Little brothers, your views and feelings count. If you feel something isn’t right, it isn’t. And if you find yourselves feeling lost, downtrodden? I’ll forever be your ally.