English | Indian

I’ve written a poem, entitled - How brown?

Have you ever thought about
What it feels like, to be in front
Of your grandmother on her deathbed
And not understand
The language she uses
To tell you
how sorry she is
For abandoning you.

To sit on your dads lap,
Skin to skin
Watch the same hands that put you to bed
Wrapped you in safety
As the oppressor.

There is no place mixed people go
When we want to experience

There are no people
Who ever really look like us
Just off white
Off brown
Of colour.

Am I really just this dolly
For your fantasy
Your amusement
Your canvas
To colour with your pain
Your privilege
Your oppression.
I stand here with my open arms
Your easel
Let you paint
To feel it.

It isn’t a likeness you really want,
To a trophy.
Like Meghan Markle
Oh, doesn’t she sparkle.

But at every move
You are
Selling out
To people
Who never claimed you.

If I hear the word
I will combust
Into a thousand colours
And shapes
To paint the picture
Of a palm tree
A coconut
That I know you want to see.

Hey Cultural Appropriation
I need a job, gimme some cash.
You make a living out of me.

Stick me on the United Colours of Benetton
Take a picture.
Yeah, I know.
You want babies like me.

I can be interesting
Without saying a word
Without reading a book
Or knowing a thing
About history.

But I do.

And when I talk,
My voice shouts out into the
Echo chamber
Bounces of the wall
To come back at me.

No group
Wants to claim it.
Take it back,
You don’t understand
You aren’t cultured
You don’t experience,
Your Dad’s white,
You don’t know.

But you do apparently,
As you can’t wait to tell me:
You have a cousin like me.
The only people who understand me
Are “Palatable”

I have one ear on the left
One ear on the right
A brain trying to process
My body
In between.

Look at me in the eyes
There are two.
I’m whole.

This chest, that you laugh at
For being “overly sensitive”
Goes through.

Do I look like half of anything
To you?

Turn my skin
Inside out
And smear it across
The borders
That still reign.

I’m not your poster child
For a murky idea of
“Person of the World”.

I wonder how many more will throw me away
Before I able
To stick
To anyone.

I identify as mixed-race and practice Hinduism. My mother was born in Tanzania but identifies as Indian. She and her family are part of a wave of East African Gujarati Indians that immigrated over to the UK during the era of Idi Amin in Uganda. He was a politician that during the independence movement expelled all of the Indians that were located there, having come as labourers for the British from the Indian colony to Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. My father is originally from the north of England, near Manchester.

Both my parents were at a college in South London getting a diploma to practice accountancy. They had a secret relationship for around two years, before my mum left her family to elope with him. It had to be kept private as my mothers’ family were setting her up for an arranged marriage and had set cultural expectations of who she should marry, within her own community. My mum’s family were very religious, and from a sect of Hinduism called Swaminarayan. No one in her family had ever married out of the caste/background expected before, the only way they wouldn’t stop or prevent her from being with my dad was to get married and tell her family afterwards. After they had married, she was totally outcast by her family and community. She moved in with my dad’s family and had to rapidly become accustomed to living in an English culture from that point.

I was born near South London and spent most of my childhood in that area. It was great because there was much more diversity and access to different cultures. However, the politics in the family around their marriage was still a lot for them to deal with as parents. My dad had a dream of building a house in the country surrounded by nature. He wanted the four of us in our little family in a self-sustainable place they built themselves, and we did it. I spent my teenage years in a village the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. The very few people around, the ones who were, were mainly White.

I was aware of my ethnicity because it was explained to me a lot, and I felt like I was explaining it a lot to other people. That hasn’t really changed. I have unusual eyes that attracted attention even as a child, so I was constantly asked where my mum and dad are from. I remember that when we moved to the countryside, another child asked me at school ‘why is your mum Brown?’, I remember just wondering why everyone else’s wasn’t. I didn’t really know how to understand White mums who didn’t make curry at home. I honestly thought they were all teachers.

My friendship circles have changed over the years but of course heritage plays a big part. I have some very close Indian friends from University that are more like family to me, even though we don’t agree on a lot of things there is a very real comfort and understanding between us having been raised in a similar way. Growing up I had only White friends as that was all there was around, they did have an influence on me, especially the drinking and pub culture as a teenager. I remember that environment having an influence on what I would ask my parents for, comparing my freedoms to theirs as a standard which caused a really big problem between my mum and I that we had no idea how to communicate about. I have always been interested in Black politics particularly around racial injustice, and especially South African history. I spent all my degree and masters degree studying it. And in between travelled back and forth to my friend in Jamaica, which is still the place I feel the most comfortable psychologically, being mixed-race. Being mixed-race made me hyper sensitive to racism, so if I felt like anyone in any of my friendship groups were unconsciously being so, I would drift away from them if I didn’t have to be around them. I was and still am very drawn to people who like to have conversations on race, racial injustice and exploration of history in relation to identity.

Dating is already a challenge and confusing for everyone, but I think it is very hard for me not to fall into being insecure about where I am from or what race I am- which can sometimes lead to overcompensating where I don’t have to. Culture is a big part of my decision as I was raised on the common values between my father and the Indian culture that my mum instilled in me, particularly around family, elders and loyalty. But also, if I feel like someone is more in touch with their roots than I am, or can speak the language of their roots, I feel intimidated. I try not to think of it that way but look for people who share similar values as me on a whole. I can’t imagine being married to anyone I have met in my life so far yet, but the pressure of getting married from the Indian side is a lot heavier.

I definitely think there are stereotypes towards mixed-race people. We are fetishised, all the time. My experience as a woman has unfortunately involved hypersexualisation because of my mixed-race heritage. Being mixed with White I have found that I play into people’s insecurities about the way they look compared to Eurocentric standards of beauty, which really upsets me. I want to look more like them from my insecurities of not being Brown enough. I think in the South Asian community in London, they are still in the generation that is predominantly navigating interracial marriages as a big deal. Mixed-race grown adults are not fully accepted nor understood as part of the community as well yet.

A negative is that as my identity is a bit ambiguous, I sometimes find myself never feeling like I belong anywhere. If someone looks like me they are usually from a totally different culture that I don’t relate to at all. I think that I wasted a lot of years waiting to be accepted by people and upset about feeling rejected. I have now learnt that I am the only one who really needs to accept myself.

A positive is that you have social adaptability skills. A bit like a chameleon, you can blend into different situations, cultures and groups because you have to- as you don’t find many people who identify the same way you do, and often find parts of yourself in totally different groups anyway. I think it gives us more confidence to be around people different from us and be able to have conversations to make them feel comfortable around you as well.

Based on my religious beliefs I do think we all come back again, but it would nice to be a whale.

Moving forwards, I think there will be more conversations between us as a community, rather than feeling displaced out of other more dominant groups that make parts- but not all- of who we are. I think that more and more mixed-race people are going to be made in this increasingly global world, and I also think that they could be the champions of challenging racism and racial injustice by allowing themselves to represent every part of who they are.