I want to kick this off with a frank discussion of my early experiences of race, as conditioned by my own race. As the daughter of a long line of first-gens I’ve never been a fan of the “where are you really from?” part of introductions (and airport security checks) – but until relatively recently this was only because it was such a long story to tell honestly.
My reluctance to indulge strangers with my genealogy has led to people wanting to classify my body (and my name) in terms they understood. “Paki” wasn’t uncommon at school; neither was”Jew”, since my father was born in Israel; when I grew up strange men begun to call me “exotic” or “warm”; and more recently friends have told me I’m “just tanned”, or could “get away with being white”. This last is the only really painful one. It’s taken of strength recently to start defining myself by myself, and to tell me I could guise as something else (something very tempting) ~white~ has knocked me back.
It reminded me of a childhood spent straightening my hair, staying out of the sun, and googling how much I would have to save up to chisel my nose. When people told me I was all these things they wanted me to be, I would engage with them – validating their positions – instead of telling them where they could stick their analysis of my physical features.
…well Jewishness is matrilineal so actually – no, I know how the Nazis defined it, but-
Even as this child, I thought racism was a thing of the past. My mum told me stories about Mandela, I read Malorie Blackman’s novels, and knew that there was no longer such a thing a segregation on buses or in schools.
My first awakening to the racial issues of here and now, was when I first listened to some real rap. A friend reblogged “Yours and my Children” by Akala on tumblr and I was instantly hooked. I downloaded everything I could find by him, and others on the same scene.
This was back in 2010. I remember it because I was first becoming politically aware, doing my own reading into issues and going to protests. This music and what these London rappers where spitting filled in a gap. Here were people talking unashamedly of where their home was, and the racial prejudice and violence that affected them.
“Still I feel like an immigrant, englishman amongst arabs and an arab amongst englishmen” – The Cradle of Civilization, Lowkey.
At first it made me angry. I was so pissed off that there’d been this whole body of normative expectations with its fingers around my throat the whole time, and I’d just misunderstood it. I was pissed that I’d never learned the right syntax to express these feelings because I’d only ever heard of the past tense of racism; expressions like Jim Crow, apartheid, and holocaust.
Here, I could write whole bodies of essays on the dangers of the Newspeak we use to discuss issues that could embarrass the privileged; the problematic natures of the chicken-and-egg solutions attempted; intersectional feminism; learning to call people out; and…you get the idea.
Instead, I’ll finish with the thought that I’m not empowered by being non-white. But, at least now I know this. Certainly, I don’t know what many of the personal implications of these two facts will mean for me – but at least, I think, they’re what make me want to write all those essays.