Here in post-UK Brexit, where hate crime and racism are on the rise, an American woman in London came up with the idea of wearing a safety pin to show your opposition to racism and to single yourself out as an ally. Continue reading
Tag: mixed race
Brexit: confusion, fear & shame
On Friday morning I woke up at 7:02am and in my first few waking moments, blinked at twitter. No. Surely not. Tears sprang into my ears before I’d even fully processed the information, both the shock and the doubt merging with the disbelief. The UK has voted to leave the EU. Even as I read the facts through blurry, angry tears, my mind was refusing to accept the information.
Hey! It’s me. Laila. The author of this blog. The girl in the photo. The editor and the scribe. The immigrant’s daughter. Continue reading
A quick warning that this is a very colourful and photo-heavy post – Notting Hill is just so pretty!
Whilst in Mauritius I spent a lot of time with one of my cousins and his adorable kids (pictured, do you see a likeness?). He’s the eldest cousin and I’m the youngest. Despite the differences in age and circumstance there is a lot the two of us share beside our grandparents; a sympathetic disposition, a tendency to laugh off serious statements, a keen interest in how our families have shaped us.
My eldest cousin spoke touchingly of his dream; to have the four of us cousins, our four collective children and our one remaining parent (mine) all together in a room. To just be together like that. He spoke so wistfully it made my heart ache. I have many friends who see their entire families every Christmas, every wedding, every funeral. I’ve met my cousins only a handful of times through my life, divided as we are by continents and expensive flight routes. I wish I were of more use to them, lame as I am with my poor grasp of language; my alien career choice; my bizarre hometown; my youth and naivety; my sincere unknowing of life.
My eldest cousin noted the similarities between all of us cousins. We are all independent, almost to the point of being loners. We are all sensitive listeners who try and help everyone out, but none of us are any good at asking for or accepting help of our own. We are actually terrible at accepting help: quick to retreat, happy to analyse our problems in solitude. We don’t like letting people in. We are all pretty laid-back about the trials of day to day life, saving ourselves for the bigger dramas. The kind of dramas that brew up over a lifetime because nobody knew what to do. The kind of crisis that can cause the rest of the family to dash across the globe and throw their best of intentions at; well-meaning but rashly executed.
I don’t really know what the role of family is. People to teach you, to support you, people who know you best, people who cared about you unconditionally? These aren’t really things I associate with my family. My local family is just me and my parents; three people with a backlog of misunderstandings and confusing geography. With the rest of my family, I know we are all similar people but we’re just too far away – and there’s not enough to go on, not enough to be getting on with.
The attributes of family are instead are the things I associate with my friends. It’s my friends who lift me up, it’s my friends who enlighten me, it’s my friends who support me. Why is that? Is it the age I am and the society I live in? Is it because I see my family so little? Is it because my family and I share the same flaws and therefore cannot look after each other properly? The same cracks in alternate mirrors, the same blots on our differing landscapes. It’s difficult to say.
What It’s Like Not Being White
I received the above opening line on Tinder last week. I quickly posted it to Facebook with the comment “Just so we are all clear, “you don’t strike me as English” is not an acceptable chat-up line”. My initial reaction was shock and disbelief along with a weary resignation. Amongst the 60-odd likes on were a number of comments which were largely jokey. I can play along to a degree, but the thing is: I wasn’t joking. It’s not an acceptable line.
I’m mixed race. I was born in London. I have a non-Caucasian name. I have brown skin and thick dark brown hair. My name and my colouring, two aspects of myself which I have no control over and were mere circumstances at birth, have far too often become the sole distinguishing features that people latch on to. These features single me out as not being white. Though 13% of the UK and 40.2% of London are not white, being not white still means I am different.
I am reminded daily in the way people talk about me or to me and by the assumptions implicit in conversations. I’ve long been resigned to how things are, but the anger I feel about this is growing. I am made to feel strange and unusual; I am made to feel “other”. I am literally forced to identify myself as “other”, because I am “Mixed Other” on the drop down menu of racial backgrounds on HR forms and the national census.
I take the piss out of this a lot. I jokingly describe myself as being “foreign” or “ethnic” because the alternate option is to wait for that label to come from somewhere else, probably somewhere with fewer laughs. I take the piss, because otherwise I would be too angry to do anything. The older I get, the more exhausting it is to laugh this stuff off; casual racism, instant stereotypes, pre-assigned tropes. I am in disbelief that things don’t seem to change despite more people calling it out. I call it out every time whether it’s a friend, a colleague or somebody I’ve just met. The more I call it out, the more aware I become of the fact that these race-based assumptions are deeply ingrained into our society, so much so that people often aren’t aware they hold these assumptions. People deny that their remarks were meant to cause offence; I’m sure they weren’t, but it doesn’t change what’s been said and assumed. Nobody wants to think of themselves as racist.
The more I call it out, the more I’m told I’m making a big deal out of nothing. I’m tired of being told that if I want to take something intended innocently as a racist remark, then that is my issue to deal with and that the problem lies with me. It’s never the problem of the person who made the remark: they didn’t intend any offence and so do not accept offence caused. I’m fed up with being told that I’m trying to draw attention to myself, that I take things too seriously, that I should have picked a less visible career instead of placing myself on stages. I’m fed up with trying to patiently explain to everybody why their words might hurt. I’m tired of hearing that people’s other non-white friends have never called them out, so what’s my problem?
I’m not an angry person, and I tend to see humour in all situations, but not being white feels more and more like a daily slog I can’t turn off. I’m writing this post so that you see why it might get frustrating. You’re probably thinking, what kind of incidents is she referring to? What comments does she call out? How bad can it really be in 2015? Well, let me try to paint a picture.
When participating on the panel at a Q and A session I noticed my name had been spelt as Lola on my name badge. Lola is not my name. On informing the event assistant she replied “Well it’s close, isn’t it? We’ll leave it at that as people know how to pronounce THAT name – we don’t want any embarrassing situations”.
At least 50% of the time after people find out I’m a musician they ask immediately if I play Indian music.
I have my teaching details listed on different websites. My profiles are exactly the same, except I created one using my mother’s anglican maiden name and one with my actual surname. The maiden name profile received 75% more interest in the first couple of months. The profile using my fathers surname received 5 separate requests asking if English is my first language and if I can speak enough English to teach, despite the fact the profile was written in English.
Being asked if my vocabulary is sufficient enough to teach Music at GCSE Level in 3 separate job interviews, despite my CV explaining that I am a British national, English is the only language I teach in and that I possess a Masters in Music from a UK institution.
Being described as “beautiful” or “pretty” is always followed by “in an exotic way” or “you look so tropical” or even “for/despite being brown”. Only twice has a person called me beautiful and just left it at that.
Related “compliments” include, “you could be an Arabian princess”, “do you ever wear one of those scarves? I think they’re sexy”, “can you do a belly dance?”, “you’re like a harem girl”.
Walking past a man wearing a UKIP rosette who shouted “we’ll be getting rid of you soon, love!” and spat on the pavement after me.
The recruitment agency who advised using a picture of me where I looked “brighter” as schools want to employ “a friendly face” – it was a black and white photo (making me look lighter-skinned) rather than the colour one I had provided. Everybody else on the books was white and had a colour photo.
Another man on a bus telling me to “fuck off back where you came from before you blow the bloody place up” before shouting at a fellow passenger “there’s a fucking terrorist on this bus!”. I was holding my bassoon.
Being turned down for a job interview at a school, phoning up to ask for feedback and then being greeted with laughter and “oh! we assumed you didn’t speak English very well” and then more laughter, as though this was hilarious.
About 3 days after our latest election result, two men on the street talking, first said “Cameron’ll send all that gross Asian scum home now” to which the second one replied “Yeah, except them, I like something tropical every now and then” whilst nodding at me.
After listing my role models as Kate Bush and Lindsay Cooper in an interview I was asked “do you have any role models like you? You know…” and then, whilst gesturing to my face “we wanted to play that whole thing up a bit more, you know, it’s an interesting angle.” I’m so happy I provided you with a ready-made interesting angle! God forbid you’d have to find the interest elsewhere, for example my career or business!
On arguing against peoples nationalities being listed after tragedies and fatalities abroad I was rebuffed with “You wouldn’t understand because you’re not a proper nationality.”
School nicknames including Osama, The Terrorist, Paki, Gorilla, Monkey Man, Suicide Bomber, Ahmed, Bollywood, Curry House and Saddam.
Being told by a gross man in a bar that “girls like me” make more money as lapdancers/pole dancers because we look less pasty under bright lights and (again) also look more “exotic”.
Aged 6, local press – “Can we have the little brown girl to sit near the front? It looks better.”
Aged 14, school press – “It needs to look more diverse – Laila, can you come and stand in the front?”, worth pointing out I was the only non-white girl in my year.
Using maps on my phone in Brighton to find a cafe, a guy came up and said “are you looking for the language school?”. I said no and asked if he knew where the cafe was, and he said “Oh! I didn’t realise you spoke English. I thought you were looking for the language school. You know, because of..” and then gestured at my face whilst laughing, as though this was a hilarious mix-up. THINGS I HEAR ALL THE TIME:
“So where are you really from?”
“So where are your parents from?”
“You’re obviously not English”
“When did you come to this country?”
“Do you feel part of British society then?”
“I just think brown girls are more interesting.” – most recently heard from somebody 5 months into a relationship
“So you don’t really have a race? What kind of a person are you?”
“Do you still consider yourself a person even though you don’t have a country?”
“Well, obviously you don’t count because you’re brown/ethnic/mixed” etc or “You wouldn’t understand because you’re brown/ethnic/mixed” etc
“Are you vegetarian for religious reasons?” – a question never asked of my vegetarian white friends when we eat together
“You wouldn’t say that if you had a country of your own.”
“You’re so dark and mysterious, it’s like you’re a stranger from another land.”
“I’ve always liked exotic girls” – again most recently heard from somebody 6 months into a relationship
“It’s like, when you go out with somebody from another country it makes your whole life feel more tropical, you get that tropical holiday feeling. You’re basically like going on a holiday.”
One or two of these incidents could be brushed off as an unfortunate confusion, but when it happens week in and week out I become jaded. I can’t comment for everybody that’s not white, and much of the above is coupled with being a girl or being mixed race, two things which I could post about separately. I do seem to get more comments than a lot of my non-white friends, so maybe I just come across like a particularly antagonistic member of society who needs taking down a peg. But from my perspective it just seems like there is a huge amount of racism that I have to navigate on a daily basis, and at no juncture do I have the luxury of going about my life without my heritage challenged and called into question.
A lot of the assumptions can easily be avoided by re-wording questions. “How long have you lived in this area?” will get the same information as “When did you come to this country?” without implying that I’ve moved here from somewhere else. “What kind of musician are you?” lets me explain myself as opposed to guessing with “Oh, Indian music? Like in Bollywood?”, and if you’re genuinely interested, why not put “Why don’t you eat meat?” to everybody in the group rather than singling me out and assuming I’m religious? It’s simple wording and phrasing, but it’s wording a lot of people have probably never had to think about, because they have never been on the receiving end of it of that particular line of questioning.
From now on I’m going to broadcast every time I encounter a racist comment or scenario – call it out with me if you like on twitter (@tapeparade) or facebook (www.facebook.com/tapeparade101 and www.facebook.com/lailawoozeer). I hope people are aware of it, and I hope at some point, people will call themselves out on what they say, and do, and eventually they’ll have to start calling themselves out before they say or do anything but when they even think that way. But until then I’ll keep calling it out.
The Summers that Shaped Me
Today I thought I’d tell you about some of my summer holidays in years gone by, complete with a lot of dodgy pictures. Let’s time travel! This post is part of a collaboration called #WeBlogSummer, set up by lovely Sophia – read more here – and the theme this week is summer holidays, but as I’ve actually already posted about my thoughts on summer holidays and my “goals” for this particular summer I’ve decided to cast the gaze back into years gone by.
Summer 2005 is the last summer prior to this one I spent entirely in the UK. I was underage back in 2005 and my friends and I were at that awkward level of teenager life where you’re too old to go for dinner round somebody else’s house, but not quite old enough to go clubbing or to the pub. I mean what are teenagers meant to do? No wonder they just congregate in parks and shopping malls. It’s tough. My friends and I spend the summer alternating round each others houses. We went to my house every Thursday, which we titled “the gatherings” and… I don’t know what we did? Played Playstation, had water fights, climbed trees, had sleepovers and barbecues I guess.I started learning the guitar on one borrowed from a friend (still in my bedroom ten years later). I think at one point we were writing a film and shooting bits of footage? Or maybe we started a band? That’s the kind of thing you can do as teens.
2005 was also the summer 6 of us went on a trip up north; we spent 1 day at Alton Towers and 2 days chilling out at home, watching the Saw films, “cooking”, learning to tango, god knows what else but the time passed. I tried to find some non-awful pictures to show you, but 2005 is the year I attempted to grow my fringe out. Although shout out to that brown skirt – it was made from this weird stretchy fabric that was exclusively sold in Camden during 2003-2007 and I adored it. It was the summer I enjoyed the lazing around and the joys of just bedding yourself in with people; as a teen my life tended towards fast-paced and busy but that summer was my most chilled out time on record. I just spent about half an hour going through old photos and now feel very nostalgic for that mundane time. We didn’t even have facebook to distract us!
The early part of Summer 2007 was magnificent. Although tragically this was my second attempt to grow out a fringe (why didn’t I learn), study leave seemed to start in about March and I lose count of how many breakfasts, shopping trips and garden parties happened up until June. It was somebody else’s birthday every weekend and house parties became our default social scenario. I suffered a huge blow in my life quite early on that summer and that ended up being quite traumatic. It’s actually one of the very few incidents in my life that even today I can’t laugh off or joke about. I went from the best period of my life to one of the very worst and I just really unravelled; I was way too young to even begin processing what had happened to me and although I had a lot of friends, I didn’t really have the capacity to properly talk to anybody.
The reason I’m including this in my summer round-up is because I stayed in a lot and started just writing song after song after song. I filled notepads with songs and most importantly they started to improve. One of the songs from this time is still in my setlist now. I feel like summer 2007 is when I just sort of ceased developing and my gears stopped changing. Growing up is a gradual process and it sounds ridiculous but I feel like most aspects of myself and the way I operate can be easily and directly traced back to that event and that summer, especially when examining the way I deal with things and create things today.
Summer 2011 was such a big summer for me it kind of split into two parts. It was the year I left university and I had absolutely zero plans for the summer and zero plans for the year after. The first part of summer was spent completely surrounded by all my friends; I saw a lot of my friends from back home, I saw a lot of my theatre friends and I even got to reconnect with my old school friends at a party which was wonderful. I spent a lot of time with all the friends I’d made over the last 3 years, a long and drawn out goodbye to my degree and the corner or South London that had become my home, as well as all the years that had come before that. I leapt at every opportunity and ended up with plans that would take me far across the country for the second half of the summer. The first part of the holidays culminated in one of the best and most emotional nights of my life; flanked by my best friends Danilo and Pete it was the night I left London.
After I left London my summer was spent surrounded by completely new people who had no link to school, university or anything I’d done before. I had leapt at every opportunity that turned up in the last few weeks and ended up spending the second 2 months of summer running around between two different music courses and a month-long run with a show at Edinburgh Fringe. I didn’t know anybody on any of those projects but ended up making lifelong friends with a lot of people I still work alongside today (such as the company I just toured with, half of Quizcats and as you can see from the pictures, James). I’ve written about how it was the summer Amy died and I started singing; finally finding an outlet. That first time I got onto the stage and stood in front of a microphone, as myself, it was literally like the world had shifted in front of me. It was in some crappy venue with about 12 people but I just thought “I knew this is what I wanted”. If I hadn’t met James and we hadn’t been in Edinburgh that may have never happened. So the whole summer was an amazing way to learn that even with no plans and no idea of what to do, life works out for the best. That even if the worst happens, friends are to be found everywhere.
So there we go! I hope you enjoyed this nostalgic look back. There are lots of other awesome bloggers taking part in #WeBlogSummer – if you head to Sophia’s blog you can read everybody else’s posts, and if you enjoyed this delve into my early years I’ve written a couple of other “growing up” posts here and here.