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Acceptance, Appreciation and Appropriation

Illustrations: Sara Haas

Illustrations: Sara Haas

I was born on the 17th of February, at 2 in the afternoon. Just over four pounds, lungs strong as steel, and more importantly, healthy. Apart from some reluctancy to feed, I was taken home as soon as possible, to two older siblings. I was named and that was practically my introduction to the world.

Raised in an area where the majority were Asian, there was no escape from my culture. Women in saris walked through the streets with their heads held high, the smells of kebabs wafted everywhere, and the sounds of drums erupted whenever there was a wedding. And I absolutely loathed it.

 I grimaced at the bright coloured clothes, shied away from henna, and refused to learn my parent’s mother tongue. My dad’s accent was heavy and with my mother’s fairer skin – I had an obvious preference to who came to school with me. I hated my dull brown eyes and replaced them mentally with the ‘pretty blue’ one of my white friends had.

 And it didn’t stop when I went to high school. Not for myself, not even for the other brown kids my age. We mocked our parents, laughed at stereotypical accents, and blushed when teachers mispronounced and wrongly addressed our names. All of this, just to fit into a country that didn’t really want us.

Islamaphobia and racism is on the rise in Britain. Yet, the amount of white girls I see wearing henna and bindis also seems to be increasing. Even curry is one of the most popular dishes here. Muslim women are spat on in the streets but “feeling ethnic” is currently in style. This is appropriation.

However, my mother doesn’t see it that way. All those years of me hiding from my culture, my mother perceives any sort of interest in our culture as “appreciative.” She says it’s them accepting us. I say, did they accept us when they set fire to our religious buildings? Did they accept us when they attacked an Arab woman for singing in Arabic? I say, did they accept us when they bullied you for smelling of your mother’s cooking? She doesn’t have an answer apart from asking what harm it does.

The harm is clear. Our culture has been torn apart to be plastered on the cover of Vogue, to be bastardised by a white woman and a photographer who knows nothing about the effects of colonialism. We’re there to fill a purpose; to provide a ‘look’ – a trend, if you like.

And that’s the thing. It’s just a look for them. They can take it off and can go back to reaping the benefits from the structure their ancestors put in to place. But when Asian women go for job interviews they can’t bleach their skins to escape the discrimination.

I don’t tell her that I somehow feel guilty for this. How could they accept us, when I didn’t even accept it? Maybe they wouldn’t continue with the jokes if there wasn’t someone laughing at them. I spent years investing heavily in to assimilation to get nothing in return. But it doesn’t matter. The damage is done.

And maybe that’s why she doesn’t get it; because like me, because like so many other young brown kids, she wanted so desperately to be accepted. For her to feel at home. And this is home. And I love my brownness now. I don’t find shame in the bright colours, or the spice, or even the (sometimes uncomfortable) outfits. And while these parts are being accepted, we are not.

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