But where are you really from?

The past year and a half has involved a lot of self-reflection. I’m learning more about myself, what I’m made of and what it means to be me.

I’m a 40 year old British Indian woman, I’ve spent my whole life in Newcastle – shout out to my brief French episodes… Aix en Provence 2000 and Paris 2010.

My childhood memories are treasured and bathed in a soft fuzzy light, accompanied by 90s Bollywood films, Indian food on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, lots of gatherings with my close knit family and Hindi lessons at the temple on Saturday afternoons.

Shivani
I think the sun is in my eyes

Then something happened… I can’t pinpoint what or why but I was embarrassed of being Indian. I resented that I was different from the majority of my friends. I wished I had lighter hair, blue eyes (let’s not talk about those bright blue coloured contact lenses I wore in my early twenties – massive eye roll). The only Indian people I recall seeing on tv were Sanjay & Gita in Eastenders. They were hardly role models for 14 year old me. I can recall being called “a bit sad” because I liked Bollywood films as a pre-teen (I mean… I had posters up in my room and used to read Stardust magazine haha), it was probably not a direct result of that, but I totally disconnected myself from it all as much as I could. I remember not wanting to be seen wearing traditional Indian clothes and I’d beg mum to change her clothes if we were popping out. The same goes for speaking Punjabi or listening to Indian music, I didn’t want anyone in earshot to hear. I keep deleting the last two sentences because I’m so ashamed of it now and will try my hardest to make sure Anushka is proud of her Indian heritage and enjoys learning about it as well as embracing her Britishness.

Anushka in indian outfit
Anushka in her lengha

Across the last year I’ve been reading a lot about unconscious bias, privilege and learning more about my own blind spots and how they have impacted my decision making and behaviour. I’m by no means an expert – just very interested in learning more.  It’s been eye-opening and it’s reminded me of lots of things people have said to me over the years, that made me feel like an outsider. These are all nice people too, I am certain no one meant any offence. These could be labelled as micro-aggressions and I think my encounters have for the most part been unintentional. I’ve listed some, but not all because hey, we’d be here a long time. I also know I’m not the only person who’s experienced this – this happens every single day and I’m pretty sure you could add to my list.

My examples all have a racial context but this applies to anyone in a marginalized group — whether it is as a result of religion, sexual orientation, gender or disability.

Where are you from? My answer is always the same. I’m from Newcastle. This isn’t the answer most people are looking for… so my answer provokes the inevitable “but where are you really from?” This instantly makes you feel like you don’t belong. It’s saying I know you were born here but I can tell from the colour of your skin and your name that you’re not REALLY from here.

Do you go home often? Yes, I live at home. The UK is my home. When I’m asked this question, the person asking, means how often do I go to India.

On more than a few occasions it’s something like “how long have you been here?” or “you speak very good English“.

When I was in a new job, someone said my name was too hard and asked if they could call me Sharon. Nope, you can’t, sorry. I remember laughing it off at the time.

“You must love spicy food” actually I don’t.

Someone was on the phone to a call centre in India and hung up frustrated and said “bloody Indians“, instantly shot a look at me and said “not you, you’re alright“.

You’re really normal, I don’t think of you as indian” – yes, really. This same person said they wouldn’t know I wasn’t white if they could only hear my voice. You know what the worst part of this story is, I think I said thank you. I took it as a compliment.

Even typing this list up, I wonder if I’m being overly sensitive or reading too much into it. In all the examples above, I let the comments slide, maybe even made a joke out of it. The easiest thing to do is to ignore it and move on.

Over the past year, I have made a conscious effort to speak up, not just for myself but as an ally for others too. I try to approach it in a way that isn’t confrontational or rude, because more often than not, I will need to interact with that person again. I could just say nothing but I know I would regret that afterwards. I’ve got a little mental list of things to say – this was an idea of a friend of mine (hi Guy). Simple things like ‘did you mean to say that?’ or ‘could you tell me a bit more about what you meant by xyz?’.

I hope I’m not coming across as preachy – this is just based on what I’ve experienced. I’m not looking for sympathy, it’s quite therapeutic to write it down. There are still times I feel like the odd one out, but it’s taken me ages (forty years in fact) to get to this level of acceptance and I’m pretty happy about where I am now.

Would love to hear if you have any comments or stories to share.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Gosh, I love this post.

    Funny thing…
    I am reading it, immediately after 5mins of jotting down notes on Personal development, Nature – Nurture, Environments, Heritage, Education etc etc etc – relating to my own experience of growing up as a mixed-heritage child but not of mixed ‘race’. First half, in a very multicultural and highly dynamic, wealthy and privileged area of London – then, in an extremely ‘unusual’ and ‘otherworldly’ location, – a grade 1 listed mansion in rural Suffolk in the 90s – amidst brit pop, spice girls, and the general scene at the time.
    This latter environment was not multicultural or cultural in terms of the arts, which I was just starting to develop an actual real interest in back in London).

    *warning – long, meandering, ‘section of reply’ coming up*

    I am White, though with ‘easy-tan skin’ not fair-haired, and moderately attractive ( Long brown hair, which naturally highlights itself (!) & grey/blue/green eyes depending on clothing!). I had a privileged upbringing in most aspects, such as education, culture, travel, and support – at least for the first half of my life so far.
    Half British (father-side) – half German (mother-side).

    At 14, I had to leave behind my ‘new-found’ friends or peers, should I say. They were, in order of closeness; Half-Brazilian (now a journalist published novel writer, a ‘cool’ half Japanese girl, a slightly overweight but very kind, sweet natured and intelligent Indian girl, and a very intelligent, strong, ‘practicing’ Jewish girl.
    I lost touch with all of them.

    My new ‘friends’, were nearly all White, British, well-educated, but not as well and not as broadly, and multiculturally as I had been up to that point.
    I needed them as friends, but I didn’t really like them, respect, or ‘fit in’ with them as much as I would’ve wanted to with friends between age 14-18.
    They had different interests, I initially thought they were a bit shallow, and silly, and boring. Actually what ended up happening is that I ended up becoming all those things too, and they ended up leaving me behind and becoming broader more interesting people at university (I think, I lost touch with them too… or at least ‘close-touch’ with most anyway, a few are Facebook friends).
    I also didn’t enjoy school from that point, and lost interest in learning (I was ahead, so I ‘intentionally’ made myself fall back, to fit in rather than stand out).
    I also lost or forgot about my newly found passion for creative writing, drama, and art. I stopped playing music (flute and piano), and sport (tennis).
    I did well at school, by fluke, 3 As. Studied Business & Geography at Edinburgh University, but had a miserable time there, probably thanks to alcohol and lack of ‘real-life’ experience or ‘coping-skills’… and dropped out after a year or so. Lost ‘close-touch’ with the nice, fun, and ‘interesting’ friends I made there too.

    I have struggled for nearly all my life with other peoples initial judgements and perception of me, particularly when I lived in a mansion with a ‘cook/housekeeper’, and butler/PA to dad. Both were kept on at least for a bit, out of respect and a legacy of how my grandfather, whose house we had moved into, had lived.
    But also – after dropping out of university – due to mental health reasons.

    I have had numerous mental health issues – but the defining classification I would now give myself (perhaps as a warning or at least an ‘awareness’ exercise) is Bipolar type 2.
    I have not had the ‘stunning intellectual/creative career’ that I and even some others might have predicted or glimpsed for me at age 12/13.
    I wasted many Years in severe depression, watching tv.
    When I’ve worked, I have had some success, but in hospitality and property, rather then creative arts and culture. The success I have had always been limited by illness and a lack of stability and discipline, support and understanding.

    I am sorry for such a long comment ‘about my story’. I will re-read, and re-read your post.

    Background and context are SO much more important than people think, as are initial ‘judgements’ of people, and throwaway comments.
    Mine were not racially based, they were based entirely on my apparent good fortune (luck), and perceived wealth. I understand why people made those comments, and agree to a point, but at many times I did not feel lucky to leave my early years and break my development at age 14, and move to such a strange new ‘life-situation’.
    I also believe that inherited wealth has its downsides. However, it has been a life-saver too at times, and a great asset to be able to survive without working or make initial investments with relative ease (I am not a millionaire or billionaire, just fortunate to own a few smallish properties and still have a decent chunk in the bank to support me while I am unable to work.

    Hope you don’t judge me, or hate me for jabbering on and being maybe a little too open, arrogant or blunt about myself and my path.

    I am currently experiencing a manic-creative high (which is great), but this time it is mixed with an immense amount of self-reflection, self-care, and self-awareness.. I came out of a 2 year depression, roughly 3 months ago, and I am determined to set a course for stability, gratitude, and success. I am nearly 38, single, childless, unemployed (apart from being a landlady) on medication, and unfit/overweight
    All of which, apart from being a ‘grateful landlady’, I deeply regret, but thats another story – and I can work on at least some of it.

    Fingers crossed.

    I may Post publicly about all this on my site – but I think it may be a ‘series of posts’ rather than a post, and maybe I’d better keep it to myself for a while, till I come ‘down’ a little bit.
    It has really helped me therapeutically, to write this reply to you.
    My blog is mostly ‘surface’, and ‘light hearted’ so far – about my current situation, gardening, houses, gratitude, a little bit of mental health stuff etc
    Not many posts – Yet.

    Best wishes to you, you sound in a good place and you have a very sweet daughter. I love your writing, and will read more!

    T.G.L

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Aimee Bois Cooper says:

    I love this. Thank you for sharing! ♥️♥️♥️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading, Aimee!

      Like

  3. RJ says:

    I would say you are spot on with micro-aggressions (M-A) you’ve identified here so don’t doubt yourself – indeed doubting ones self is a probable outcome of experiencing M-A all your life …
    well done for calling them out…
    I’m 46 now and still experience them through work, in social conversations etc. And although there is no
    malicious intent behind the vast majority of them, the impact is the same.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for commenting 🙂 There’s some comfort in knowing you’re not alone and that yep, your feelings are valid.

      Like

  4. Preetpal Nashad says:

    Such an amazing post totally resonated with me! I wept at parts because I have felt the same!

    Like

    1. Thank you for reading, Preetpal. I’m so sorry you’ve experienced the same and felt upset reading it though 😦 Hoping things will change for the better as awareness on the topic builds. X

      Like

      1. Preetpal Nashad says:

        I really do hope things change. I think we really lack awareness and reading your experiences made me think of mine. I’m so proud of my heritage now and feel annoyed with myself to have ever been embarrassed before xx

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I feel similarly annoyed (but maybe it’s guilt) when I think back to things I’ve felt, said and done. Trying to make peace with it now I realise it was way beyond my control. Thanks for your lovey comments. Xx

        Like

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