The Things That Fall Through The Cracks Of Allyship

Being with someone who is white and British has led to some serious conversations, debates and even fights over the years. The conversations have often revolved around allyship – well-meaning white partners, friends and strangers who “don’t see colour”, who are “culturally sensitive”, who are “woke”, and yet somehow blind to their inbuilt subtle racism and prejudices, taught covertly by a white-majority society. No, they don’t go around using racially insensitive language, they don’t perpetuate hate crimes, they will defend you online against bullies, they will even join you on protest marches. But there are little things they do that stick in your mind for a long time, even though there was no intention of hurt. And that is where the cracks in allyship appear.

Here are a few examples of subtle-racism by allies that I shrug off because it’s not as serious as being lynched or discriminated against or being asked to go back to where I came from.

  • Well-meaning friends and family who have no trouble saying Tchaikovsky, somehow have a problem pronouncing my two-syllable Indian name. I have had my name anglicised to Angela, Angie and when that doesn’t work, I’ve had people just go by my last name as it is a Roman word.
  • No matter my history, my talent, my likes, and the depth of their knowledge of me, I continue to be only identified as Indian. That, somehow, is the only thing that stays in the mind of my colourblind allies. The most recent example was a team name created by a couple of close white friends while on a trip away together. We were the CraftIndianScientists. No points for guessing which one I was in that three-member group.
  • When these allies have no problem with knowing what a baguette is, without needing the crutch of a descriptor, but can’t figure out what Naan is unless it is clearly labelled “Naan Bread” …. uhhh, it hurts! If I can educate myself (despite my third worldness) about the many names of the Yorky Pud without being confused about whether or not it is is a dessert item, surely a woke ally can figure it out too? It is one of the most minor offences and it still manages to rile me up. I just think that it is lazy to not educate yourself about how by ordering a chai tea latte, you’re just ordering a tea tea latte. Is that too much to ask?
  • My friends go on a rant when they see teens wearing Nirvana shirts or just shirts with bands that they think you might not be a “real fan” of. And yet yoga classes and fashionable headdresses are part of their everyday! Why, my friends? Why?
  • People who are normally with it, ask me to write their names in “Indian” or “Indish” or “Hindu”. My friends from China are asked to write words in “Chinese”. My Tanzanian, Tunisian and South African friends are all asked to write in “African”. It’s the 21st century, it would be nice if people could make more of an effort to learn about other countries. Ignorance is not cool, if you can do something about it but choose not to.
  • I have a neutral accent and that throws new friendships into chaos because who are you if not for the country you originated from? As a person who has moved countries a lot (and not for tourism purposes), I find “home” in all those places where I have built a life from scratch. So my standard answer to the “where are you from” question is the city I am currently living. Somehow, this is not okay for allies. They will quiz you till you tell them what your nationality is, and if that nationality is not exotic enough, they will ask you where you were born, what your passport is, where your parents are from, anything to tie you to THEIR idea of you, rather than who you really are. The worst part is, none of this comes from a bad place. Does it still affect the people of colour you’re friends with? Yes.

Anyway, my point is, because there’s a lack of word for it, we use the word racism. But the racism allies display and the overt racism from MAGA hat wearing, Brexit loving people are not comparable. And so bringing this sort of racism with my white partner has created conflict many times, and has then led to much-needed honest and open conversations.

Currently, when someone means a lot to me, I make more of an effort to educate them about the things they could be more sensitive about, just as I aim to always be sensitive to things that are foreign to me and things that I need to learn more about. We will make mistakes, and probably make mistakes often. But as long as we are all making an active effort, isn’t that something?

My next question would be if Ishould extend that circle and broach these topics with people outside of my inner circle –  to people who are allies but are not yet my friends? I am still trying to figure that one out!

Berlin

Brandenburg Tor, Berlin 2018

Walking through Berlin, I felt like I was transported into a surreal live-action, pop-up textbook. Everywhere I turned, history confronted me. Right in front of me was the symbol of French architectural opulence, the Brandenburg Gate. On the left of it was the famous Adlon Hotel, made popular by that famous moment in pop history where Michael Jackson dangled his child of the balcony. Just around the corner was the thought-provoking Holocaust Memorial that at once sunk me into depths of despair and awakened in me the kind of empathy that you seldom get to practice in these divisive times. A stone’s throw away was the last remaining freestanding remnant of the Berlin Wall, the contradictory symbol of division and then, of sheer human will. (Fun Fact: The song ‘Heroes’ was written by David Bowie, inspired by his long residence in West Berlin at that time.)

However, there is no greater symbol of Berlin’s historic past than the art it has helped inspire – be it the hastily scribbled graffiti on the side of the trains, the large in-your-face murals that give voice to the marginalised, the political statements that come from its art squats and street art. Here are a few pieces that made Berlin the unforgettable life lesson that it was for me.

East Side Gallery, Berlin 2018

The East Side Gallery

I couldn’t help but feel confronted by the presence of the Berlin Wall. It was not just a reminder of the depths to which we sank as human beings, but also a reminder of how we rose together as one unit, claiming our freedom back. Some of the most moving artwork is on one such section of the wall. From the pained etchings of separated families and lovers to more modern-day reminders of life and love and freedom, the East Side Gallery is a living and ever-changing collection of art that is rich with emotion and political will. One of the paintings that took hold of me immediately was the iconic ‘Fraternal Kiss’ by Dmitri Vrubel. The graffiti painting was titled ‘My God, Help Me Survive This Deadly Love’ and showcases the then Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev and the East German President Honecker locked in a kiss, and how their marriage of politics cause so much strife in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

The Leviathan, Berlin 2018

The Leviathan

As I was lost in thought, walking through the streets of Berlin, I came across the Leviathan, popularly known as The Pink Man. I thought it was a giant pink eyeless monster but a closer look left me horrified. Created by the Italian artist BLU, the pink man is a monstrosity created by indistinguishable masses of humans interlocked together to form a giant man that was examining a white human body. My first thought was that this larger than life piece of art was a social comment on how as a collective whole, we become a society of people who not only strive to be homogeneous but also go out of our way to punish those who are different. I learnt through conversation with locals later on that the artist wanted the imagery to be left open to interpretation. BLU’s only intention was to move and to get us thinking.

Reich Air Ministry Propaganda Tableau, Berlin 2018

Reich Air Ministry Propaganda Tableau

In one of my walks through Berlin, I ran into an imposing building that is currently the home of the German Finance Ministry. Apparently, this massive monolith of a building was formerly the Nazi HQ, the Reich’s Air Ministry, the Soviet Military’s headquarters, and the home of East German Socialism. The scattered bullet holes throughout the building are the least impressive part of this Cold War remnant. The most striking aspect is its hand-painted 18-metre Socialist propaganda tableau. Healthy and happy humans paint you a picture of a fantasy life under communism rather than how history remembers that period. In 1953, 25,000 East German workers protested at this building site before they were suppressed. They say that this is where the flames of the East German Uprising were first fanned. While most countries try to forget its questionable pasts, glossing over the most troublesome memories where possible, Berlin is one city that embraces it wholeheartedly and urges us to have an open conversation about who we are as humans.

The Cosmonaut, Berlin 2018

The Cosmonaut

Maybe it was the lovely weather that made me stop to look at the blue skies, or maybe I was exhausted with all the walking. Whatever the reason, I ran into the Cosmonaut, dangling carefree off the side of an old building. Standing there, I discovered that while it looked like a large stencil piece of street art, a closer inspection reveals that it was painstakingly painted grid by grid. The black paint drops gave that away. At the right time of day, a nearby flagpole casts a shadow that lands in the Cosmonaut’s hand, appearing as if he claimed the city in the name of his country. A stark reminder of the Cold War politics from our not so distant past, especially the heated Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States of America.

Dead Chicken Alley, Berlin 2018

Dead Chicken Alley

I almost missed this tucked away alley and one of the last remnants of what used to be East Berlin, but I’m glad it caught my attention. Nestled in between the high streets of rebranded Berlin (re: gentrified), the Dead Chicken Alley is an art squat that was the home of underground revolutionaries who fought against the regime and later, communism. Walking this alley was a feast for the eyes, the walls were dotted with a myriad of heart-wrenching graffiti, pop art, and an underground show of must-see scrap metal robotic monstrosities. What I found most captivating was the small museum situated around the corner from a life-size painting of Anne Frank. Dedicated to a man who employed blind Jews during WWII to create fake ids to smuggle people out or keep them safe, the alley itself is a stark reminder of that terrible episode of our history. It is still considered an artists’ haven and is a living piece of art. You can be sure that the art that decorates the walls never stays the same, giving you a chance to discover different history and stories every time you visit.

RAW, Berlin 2018

RAW

I came across RAW by accident while riding up and down the Berlin city trains, a remnant of its divided past. RAW is an old Soviet railway complex has been turned into the RAW subculture compound featuring bizarre street art, WWII nuclear bunkers turned to rock climbing practice spots, and even the world’s tiniest disco and a bar exclusively for the living dead. Yep, zombies! RAW is mostly outdoors and definitely not on most conventional tourist guides. You could spend hours here exploring the story of Berlin and its revival as displayed through its art movements.

Stolperstein, Berlin 2018

Stolperstein – The Stumbling Stones

One of the most profound memorials in modern art history, the Stolperstein, or stumbling stone, is the largest art project in the world. I walked across several cobblestone-sized golden hued cubes in my walks across Berlin, I only really paid attention when I walked across a couple of them in one small spot. I stood near a collection and started reading the inscription. On it were names, occupations and life and death dates of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Easily my favourite work of art, the project is the brainchild of the German artist Gunter Demnig, and in my eyes is the most fitting homage to the people who gave up their lives during World War II. While these Stolpersteine dot 610 places in Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands and many other countries, Berlin is home to a shocking 3000 of them.

A remnant of the Berlin Wall, Berlin 2018

Berlin is a testament to the messy nature of humanity – our collective empathy, our rage, our blindness, our uniqueness, our resilience and our power. The next time you’re looking to get out of your comfort zone, to rediscover yourself, to get away from it all, to be part of something bigger than yourself, pick Berlin. The city did all of that for me and so much more.

How Are Your New Years Resolutions Holding Up? A Check-In!

We’re almost at the end of the first month of 2019 (WHAT!!!). All of the carefully thought out goals, ambitions and resolutions are well underway. As part of this year’s first N-N-1, we’re checking in with our favourite bloggers from around the world to see how they’re faring.

READ: The N-N-1 Collaboration


Sparking Joy – A Splash Of My Life

One fine day in the first week of January 2019, a little Japanese doll-like lady with a quiet demeanor and a calm force, came into my life. Marie Kondo in her Netflix special ‘Tidying Up’. Within the next few days, I had watched every possible #KonMarimethod video on YouTube and had printed out a checklist on how to follow her de-cluttering method. Last weekend, the closet and the dressers looked like a hurricane passed through them. But by Sunday evening, things that ‘sparked joy’ were hung in the right place and stashed with a higher level of organization. There were two bags of clothes to be trashed and three to be donated. Time to move to the next categories!

I may not have fancy resolutions, but now I know how to fold my clothes like Sushi. 

© January 2019 Colonialist

A Solution Filtered Through – Colonialist’s Blog

When comes the New Year is when I
Get energy renewed;
With launching into DIY
Ambition am imbued

This year I sought a filter that
On pool replaces one
That just a lot of use is, fat,
To get sand-filt’ring done.

The two-bag jobs expensive are,
And, new, beyond my means,
So, looked at ads both near and far
On internet-type scenes.

And on the nineteenth jumped for joy —
Just what I wanted traced!
But, oh, how it did me annoy,
That it had gone in haste.

I asked that I be notified
If that deal should fall through …
Next day, such duly was apprised,
And hope flared up anew!

The distance there was quite a way,
But I drove there at speed;
To dig it out took half a day,
But I got what I need!

This filter and all twiddly-bits
Have safely been brought back,
So now I start on fitting fits —
Filtration I won’t lack!

TBR 2019 – Classical Gasbag

Even I, a person who tries to lower expectations, think this is a ho-hum picture. But it is the physical embodiment of my goal for 2019. Goal because no one keeps their New Year’s resolutions. Goals, however, are achievable.

What is this goal? This bookcase holds most of my To-Be-Read (TBR) books. They are books that I’ve picked up over the past few years, along with a few that were gifts, and some that I want to re-read. I have felt constrained and unable to make a serious dent in the TBR accumulation, rightly or wrongly by my annual reading challenge. But this year I am concentrating on this bookcase. Oh yes. I said that it holds most of my TBR. I have another shelf worth of books that I will also be drawing from, but this is the main source.

Wow! Long explanation. The goal is to read at least 1 ½ shelves worth of my TBR.

When Cindy read the description of this N-N-1, she immediately asked me if my goal was a specific goal that she had in mind for me. No. That isn’t the way personal goals work. But, honey, I’m working on that one too.

One of the things I resolve to do, this year and forever, is speak my truth and resist lies.

Speaking My Truth – The View From A Drawbridge

This was a very special day for me. I got to participate in the annual Seattle Womxn’s March for the first time, and although it was not as big as it was the day after Trump’s inauguration, it was still impressive to me. 10,000 people, speaking their truths about women’s rights, creates powerful energy. But for me, quite often, it’s the little things that matter most. Like this 4 year old girl who made her very own sign, and was proudly carrying it. Start them off early, Mom. There will always be work to do and marches to march.

The moments in January I enjoyed mindfully – a snowy sunrise, my niece discovering bubbles, geese, Easter egg displays in January, a winter sunset, and a ransom cat in our garden.

Enjoying A Memory As It Is Being Created – This Labyrinth I Roam

I have lived a very unstable life, moving four countries in four years. Part of that is a severe case of wanderlust, but mostly it has been us trying to make a relationship work in different countries because our home countries haven’t allowed us to be together without a marriage certificate or a job that pays CEO level salaries. What happened, in the process, was that every adventure was severely tainted by behind-the-scenes stress and worry. What this meant was that I didn’t enjoy a memory as I was making it. It’s only in retrospect that I saw what a wonderful time it was, what an opportunity, what an adventure!

And so, my 2019 resolution was born. I had to face the fact that my life was never going to be normal. However, what I did have control over was how I experienced my day-to-day. 2019 is going to be the year I live more mindfully – even when my day is filled with stress about making a paycheck last the month, even when I worry about visas and border control and jobs, I will enjoy the sound of my niece’s laughter, I will enjoy the crisp winter air, I will let my soul swim with the geese as I take a walk in the park. And so far, I have managed to do just that.

Mecca Of Bountiful Ideas – Wild Rivers Runs South

Too much time on the Little Elbow River,
Not enough time on the dusty backroads
Of my home state.

Too much time tending bar.
Not enough exploring new taverns
In Nebraska hamlets.

Too many days of wordless thoughts
Have dried my creative juices
Into crusty, scabby flakes of stammers
In my once lubricious brain.

When spring arrives, I’ll flee the confines
Of this once and future, but not present
Mecca of bountiful ideas.
That feels like a bumpety-bump great idea.



Keep a lookout for more N-N-1 announcements so you can participate the next time, and join our global collective in capturing memories at a set date and time. You could even host this event on your own blogs. Feel free to write to me at labyrinthiroam@gmail.com if you have ideas, if you want to host the next one, if you just want to say hi!

Until next time!

A Glimpse Into New Year’s Traditions Around The World

Having lived and worked in six different countries in the past ten years, I have come to appreciate what binds us together as one human race. One such example is the idea of a New Year. Now, while the idea of having a fresh year annually is universal, the ‘when’ differs. Officially we welcome a new year on the first of January every calendar year. However, when you trace back a cultural identity to its roots, new beginnings are marked by seasons. Here are a few global New Year festivals.

A glimpse at one of the Shankranti traditions: Creating elaborate Rangoli decorations at the entrance of the house.

Shankranti (January 14)

The parties are officially hosted on New Year’s Eve with many people staying awake through the night to usher in the next year. However, before a global calendar was followed, the official start of the year was Shankranti, Maghi, Mag Bihu or Pongal. It is a festival that marks the first day of the Sun’s journey out of the winter solstice.

Mooncakes can taste divine or they can taste a bit dodgy, depending on the filling you prefer. I prefer the sweeter ones with Pandan or custard fillings. But whatever your individual taste, they are works of art!

Chinese New Year (February 8)

Celebrated by Chinese people and people of Chinese origin globally in February, this festival marks the beginning of the spring harvest season. It is often celebrated by sharing moon cakes and gifting red envelopes with money. You know it’s coming up to the New Year when you see colourful dragons and stunning lanterns on display. 

Nyepi (March 9)

This is the Balinese New Year and marks the first day of the Saka lunar-based Calendar. Instead of a fireworks and fanfare, the Balinese welcome the New Year with some mindfulness and rest. Most spend their day in silence, reflecting on the year gone by and making plans for the next year. Everything on the island is closed save for emergency services.

Nowruz (March 20)

While this festival is the mark of Spring, Nowrus is celebrated as the start of the New Year, when winter is over and life begins anew in nature. Zoroastrian and Baha’I communities celebrate their new year by cleaning out their houses and their lives, leaving space for new beginnings and resolutions.

Aluth Avurudda (April 14)

This Sinhalese festival, unlike other traditional New Year festivities, marks the end of the harvest season. Coinciding with Tamil New Year and Kerala New Year (Vishu), the New Year is celebrated with freshly harvested food, sweet treats, new clothes and spending quality time with family.

Rosh Hashanah (October 2)

The traditional Jewish New Year is a two-day holiday that commemorates the end of the seven days of creation as mentioned in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. The celebration is a subtle melange between festive cheer and quiet contemplation. 

Raʼs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah (October 3)

Marking the first day of Muharram, the first month of the Muslim Calendar, the Islamic New Year is a celebration of the emigration (called Hijra) of Prophet Mohammed from Mecca to Medina. The New Year is ushered in by the first sighting of the moon.

Murador New Year (October 30)

Murador is a Western Australian Aborignal tribe that celebrates New Year’s Day every year on October the 30th. The day is earmarked as a time for friendship, for being grateful for the year just gone by and for making amends with family and friends you have fallen out with. While the Murador people are now extinct, many Australians mark this day in their own way.

What Do New Year’s Resolutions Look Like Worldwide

We are now exactly 2 weeks into the new year. Worldwide, January is seen as the month of new beginnings, fresh starts, and a promise to do better, to be better. I am always amazed at how similar many of the goals seem to be, no matter our age, our race, our geographic location, our upbringing. I wanted to capture this diversity and oneness through the first edition of N-N-1 this 2019.

For those of you unfamiliar with N-N-1, it is a unique photo/text collaboration from around the world, a brainchild of the Classical Gasbag. We pick a date or time or theme and then take photos wherever we are in the world at that point of the time. The idea is for us to capture different experiences, different points of view, different adventures to create one global journal entry.

Here are some previous posts to give you an idea of what it looks like:
Halloween
July
Same time, different location
Around the world in 3 pictures

If you want to be part of this process this year, leave a comment below or send me an email at labyrinthiroam at gmail dot com and I will add you to the list. If you don’t have a blog, don’t worry about it. We are happy to take all submissions. This version will be published on my blog, here.

RULES:
1. Take a few minutes off on the 19th or 20th of January 2019.
2. Take a photo of something you are dedicated to doing (or not doing) this new year. It could be a pet project, a habit you want to change, a resolution you want to see through etc.
3. Write a short 100-200 word description of the photo. It could be prose or poetry.

It’s as simple as that. Feel free to re-blog or post about this N-N-1 on your blogs/social media. The more participants, the merrier!

Can’t wait to see your submissions! Hope you’re having a fantastic start to 2019! Thinking of all of you.