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!

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.