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!

Cheese, Gromit.

I’ve been meaning to write about this old dutch couple that came to volunteer at my parents Aid & Development project. I’ve been meaning to write about it because they seem completely oblivious to 21st century etiquette. For example, they didn’t think there was anything wrong with them bringing their giant dutch flag and wanting it to be flown at the entrances of the villages where my parents work.

To them, they couldn’t see that there was something wrong with white people wanting to plant flags over the land of people from the third world. My dad refused in outrage – it isn’t okay to go around asking people to hoist your nation’s flag. Especially not on their Republic Day. They, of course, thought our outrage was silly and that we were just making a noise to be difficult. So while the new car was being blessed, they went out, brought their flag out and then posed for photos.

To prove to you that this is not a work of fiction
To prove to you that this is not a work of fiction

I am trying to paint a picture of what sort of couple they are. Having read their blog, I know that they think that Indian food is horrible and made to kill your palette, that all Indian cows are dutch cows, that everything in India is inferior and cheap and that every single Indian is  uneducated and poor. Because of the language barrier, they went back home thinking that a 5 year tailoring student became brilliant because of her tutelage and an entire farming community became master farmers because of his planting techniques.

If it wasn’t for the fact that I saw her put sugar on her egg and eat it whole, my giggling would’ve been replaced by something more vocal.

They refused to eat any Indian food and preferred to live off cheese and tinned goods that they brought back from the Netherlands. This is an actual conversation I’ve had with them –

giphy

Them – Do you want some cheese?

Me – I wouldn’t mind tasting some.

Me – Mmm that’s good. What sort of cheese is it?

Them – It’s dutch cheese

Me – Erm, I know, but what sort of cheese is it?

Them – *speaking slowly* it. is. dutch. cheese.

Me – No, I mean, cheddar, blue, goat, you know, variety!

Them – *losing their mind* IT IS DUUUUUUTCH CHEESE!

Me – Forget it.

I think I might be off dutch cheese for good!

The casual racism of the 21st century

It pains me that as our borders blend into each other and we become one global nation, there are still old ways of thinking that dictate so many things that we do today. My nephew, the other day, was telling me about his school driver.

“He’s so funny. He speaks butler English”.

I asked him what this butler English meant. He had no idea. I remember when I first learnt the phrase. I was 11 and my English teacher told us how, in the South, people from Tamil Nadu were hired as butlers and clerks because of their immense ability to pick up new things and their reputation of being hard working. However, while speaking English, they often translated how they would say something in their native tongue. They developed unique phrases that they came to be known by.

Butler English.

And their ‘kind’ were called ‘Anglo Indians

That phrase was used as an insult. And 55 years after our freedom, still used but no one has any idea what it means.

Then there are job ads like these that really offend me.

Job Description

Qualifications –

MUST have native level English BUT should be born in an English speaking country like Canada etc etc.

Aren’t we in an era where a job should go to the one most qualified for it and not to someone just because they were lucky to be born in one country? I don’t even understand why this is not a bigger issue and why no one is making any noise about it. What happens to the idea of ‘equal opportunity’ if an employee rejects you even before it meets you because you just carry the wrong passport, have the wrong accent, are the wrong skin colour?

Oh the casual racism of modern day!