Today’s interviewee is a PhD student in Clinical Linguistics. She comes from India, but she has lived in many different countries before moving to the UK for her doctoral studies.
***DISCLAIMER*** Throughout the interview and the whole month of June we have used the term BIPOC. This is an acronym for Black, Indigenous and People of colour and generally indicates all non-white people. We are aware that unfortunately this term risks to diminish and oversimplify personal experiences and identities, and that the word is not universally accepted as adequate. We hope we will be able to do better in the future and make more appropriate word choices.
Q. How often do you talk about racism? Who are your interlocutors?
A. I think I often let the context or situation guide me, though I do think it should become more commonplace than feeling like there’s an ‘appropriate time’ to discuss it. It’s often with friends or colleagues in academia, but I have had the few fruitful discussions with random people in a pub.
Q. When you talk about racism with white people, do you feel listened and understood?
A. Among friends, yes. Based on the how it’s approached and how the conversation occurs – am I ‘correcting’ someone’s preconceived notions or am I being asked to share my experience?
This also differs with the generation I am speaking with. Our generation and the next generation are very proactive and open to having the conversation, but older generations are often less so. This is usually because so much of how they feel towards people of colour is ingrained and internalised, and it is much harder to re-wire your thinking when you’re old – but it can be done, and I’ve had a lot of fruitful conversations with older people.
Q. Do you know/use the term “racial battle fatigue”? Do you experience this sense of tiredness and frustration?
A. I don’t use that term but I have heard of it and I think it’s a pretty accurate description of how frustrating certain conversations on racism can be. As I mentioned in my previous response, if the conversation is the result of a callous statement made my someone, or an act of racism, then I am expending energy to try and correct the situation and sadly
However, when it stems from curiosity and openness it doesn’t feel strained and emotionally draining because I can have an honest dialogue. The conversation on racism shouldn’t feel like you’re on a battlefield waiting for the last body to drop – I don’t want people to be afraid to talk, to be in fear of offending me or that I am attacking them – as long as you’re coming into it with openness. I also like to have a dialogue with people about why they might have certain biases, where they stemmed from and why they find it difficult to shed them – a lot of racist behaviour is ingrained and it’s only when we’re trying to tackle it collectively that we’ll make any real dent.
Q.Have you ever experienced any form of institutional racism?
A. Not in my personal experience, but other people do. I feel privileged as a person of colour, I could access higher education and do a PhD. Nevertheless, I am aware that it is not all the same for the people of colour.
Q. Can you tell us some examples of racist vocabulary/behaviours/questions you experienced as an Asian? Please, feel free to highlight also those that may not be felt as racist by the majority of white people.
A. “Go back to where you came from” is always offensive. Despite India being my home country, and where my family currently reside, having moved around my whole life, it’s strange how much more that statement stings, because while I feel like a ‘global citizen’ that statement tells me I have nowhere to feel like ‘home’.
As other examples of situations that make me feel uncomfortable or hide underlying racist bias may be walking into a room and feeling like the ‘other’, but also unconscious privilege –having to celebrate white people’s self-actualisation for being ‘aware’. Feeling like I have to thank them for giving me the respect and decency that should be afforded to anyone. It’s okay to admit ignorance, and then seek to enrich your knowledge. Better that than pretending to possess a holistic view of an entire cultural experience – I certainly can’t do it.
Q. Do you feel represented by the general discussion on racism? What aspects of your experience of racism as an Indian Asian you feel are under-represented?
A. The recent focus on Asian racism has been an important focus, and it has felt like a good spark for conversation, but the general struggle remains the same because often those who have deep-seated negative feelings about people of colour will probably not be the one’s joining the conversation.
There’s also an inherent pressure I find and my friends who are people of colour have found when talking about representation.
There’s so much about the Indian experience, that I am really just scratching the surface when I talk about my experience. I am constantly learning more about it myself, and actively trying to bridge the gaps in my knowledge about a country I didn’t grow up in, but is so tethered to my identity. And as an Asian, I am definitely lost in a sea of infinite information – but that is exciting to me because I get to open myself to an entire world of experiences, literature, art, culture.
Q. Have you ever felt like the representation of Indian culture is trivialized and diminished to consumerist or folkloristic aspects (clichés on Indian food, Indian movies, Indian accent etc.)? Have you ever felt like the multifaceted realities of Indian culture(s) have been standardized and oversimplified by “Western” societies?
A. Quite an inevitable outcome of cultural appropriation, which happens in every society all over the world so it’s hardly surprising or even offensive, per se. It only becomes a problem when the generalisation is used to feed some feeling of having understood an entire culture.
Q. Do you notice any colonialist remnants in British academia? With regard to education in general, have you ever noticed any racist or colonialist biases in the way history is told? Do you feel like school curricula are Euro-centric and/or white-centric?
A. I suppose each country’s curriculum will be biased and exaggerated. I grew up learning the British curriculum and it is very colonial – British colonization often focuses on the discoveries of new lands and cultures, them being those that introduced it all to the world, and the atrocities of it remaining a footnote. At least that’s how it was when I was growing up. When my family moved to India when I was a teenager I studied some of the history covered in the Indian curriculum, which did the opposite.
Q. Can you suggest us some Indian authors, artists, personalities you find influential and whose works and activities can be instructive for white people?
A. I can suggest the book “The good immigrant” – edited by Nikesh Shukla. It is a collection of essays from various authors and personalities talking about what it means to be a person of colour in the UK, and about that feeling of ‘otherness’.
Seek to broaden your horizons, explore the literature, the movies, the art. I shall mention Ramachandra Guha for non-fiction works on Indian history, politics, economics etc. With regard to fiction,Arundathi Roy, Kushwant Singh, Rohinton Mistry, JhumpaLahiri, Kiran Desai. Indian cinema is so diverse. I would encourage people to dive into it and explore – yes, there is Bollywood, but there are so many other regional film industries that people don’t know exist! All of it can immerse you in different ways of understanding Indian culture.
I try to do the same both with Indian and Asian culture and it’s been so enriching. Asia is the largest continent, with the largest population – that’s a big chunk of the world to cut off from yourself.
Q. Do you want to add anything? Use this space to send a message to our white readers.
A. I’d just like people to have more of these conversations and come into them with curiosity and kindness, without trying to shut them down.
Thank you, on behalf of Pubs and Publications and of our readers.