Turkeys voting for Christmas

As a British expat, who has resided in Belgium for a little over a year now, the thought that’s taken up residence in the back of my mind for quite a while now is, ‘what will Brexit do?’

‘What will it do to my rights to remain in Europe?’
‘What will it do to my job prospects?’
‘What will it do to my way of life?’

In my heart I’m European, but on my passport I’m British.

Growing up in London, I was exposed to the melting pot of cultures, that makes it such a beautiful, wonderful city. A diverse city of differing but shared ideas of multicultural acceptance, but following the Brexit referendum in 2016, I saw that melting pot image harden. As seeds of hate planted through a campaign trail, born from fabrication and false promises, took root, watered by the demonisation of immigrants and the less fortunate to cover up the consequences of austerity, that had mined our public services, leaving them as husks of their former selves.

In March 2019, I braced myself for the worst, two years of back and forth bickering leading us off a cliff’s edge without a paddle, or so it seemed. However, with each deadline extension, I started to gain new hope. I thought for a moment that perhaps we would stay as part of this union, which is far from perfect, but holds true in its missions and values in the shared interest of peace, defenders of them many not the few.

Although, now, almost nine months later, from that initial leave date, I began my morning abruptly woken by a 4am news alert from my BBC News app. A declaration that hope was lost. A Conservative Party victory, that has now sealed our fate. Led by the demagogue figure of Boris Johnson, who will inevitably lead my home down the path of maximum destruction under the guise of freedom, and taking back control.

You may argue that in the name of democracy, that it is the will of the people and must be respected, and perhaps my thoughts and feelings exist in an echo chamber of like mindedness. If my social media feed is anything to go by, this is definitely true.

Looking out over the grey and rain filled streets of Brussels, I know that I live in and work in a bubble. However, my beginnings on a council owned housing estate in Hackney, have remained with me, as I climbed the ladder of society, now comfortably existing amongst the middle classes, and I fear what is coming.

We’ve all read or seen the news stories of the victims of austerity, thousands of societies most vulnerable being forced into dire situations, as their basic human rights and needs are not met, many cases costing them their lives. The elderly will suffer. The disabled will suffer. The poor will suffer. The NHS will most likely be privatised. All in the name of control and the will of the people, have we forgotten our humanity?

In times like this, where I’m forced into questioning the reasoning of reality, I’m reminded of Book Six, of Plato’s The Republic, where he recalls Socrates conversation with Adeimantus, highlighting the flaws of democracy – drawing comparison between society and a ship and asking if you were heading out out on a journey by sea, would you want anyone or someone educated in how to properly run the vessel – naturally Adeimatus responded in favour of the latter.

As although, kind in concept, the rise in reality star culture has made a mockery of the very word that is democracy, with improper or minimal education available to the voting masses, rational has been lost, as single issue politics takes flight fuelled by populist notions, of us vs them, without a second thought to consequences or repercussions.

As I watched the ticker flicking across the bottom of my television screen, interrupted by phone notifications from shocked friends and family, both in the UK and in my residing country, I watched as historically strong Labour and Liberal Democrat seats swung from red and yellow to blue. Constituencies with strong union pasts, and integrated migrant communities, seemingly voting against their best interests, like turkeys voting for Christmas or slugs for salt, to be ruled under a mandate won by hate and fear. To get Brexit done, whatever the price may be.

Travel, stereotypes, and being a coconut.

If you follow me on social media you may have seen that I spent the first 2 weeks of July country hopping in Eastern Europe and Germany.

Following the breakdown of a long term relationship in 2016, I subsequently was bitten by the travel bug, and have since visited 18 different cities (19 if I count the hour spent in the Eurostar terminal in Brussels).

In other words I embarked on a budget friendly, I’m a 20 something renting in London, and trying to maintain a full-time job, version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’

Travelling for me, like many things I do, is not only a way for me to broaden my view of the world – learning about new cultures, people, and experiences – it’s ultimately a way for me to understand myself and who I am, and how I fit within the society that surrounds me.

Figuring out who I am and what my place is in society is not a new concept to me, it is one I’ve struggled with my entire life.

I’ve previously voiced my experience growing up in British Indian household, from the stigma surrounding mental health in the South Asian community and also my relationship, or lack thereof, with my estranged father.

However, I’ve never really spoken openly and honestly about my experience growing up between two cultures, and how this has shaped the person I am today.

In an ideal world both my cultures would coexist peacefully, my Britishness and Indianness would no conflict in the slightest, and they most certainly wouldn’t lead to a conflict of existence in my inner being, more articulately describes as an identity crisis, which fuelled most of my childhood, adolescent, and early adulthood angst.

For me growing up with two cultures often meant choosing sides or being stuck in the middle, there was rarely a neutral point, I was either one of the other but never both.

Memories of my childhood visits to my father’s family in Yorkshire mainly consist of judgement and disappointment from my extended family over my apparent failure of not being Indian enough, and or appearing/behaving too ‘Western’. Visits often included questioning by various aunts and uncles over my ability to speak and understand Gujarati (my mother tongue) – with my elementary grasp of it often being considered a betrayal against my heritage, which was often accompanied by negative comments on my appearance and attire due to my choice of jeans and t-shirt over a ‘traditional’ salwar kameez.

On the other side of this, I spent a majority of my school years as a spectacle for my peers to examine, the curious minds of children never ceasing to amaze as well as the ignorance of some teachers – which I would grow to become amazed at and wished would cease. Each wrongly directed “namaste”, “I wish I had a tan like yours,” “when did you come over to England?” and “but where are you really from?” starkly reminding me that I was different and didn’t quite fit into their predetermined idea of what was British.

It didn’t take me long to realise that in the eyes of my family I was too ‘Western’ to be a proper Indian, and in the eyes of my British peers I was too brown to be a proper Brit. I was a ‘coconut’, stuck in the middle of constant reminders that I wasn’t enough of either of the two cultures I’d grown up in to be considered a legitimate part of them.

The separation I felt between the two cultures worsened following the breakdown of my parent’s marriage when I was 9. As I has opted to stay with my British-born mother as a opposed to my Indian-born father, I found myself assimilating with my British surroundings more and more, as our tie with the Indian community I had grown up knowing was severed.

We were isolated. I still had my melanin and my name, but my connection to that part of me was lost. Seemingly, I had been shunned by my family and community so I began acting in ways directly opposed to their values, I shortened my name to make it less Arabic sounding, I denounced my childhood faith becoming a kaffir, I started drinking alcohol with my British friends, and at 19 I got my first tattoo.

However, despite all these acts I was still a ‘coconut’. Instead of appearing British, I was just a non-traditional Indian girl who drunk and had tattoos, I still didn’t quite fit in.

The constant reminders of my otherness was apparent in multiple aspects of my life, from going to the shop to buy a pint of milk and explaining my entire family background to the shopkeeper out of politeness, to the backhanded compliments and fetishism that would paint my love life (my earliest encounter of this being at the age of 12, where I was informed by a boy in my year that none of the other boys would be as “open minded” as him as to like a brown girl).

To this day, dating and romance often comes with a caveat, usually accompanied by overthinking on my part. I spend a lot of the time wondering if someone genuinely likes me for who I am, or whether they hoping I fit a preconceived set of of stereotypical traits they think I have (which I will inevitably disappoint).

The constant exposure to phrases and sentences like “sari seduction”, “Asian persuasion”, “I’ve always had a thing for brown girls”, “I bet you make a great curry”, and a multitude of Kama Sutra references that I’m not even going to start on, have left me weary and skeptical about love (although I still remain a hopeless romantic despite this).

However, the more I travel, the more places I visit, the more people I meet, and the more cultures I am exposed to, the broader my view of the world has become.

I’ve come to realise that for every person who says I don’t belong, there is always another who says I do, and this has given me hope.

I wish I could say I’m no longer affected by the commentary which comes with being British Indian, but I would be lying.

Although, I am confident in referring to myself as both British and Indian despite growing up with the two cultures conflicting and I’ve learned that I don’t need acceptance from others to be myself, and I certainly do not need their permission.