A Brown Girl’s Fear of her Family Reading Her Creative Work
I recently confessed to a friend about writing a blog. I waited nervously for her to ask me for the URL, and was inwardly relieved she didn’t. But it got me thinking, are we Brown Girls sometimes too reticent about the subjects we tackle for fear of our parents/families/communities seeing our work?
I do not enjoy complaining about the lack of South Asian women writing for my favorite websites (of course, not including Brown Girl Magazine) because I like these websites for their good writing. But, I remain conflicted over loving publications whose staff excludes the very necessary voices of brown ladies like us.
I have loved writing since I was a tween where my hobbies involved writing short stories and scripts, fake articles about my favorite bands or constructing fake NME covers (I was an embarrassing indie kid). The passion for self-expression, coupled with a fascination for Friday night chat shows, was the main reason I thought studying Journalism in college would be a good idea.
I sat uncomfortably as lecturers would bellow at us that we should have and maintain an online presence to showcase all our work and to be better employable. I shied away from participating in the regular raise-your-hand-if-you-have-a-blog activity all through university. It was a sensible idea, no matter how much I hated the thought of it, but I couldn’t do it.
I felt anxious imagining someone I know looking at my work and being shocked by it. Writing is so personal. I kept thinking about a familiar person’s eyes scanning my words on the screen and starting to unravel all of my deepest and darkest feelings! Undeniably, writing has some strong impact on the reader. It can be so telling and can reveal a lot about the writer. This may seem extremely dramatic, but these thoughts made me nervous.
Finally, I followed a friend’s footsteps and signed up for a Blogger. The fact that I knew someone who had their own blog lifted a weight off my shoulders, especially because I felt she and I were alike; writing because she loved it and wanted a career in it. I was confident in my anonymity and felt secure that all I would do is post music — nothing personal. Eventually, I ditched the blog — it felt boring and my words felt vacant. I longed to write fully and critically about my own experiences. I felt that these stories were much more deserving of having a platform and an audience.
I remember the few dozen tears that fell off my face and onto the pages of the journal as I wrote my sister’s reaction to learning that I was fed up of dudes patronizing me. After I told her why I was so upset, she mockingly repeated one of my words, joking ‘Ugh feminism!’ I felt betrayed. It was her dismissing something that I truly believe in and spent an entire academic year reading and writing about.
I have watched women being silenced through first-hand observations of close family. It is not necessarily done in a violent or overt way, but more subtly, through jokes or saying ‘you can’t do that’ in a demoralizing tone; as the youngest in the family, everybody feels the need to protect me.
There are so many experiences, conversations and jokes that I want to put out there, with my own by-line, rather than anonymity — I want to be credited, I deserve to be credited — but alas, I am scared that by straying from the box that my family has put me in, they will judge me, question me, “what is this?” or there will be some major awkwardness underlying the total silence, even though I actually do want to talk about it.
In her book “Remembered Rapture” (1999), the feminist writer Bell Hooks talks about her family’s response to her writing dreams. Most importantly, she talks about a bias that white writers from a privileged background have and one that is, of course, absent from people like me:
“Even though writers from privileged class backgrounds may write work that alienates family members, there is a much greater chance that shared educational backgrounds will enable them to understand the process of writing even if they do not agree with what is written.” (Bell, 1999, p. 101)
My parents, who moved to England in the 1980’s with a Pakistani education, do not comprehend the diversity of creative careers open to me, and this may be because of coming from backgrounds that do not emphasize the importance of writing.
I do not say this begrudgingly or even as a complete representation of my family. They would not disallow my aspirations that make me happy. They trust me. They are not strict. (A phrase echoed from high school when I would reassure my friends that no, I don’t advocate terrorism).
Largely, it is my own problem. Perhaps it is a fear of reeling from a life-long habit of pleasing them but mostly, I feel it is a fear of embarrassment, of talking about it to people that have shown themselves to not understand my individual experience as a British Pakistani. Like, when my sister expressed her misunderstanding of Feminism with her mocking tone, it meant that she did not share my experience. And that’s OK, but there is something totalitarian about this attitude, a sort of monolithic rejection of difference.
Not all British Pakistani women are writers and not all of them experience racism and sexism the way I do. I am not saying that they don’t experience it at all but rather that they don’t feel highly intense emotions that can only be resolved by expressing themselves creatively. I realize I am tired of my fears and realize that I do want to write publicly and most of all, I want to share with other brown women. This would be largely freeing, especially if my immediate family were to accept that I am a writer and I care about certain issues that I would like to express in writing.
I struggle with the notion that perhaps it is my cultural upbringing that brings about this reticence to write publicly. I wonder if this may be because I do not see many of my fellow South Asians on mainstream websites that I love to read. One thing is for sure, to the ones that I do see and admire constantly — you are my biggest inspiration.
Ameena Khan is a soon-to-be research student with a degree in Journalism, li
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Originally published at www.browngirlmagazine.com on March 17, 2015.