Dear White People I Love: A Brown Girl’s Tale After Trump and Brexit
Firstly, if you’re reading this you’re probably a friend or family member and so it goes without saying that I love you and am in no way trying to disrespect you.
However, you do not and will never understand how it feels to be and ethnic minority in this country. It’s just a fact. To live with the constant fear… of people judging you for the color of your skin, of being told to ‘go back home’, of not having the same opportunities as white counterparts, of feeling like it’s not even worth trying, of not feeling welcome, of feeling alone in your own country, of feeling like an inbetweener stuck between two cultures you will never fully be a part of, of feeling like a scapegoat, of feeling like the whole system is against you, of feeling that nothing will ever change.
I was absolutely distraught after finding out about the Trump win. I cried, I stayed in bed all day. I couldn’t understand what had just happened. I was stuck between a trust that the human race was inherently good, but the evidence showing me otherwise. I know people are making excuses and trying to over complicate the issue. I know that Hilary was perceived as untrustworthy and having too much ‘baggage’. But whether or not you agree that people who voted for him were racist, the fact that he has made openly racist comments (amongst others I won’t go into) did not put people off voting for him. Or maybe they voted for him because of it. Neither are OK.
Brexit was just as unexpected. My trust in British people broken. Having spoken to people in my own circle before the referendum and being assured, I realized I was living in a bubble. A nice comfy bubble of young, ethnically diverse, liberal free-thinking humanists like me, protected from the likes of Daily Mail and Sun readers. But this bubble doesn’t represent the rest of the country. This was again an example of underestimating the immigrant-blaming culture here. The main reason people voted to leave. The number of hate crimes afterward. There was no other way to explain it, Britain voted for xenophobia and intolerance.
Now growing up, I didn’t think about racism much. I was raised in Southall and then Hounslow, both very dense Asian populations. I never felt like a minority because I wasn’t. It was only once I’d gone to university in Brighton that I started to realize I wasn’t like most people. Don’t get me wrong — I’d always struggled with my identity and not quite fitting in. My parents weren’t as strict or traditional as most Asian parents I knew. I’d gone back and forth between being proud and ashamed of my own background. But this was something else.I’d never felt so out of depth and uncomfortable in my surroundings.
This was more than just being in a new place with people I didn’t know. It was not being able to connect with people on a different kind of level. There were only three other ethnic people I knew in the whole building. I’d wanted to get out of London and be around people I thought I’d have more in common with. What I found was not what I was hoping for. I felt misunderstood and completely isolated. I missed Hounslow. I missed the comfort of seeing brown faces, of smelling tadka in people’s houses, of hearing people talk in Punjabi or Hindi or hundreds of other languages, of being able to connect with people in a way that these new white friends just couldn’t.
One incident I remember clearly took place in a chicken shop after a night out (where else would I be). It was the day after the British National Party’s Nick Griffin appeared on Question Time in 2009. I was about to order when an obviously drunk man started to shout,
“Chuck all of the Pakis out, send them all back home, we don’t want them here”.
I couldn’t speak or retaliate, I don’t even know if the man even knew I was there. I left immediately and had to be carried home because I was so upset. I’ve rarely spoken about it because I wanted to believe it was an isolated and unusual incident. And the white friends I was with never brought it up either. So it wasn’t spoken about again.
Now obviously, I need to check my privilege here. I’d got into a good university because my parents and grandparents worked hard so that I had the opportunity to do so. I didn’t encounter the same openly racist abuse and rejection that they did in previous generations. There were no signs saying “no dogs, no Irish, no coloreds”. I wasn’t subject to racist attacks at school and then expelled for defending myself. I wasn’t put into care because social services couldn’t understand my family. I wasn’t made to cut my hair and remove my turban in order to get a job.
Britain has changed. But racism is still here. Just because it’s not out there on every street corner like it used to be, doesn’t mean it’s not hidden in people’s minds and ready to pounce given the right opportunity, as demonstrated by the response after Brexit and in tabloid newspapers every day.
So, white friends and family, my point is it’s not enough to feel sorry for us, to just be there, to say “I can’t be racist because my wife/ friend/ boyfriend/ is Indian, and “not all white people”. It’s not enough to say “it’s rubbish but try and be positive”. It hurts. More than you will ever know. We are grieving right now. Let us. And then stand with us as an ally against this monstrosity that has become Britain and the West at the moment. Whether it’s educating your own family and friends, not standing by when people make comments you disagree with, not reading ridiculous tabloids, spreading information online, going to protests and demonstrations with us, signing petitions. I am making a commitment to do more. Be active not passive. If you really love us stand with us not by us.
Sasha Nagra is a 26-year-old explorer, biscuit-lover and knowledge-seeker with a new-found love for writing. She is passionate about mental health, BAME issues, feminism and social justice. As a second generation ‘British Asian’ from a Sikh Punjabi family, she is determined to share her experiences and make a positive change. Check out her Instagram @snag90.
Originally published at www.browngirlmagazine.com on December 6, 2016.