class

A person like me

What is the point of social media for someone like me? When I say ‘me’ what exactly do I mean? I’m not under any illusions about my existence; I don’t see myself leading you all to revolution or winning a Nobel peace prize or anything. I haven’t the knack for self-promotion for a start. In order to do this I’d need an internal editor capable of presenting an image that fits easily in a white patriarchy; the kind that asks questions but lets you come to your own conclusions, no doubt confirming your own biases, whatever the message. No, there isn’t a place for someone like me, not when I spell it out for you that people like me are suffering, if not fighting for their lives.

I may have been heard if I hadn’t turned the spotlight around on the people mendaciously constructing a world that doesn’t reflect the reality many thousands of ethnic minorities (and ‘others’) experience on this rainy fascism island. My primary malfunction was assuming that the world was ready to hear how the individual contributes to the unjust and unequal system we find ourselves trapped in. The beginning of the end for me was initiated by another woman. A feminist no less, one of the ‘race is not a feminist issue’ brigade, as I discovered when they felt buoyed enough by the support of other white people to say whatever they liked, without consequence.

The world of social media is a microcosm of the world I cannot be a part of irl. The same white gatekeepers exist in positions of power that mark someone like me out as a troublemaker, a loose cannon. Instead of saying this though, noting that we’re all human and fallible, apologising for our prejudices and making promises to do better, it has been standard practice to obliterate the dissenting voice instead, by subjecting the speaker to all of the things they have been protesting against.

I am a survivor of male perpetrated violence and sexual abuse. I was subjected to this violence whilst I was still curled up with my twin in our mother’s womb. I am a survivor of immigration and now realise that a lot of the violence I and the other women in my family were subjected to was exacerbated by the ways in which the men of my family were treated by the British Empire. I am learning about my heritage and I can finally understand the ghosts that haunted my grandfather, a child who witnessed partition and then never spoke of it again. He was in the army, we knew that much. He had his name crudely tattooed on his arm in biro ink, in case they needed to identify his corpse I presume. On leaving the army he came to settle in Birmingham and worked extremely hard for 5 years before he could bring over his wife and 3 small children, my father being the middle one. When he eventually did call for them, they were almost lost forever when the plane they had been ordered to leave – to make space for VIPs who were given priority – crashed over France killing all those on board. My family is a miracle. They survived the empire and they made it to this country in one piece.

However, the struggle for basic survival didn’t end with them, whatever the white knights of Twitter seem to think. It’s a bit rich for these white saviours to mock us with stories of how our dark men are mutilating our vaginas and killing us for talking to boys and how much worse off we’d be if we’d been born in any of the brown countries. The fact that my female cousins had a private education in Pakistan with one of them awarded a scholarship for a doctorate in engineering isn’t something I’ve ever felt the need to share to silence the hecklers, as if they would listen or believe me anyway. I don’t need to be reminded of patriarchal violence and control; my great grandmother was beaten to death by her man. It wasn’t the Asian or Muslim in him that made him do this or ensured she was victim to it. It was power and control. Patriarchal power and control; the kind that rears its ugly head when your country is under attack and ‘your women’ are being raped, being as they are merely vessels for the patrilineage. The kind that prompts my apparently relaxed Sufi like ancestors to suddenly turn inwards and toughen their cultural praxis so that others cannot accuse them of allowing the British to bastardise their values. Of course that’s going to be amplified when they arrive in said coloniser’s country. I see the anger and disapproval they pelted me with as I was growing up as a reaction to colonial power and control and their abuse of my person as a manifestation of their own post-traumatic stress disorders and Stockholm syndrome. My grandparents were promised a home away from home but when they arrived here they were faced with severe violence and abuse yet their reaction to it was to accept their dehumanised status and suffer the blows. That pent up rage and hurt had to make its exit somewhere and it was people like me who bore the brunt of it. I forgive them though, because I know it wasn’t their fault. It was yours ‘Great Britain’.

I shunned my brown Muslim family the first chance I got, running away from home aged 15, cutting my dark waist length hair into a bob, eating all the pork products I could ram into my mouth (denouncing the Muslim God as I masticated), just out of spite. I thought the drunker I got, the more they’d accept I was one of them. I had to find a white boyfriend cos that would give me the protection I needed from both racist whites and vengeful brownies. I was annoyed at my gran for not telling us a distant cousin had married a white man (who’d converted to Islam for her) and that she’d instructed the other women to keep it a secret too. She was afraid we were ripe for the poaching y’see. She was right. Maybe if I married a white man I could have a properly white sounding name too. I was already called Sam and had dropped my uber Arabic surname because of the lack of opportunities it had lumped me with. A mere 6 hrs after I’d begrudgingly westernised my name, I was given my first interview in 3 months. That’s how racist Britain was in 2005, regardless of what we were told.

I’m not proud of the ways I have ducked and dived the judgements racism has thrown my way. I am not ashamed of it either. I am able to reason that survival is cruel and I did whatever was necessary. White people make it impossible for you to exist in a way that honours your cultural background then mock you for leaving it behind. This is the exact reason why I give up, why I’m done trying to get people to think. The issue here is not one of co-existing in a tolerant society and resistance to this liberal way of life but the shifting of goalposts so that it never matters that we do our best or bow our heads, it’s just not good enough. White Britons want us to jump through hoops like the good little Asians do, they want us to change our beliefs/personalities depending on who is calling it at the time, even if it is some beer bloated ignorant pig of a chav (I’m working class, what of it?) who thinks they’re better than you cos their ruling classes stole from yours. On this matter of working class whites, I am done with trying to understand a section of society so downtrodden and put upon by the illuminated ones “It’s not their fault they’re poor and stupid, their racism isn’t really racism, they’re just ignorant”. Stop right there and hear me on this; I left school at 16, I don’t have a formal education or trust fund and I am not a racist either. When I look at white people I don’t see degrees of racism based on their level of education/class. I see people who recognise my humanity and those who want me silenced/dead because they believe I am not human enough. Call me a paki and I’ll call you white trash.

So y’see, I know why my peers and even those with a much smaller vocabulary than me are being published in the papers, their voices resonating with all who look like them. They are the ones who know how to play the system because it has been set up to benefit them. I know how this game goes but I’m not a very good liar and it’s never been about a high flying meeja career. I want to say what I need to say and for it to be heard and believed as my lived experiences. However if anyone actually did that then they would have to admit how they benefit from the status quo and nobody wants to relinquish their privilege or share it with someone as outspoken as me (they think I think like them and want the things they want and this scares them).

I am a British Asian woman who tried to be all that was required of me but soon realised that meant I had to be dishonest and dissociate for the privilege of success in a white capitalist patriarchy. I have grown to hate this country I so loved once upon a time. I don’t want to bomb it or teach anyone a lesson, terror is terror, whoever experiences it, even the knuckleheads but I will smash anyone upside the head if they ‘do a racism’ in my presence. I am shackled and gagged on social media, I am prevented from defending myself, I do not deserve solidarity and so I give up, take it, keep it for yourselves. We’ve come too far to backtrack the racism of the past year and now I fear we’re hurtling towards the inevitable. Sticking around without the backing I need from white ‘allies’ is waving myself like a red flag to a bunch of fascist bull shits.

It’s safer to behave as though you do not exist.

Advertisements

Privilege Top Trumps

What makes me a feminist? First and foremost I am a woman. I demand an equal right to life. I resent the opportunities I am not given on the basis of my sex. I will fight for these rights, physically if I have to. I resent the ways in which I have had to struggle in order to survive. I am bitter about the many men who have hurt me, on a personal level but professionally also. As women, we have all had these experiences purely because we have been programmed to believe we are physically and intellectually inferior. Many of us haven’t the fight to strike back because we already believe we will lose.

In some parts of the world, it is extremely dangerous to identify as a strong woman. Women in parts of rural Pakistan/Afghanistan have their noses torn off for refusing to make the dinner. In Central America, self-identifying trans women are brutally murdered for deviating from the extremely cis gendered norm. Young Turkish women are coerced into taking their own lives since honour killings carry a mandatory life sentence. Our sisters the world over are suffering still, controlled by the very men who claim to protect and provide. In fact, up to 70% of the women in our vast world will experience domestic abuse. It is astonishing, when the figure is this high, that our Western media is constantly demanding an end to feminism or at least writing about its decline. And there are women, mainly white middle/upper class women, the Brunis and the Perrys; but a few working class too, who believe that this might be true. Even though ¼ of their female British citizens are subjected to threats and violence in their own homes. That they actively choose to disassociate from such a crucial and necessary cause is astonishing and doesn’t make sense. How is one able to claim such ignorance when feminists have been highlighting these issues before I was even born?

I like to play privilege Buckaroo in my head. I am a cis gendered woman with a few years of life behind me. I was educated in my relatively developed corner of the West. I have the sort of face that fits and a name I constructed to impress white people from whom I may need to seek employment. I struggle to think of all my privileges because, from where I normally sit, people haven’t always been welcoming. I am a BrAsian woman of Pakistani/Kashmiri heritage but I’m kind of a beige-y brown so people generally cannot place me. I’m the ‘other’, I have to ‘specify’ and this makes me suspicious to some folk. They want to trust me cos I like to drink gin and know all the lyrics to Pink Floyd but I start to twitch when people bring up the ethnics and their alien ways, and this alarms them. I should do a better job of being British and give over my old allegiances, deny my ancestral journey to this greatest of islands. But I can’t. Not because I hold dear my old culture or religion but because women like me have to smash through the patriarchal crap for women like my mother.

A child bride, uneducated, one of eight daughters; existing only so that one day she would cook and clean and bear children. Nobody asked her about her plans, she wasn’t taught consent or autonomy. She suffered. I haven’t had the best of lives but comparatively, I had the strength to fight back. I had white middle class teachers and a second wave feminist aunt. It no longer matters that my mother struggled to feed and clothe all four of us on £40 week child benefit, I looked forward to hippy guitar mornings with Mr Davies, the primary school teacher who gave me first Parker pen. I was not going to be like my mother, I said. I wasn’t going to be so weak and unable to help myself. I was going to elevate my status and never look back. Except.. It’s a little bit selfish thinking like that. I had hope. I could read English. My teachers believed in me; I was destined for great things. My mother was never given the opportunity. She wore a plait with a middle parting, a shalwar kameez and she wouldn’t look anyone in the eye. It made her look shifty but she was just painfully shy. I have privileges my mother wouldn’t have dared to dream about. I must remember this.

When conscientious white feminist friends start questioning the validity of the word feminism in the fight for equality for ALL women, it makes me think again about my privilege and the relative ease with which I can proclaim to be a feminist. Women of colour are struggling to find their place in this crucial global movement. But also, women of the working classes. Has it been hijacked by the white woman who believes in equality for well to do white women alone or is this another divide and rule mission for the patriarchy? It’s easy for a man to say that oppression is about class first and foremost, especially if that man happens to be called Marx but the fact remains that that is his privilege as a man. And a white man at that. White women with money (and some without) have the time and resources to make a stand. Banging on about equality whilst ignoring the prejudice and discrimination faced by women of colour, disabled women, trans women etc. is not the feminism I believed it to be. It’s patriarchy manifesting in the very people who were privileged enough to recognise the inequality they were themselves subjected to.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

We cannot let the patriarchy take the word ‘feminism’ away from us. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my issues with it, BUT I am damned if I let the patriarchy dictate its usage.

Fems, let us be inclusive. Let’s literally give a shit about ALL women. Listen to the women who have been toxically shamed into believing they are inferior, because they are black or mentally unwell. We need to be aware of our language and the way patriarchy subtly controls people who are the ‘other’.

Who’s with me?

Say It Lots And Say It Loud: I’m A Feminist And Proud

People love to hate feminism. Its core values have been to promote equality between the sexes; political, social and economical. By definition, one could assume that all women would like equality and therefore all women must be feminists. Sadly, this is not true. Feminism has been given a different meaning, one that has been distorted to mean oppression rather than freedom.

I was once told by a feminist that “real feminists do not have to announce they are feminists”. I was left feeling like feminist was a dirty word that we must disassociate ourselves from. It was ok to feel like a feminist and act like a feminist but you couldn’t tell anyone you were one. I encountered a negative response any time I uttered the words “I am a feminist”. People knew about my work, they knew I believed in equal rights and whilst we spoke of these things in the context of social impact and global development of women, it was fine. Most people agreed, most people do hope for a better future for their daughters. Without the dreaded feminist word.

“Feminism has had its day, it’s time to move on as its less about gender and more about education and equality for all then just for women… Injustice is just that injustice. It doesn’t pick a gender, race or creed, people do. This is why I hate feminism, it detracts from the fact that there are many people, men and women, who are unjustly treated, beaten and abused.”

So says a dear friend of mine, who was himself abused by a woman.  I like to think everyone has a friend who they can argue with till they’re blue in the face, it’s going to end in fisticuffs until one suddenly lets up that they were just playing advocate. This is the relationship I have with this friend. He’s a feminist but doesn’t know it. The response he had from the police was an example of best practice. He was offered advice around his options, sympathetic and methodical. Although I do not have much experience of men accessing domestic abuse services, this one example was dealt with efficiently and empathically. Until we achieve equality in authorities dealings with victims, 1 in 5 men and 1 in 10 women will continue to believe domestic violence against women is acceptable. Speaking to my colleagues, there is a perception that male victims of DV are much more likely to be believed by the police simply because they are men.

More worryingly, it is when women take issue with it that I have to question why feminism has left some women estranged from the cause.

“ABSURD ‘feminists’ label all men who don’t roll over and comply as rapists.’Feminists’ do all women a disservice.”

This in response to men should take more responsibility when attempting to sleep with an inebriated partner. Decency dictates that if either partner is in such a state that they might not remember, it’s probably best to leave it. We live in a society where women feel it their duty to protect themselves from attack. Don’t get so drunk you cannot consent. Whilst men are free to get as drunk as they like without a perceived threat to their sex. If a group of men got drunk and one of their party chose to have stick it into another whilst he was too drunk to consent, that would be rape. No questions asked. He wouldn’t be asked whether his clothing was too revealing. We wouldn’t dream of saying he had lured the rapist into his bed with his provocative behaviour. We wouldn’t suggest it would not have happened had he been sober.

The more I try to understand the role of woman in society, the more I struggle to remain focused on equality. How can I accept that “feminism has had its day” when we are further from equality than we were 2 years ago? The global war on women has reached dizzying heights of violation. Our wombs are up for debate, both sides of the Atlantic. I have never witnessed such a fixation on the reproductive rights of women, misinformation around abortion and toxic shaming of those who make the choice to abort. I cannot think of a more gross violation of an individual’s human rights and the right to privacy than the pro-lifers camping outside abortion clinics. Their actions are forceful and coercive. How can they be allowed to protest when protest for the masses is being criminalised? An on such a deeply private matter.

They’re turning the clock back to their 70s by withdrawing crucial funding. Right now, we must accelerate our feminist activities, spread our arms and become more inclusive. Otherwise we’ll hear more news like this:

“Pavan Amara interviewed 38 working class women from across the country for her report that was published on the F-Word website last week. She found that working class women had effectively been excluded by a movement that was failing to reach the people who really needed it. It was only when the class divide was crossed that the problem became evident.”

(http://www.islingtontribune.com/reviews/cinema/2012/mar/feminism-failing-are-working-class-women-being-excluded-movement)

Coming from a working class background, 2nd generation Asian, I would say there is some truth to this statement. I didn’t notice one day I was part of the movement; I was born this way. I actively sought it and initially struggled to find my part in it. There is a divide between white middle class feminists and the rest of us. I found my experiences a hindrance to my work. Somehow because of what I was going through and in some way, still experiencing, I felt my contribution was not as valid as someone who had done a degree in Gender Studies and a Masters in Women’s Rights. Surely the people best placed to help people overcome abuse are those who have been there and felt it themselves? Isn’t that where true empathy comes from?

As with an ideology, there will be sections and subsections sprouting from wherever it can be extended. For my part, I cannot understand the Transphobia emanating from some radicals on the feminist spectrum. The root meaning of the word for me is equality. And I do believe we can achieve equality together, female and male feminists working together to smash patriarchy.

Feminists of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your shackles.