Sinead O Connor says white people are disgusting and she wants nothing more to do with them and that is her right as a white person and citizen of a country that prides itself on free speech. I’ve lost count of the times I said Pakistanis are disgusting though I have to admit it’s been a fair while since I did. Growing up it was my party trick, to show everyone how much I was not like all the others I’d stroke their egos, demonstrating my eagnerness and willingness to please with my local accent and knowledge of pop culture. I beamed with pride when a random girl on the bus complimented my accent as being so Brummy, you could never tell (that I was a Paki?) and when assorted friends rewarded my compliance, (which often translated into unabashed verbal paki bashing) with praise for how much I was not like all the others, I lapped it up, convinced this endorsement would save me from the racists. I resented it even at the time but I hadn’t fully realised the extent to which I would grow to abhor my own cowardice. I performed like the proverbial monkey, unaware, or perhaps unwilling to recognise the power play, reinforcing my lowly status every time I entered into this dance with my alleged superiors.
When Sinead O’Connor talks about disgusting white people I know who she means. It’s those people I felt compelled to please. I met L when I was 15, as a runaway, isolated, stuck in a rut, desperate for interaction. We were like chalk and cheese and not in that good opposites attract way. Up until my escape I’d been a straight A student and prided myself on learning and bettering myself. I had to dumb myself down so L wouldn’t feel like I was showing off. She was aggressive, using her body to push you where she wanted you. She wasn’t particularly big, just white. It was a feature of our friendship, to constantly reiterate how I’d managed to do well for myself, being friends with these white people on a council estate in Northolt when my folks were so alien and unworthy. She wasn’t the last white person to make me feel this way, I almost married another one. He said very early on in our relationship that he would only say it once but I might be smarter than him. I guess I could have spoken up, if I wasn’t paralysed from fear at the time, when he barked up my street at 3am it was his country and he’d talk as loud as he’d like, when I asked him to keep it down because people were sleeping. I was disgusted with his behaviour but didn’t locate my backbone until the relationship ended and I could finally be honest with myself. In the end I was grateful for the lesson, how white people will use a single person of colour to shield themselves against accusations of racism, all the while exerting unchecked white privilege to say and do as they please with no consequences.
These white people behaved in disgusting ways, and they are by no means the exception. When I said Pakistanis were disgusting I was reacting to the microaggressions we absorb as soon as we are able to verbalise. The racialised system of deserving and undeserving which places Pakistanis at the very bottom, in Asia but also the world. We are a slur weaponised against all South Asians, even non Asian Muslims. I had the impression Pakistani men were the most lecherous, the most violent, until I started working in domestic violence services. It was a long process but once I had made the decision to let the veil drop I was coasting. It was so much easier for me to be anti racist, to listen and go with my gut. So much less stress. Of course this means conflict is almost a permanent feature of my life but I’m nobody’s bitch. Being your own person of colour, respecting your past and acknowledging the hurdles your ancestors took for you to exist today, that’s empowering. Shaking the white gaze away from your eyes to see the strength of character and sheer bloody mindedness it took to survive the barbaric British empire, when it set out to destroy our cultures and peoples and very nearly succeeded, is catharthic and goes a little way to heal the fractures in our psyche.
I no longer think of Pakistanis as disgusting but broken and doing the best we can. We were and still are treated disgustingly by disgusting people wearing whiteness like armour against criticism of their inhumane and savage treatment of non whites. If you’re white and you found Ms O’Connor’s comments disgraceful consider the following:
You are a racist. A revisionist. A liar. A fake.
I thank Sinead O’Connor for having the courage to speak up in these threatening times. By making herself a target she takes some of the heat off the usual punching bags, and gives marginalised people everywhere a smidgen of hope that things are slowly changing, the world is righting itself.