When I was younger, my mother would always tell me one particular thing right before I would leave the house: she would request that I tolerate others. To hold my tongue and not speak out or fight back if anyone spoke badly about where I am from or the religion I practice. This especially became a concern after 9/11. “Always remember the colour of your skin,” she would remind me. “This country looks down on us. They always have. They always will.” And if it was my word against that of someone with lighter skin, I would easily find myself out of luck.
For that reason, I spent the majority of my youth walking around with clenched fists in my pockets. As I matured, I began to realize the cruel truths of the world, the horrible injustices done to people by other people. It was hard to accept, and sometimes, for some strange reason, it still is.
A great part of my being wants to believe that people are good. That they are still good despite everything they have done and continue to do to one another, and all the lives they have destroyed. This is perhaps extremely naive of me, and may be what eventually destroys me. Or perhaps this is the only thing that has kept me alive.
I find people to be a mix of horrible, fascinating, and brilliant. I think it is a rather dangerous combination. Lines are almost always crossed, because limits do not exist to us. We possess the ability to love and hate without any restrain, and not surprisingly, both inevitably lead to our ruin. We are idealistic, foolish, and stubborn. We pursue those things which we cannot and should not possess. We pursue ideas of permanence which themselves have changed through the course of time. We chase after ideals which are made to sound great in theory, but are often (read: always) treated as mythology and enforced as such.
One such myth is multiculturalism. If it truly exists, or if it ever has, it should be understood that multiculturalism has failed us. It has taught us nothing but to open ourselves to new culinary delights. But we are not some sort of ethnic buffet! Multiculturalism has done more for domestic economies than it has for its foreign-domestic populations, the products of immigration. It has not made us more amicable towards one another. It has not dissolved racial issues and concerns. It has not brought communities together. And it has not rid of preconceived notions of other races, religions, genders, or sexual orientations.
In fact, multiculturalism has been, at best, just a tease. A little show of skin; sultry legs, a dipping neckline, some cleavage. Something to excite the exotic in us. Something to make us feel like we are accepted, that we belong. That years of historic violence, abuse, and oppression can somehow be looked past without an apology. And no, multiculturalism is not an apology. It is not even a welcome, or a thank you. It is a bone. A pacifier. A lollipop for the crying child. A pathetic excuse.
Multiculturalism has failed us. Because it was never fully intended to work. Because tolerance is not the same thing as acceptance. Some of western society’s favourite occupations are to confuse tolerance for acceptance, acceptance for apology, common sense for liberalism, civic duty for charity – all on the pretense of some kind of profound form of enlightenment. Yet our names, languages, ethnicities, religions, and “cultures” all become subject to western fetishization. Somehow, for some reason, it is still okay to portray the non-white individual as the “other,” as something to be fascinated by. As if fundamentally altering the course of our history, and ultimately our existence, was alone not enough. But contrary to popular belief, we are not here for handouts or charity. But our struggles and sacrifices will be acknowledged. All the buzz words mean nothing to us. We are more than our food and our clothes, more than the languages we speak. We are more than our skin.
I do not want for future generations to have to worry about the colour of their skin, or to be told that they should change their names to something more “Western” and “easier to pronounce.” I do not want to see another PhD mopping floors or driving taxi cabs to ensure their children have a glimmer of hope in the West, only to be cheated into the lower rung of the ladder despite their efforts.
I do not want another immigration watch organization handing out anti-immigration literature to every door in our neighbourhoods, and then claim that they are not racist. I do not want another man to fear being called a terrorist for his beard or turban, or because he carries on his Prophet’s name, or another woman to be targeted for her hijab, her faith, and be told to go back to her country. Remember this: you cannot justify stealing bread from someone, and then becoming angry when someone else asks you for a piece.
The word diaspora translates from Greek to mean “the dispersal of seeds.” An immigrant is such a seed, planting him or herself into alien soil, dreaming to flourish as others have. But a seed cannot grow if the soil will not provide the nutrients it needs to survive. More and more of our seeds are failing, deteriorating, eventually dying. Or are just beginning to grow and then finding themselves to be cut down. Torn from their roots. Discarded.
The approach to this collection was not only to quell but also to cause qualm; to provide both a source for one to heal, as well as a brief glimpse into hell; to both remedy injury as well as rouse anger; to disturb those who have been pacified; to momentarily disrupt the course of Western thought; to trace back our own roots; to serve as reminder of our customs and traditions; and to recall all that has been lost and left behind.
The intention has been to incite discussion, to invite one another into a sense of acceptance, so that generations that follow can be inspired by us. It is not only a matter of racial differences, but also learning to put aside those differences which divide even communities of similar racial backgrounds and ethnic origins.
We must, for the sake of that which is left of our humanity, maintain the fact that we are each a body of water. We are each a fragment of ocean, a force of nature. We must learn to coexist alongside one another so that we may thrive. So that our collective force may become that of the ocean as opposed to minuscule drops of it.
When I spent two years researching and a year writing, editing, putting things together, I had a fairly long dedication in mind. But last minute, near the end of my Undergrad and writing my final research paper, I became increasingly more frustrated with my name appearing as an error in Microsoft Word. My paper had to be perfect, and according to the spell check it wasn’t because my name was apparently an error. Well, I’m thankful for that moment, because that became one of the final touches that completed the book. That, and of course ravsehmbi ’s gorgeous illustrations. To me, it is an overarching example of the way non-European standards and identities are othered, alienated, and considered to be less than they are.
By Bodies of Water is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and all other major online retailers worldwide wherever books are sold, through the York University Bookstore’s online catalogue, and signed copies via Etsy.
You know, it’s a wonderful feeling to have your previous professor still reaching out to you and inviting you back every year as a guest speaker for her class. Last year was the first time. I remember being so nervous but then walking away from that experience feeling so thrilled by her students’ level of engagement and the kinds of conversations that my writing sparked in that class.