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.
“Your father and I have been talking,” says my mother, her words heavy with hesitation. “He doesn’t want to say this to you, he knows you won’t listen. But you should know, and you should consider it this time.”
I have a good idea of where the conversation is going just by the tone of it all. And I know before she tells me that I will not agree, cannot. Perhaps I would have obliged if I was younger, perhaps a few years ago, yes. I have, in fact. But this is the year 2015. I live in a country in which I was not born but have over time grown to call home. I am a citizen.
“You should shave off your beard. There’s so much happening in the world, and maybe just for the time being, consider clean shaving. You’ll look nice.”
My mother does not use words like Muslim or terrorism or ISIS. She has no need to, because they are known to us all without utterance. These are thorns that have pricked us in our sides, occupied unnecessary space in our lives. They are unwelcome guests that decided to barge into our home and have never quite left. And there is not yet any indication of them perhaps ever doing so.
“I will not,” I respond. “And why should I?” Before my mother tries to argue, I continue, “Why, Ma? Why should I shave my beard off? If a white man can keep his beard even longer than mine, and people can accept it as being fashionable, then why am I seen as any different? No one once stops to question his faith.”
“Yes,” she agrees. “No one ever doubts a white man.”
“I refuse to look a certain way just to fit this society’s liking,” I go on. I know my parents care only for my wellbeing. That, for them, now at their age, it is no longer about standing against discrimination. In fact, I understand. I understand that they are exhausted of standing against it. I understand that they have, if not learned, at least decided, to accept it, or else ignore it. This, too, is painful to know.
I understand that, for my parents, there is no shame in this surrender if it guarantees the safety of our family.
I know stories of my father being harassed in public because of his name many years ago. He, like millions of others, carry the prophet’s name as a title. My father was confronted by a drunk man one day who saw his nametag bear the name of the prophet, who recognized it and then proceeded to subdue my father with words and insults that will forever be best left unrepeated.
I was young then, I did not see him come home upset, near tears. I only heard of this incident from my mother, did not see my father break down because of it. For when you are only seven or eight years old, your father does not ever break in front of you.
It was after that incident that saw him go by only his last name in order to protect himself, his dignity, and his faith from being attacked. My father walked away from that episode having his entire life changed. And the other man walked away unscathed.
But that was then, this is now -my parents will tell me if I should ever point this out. However, I refuse to accept it. I know they cannot either, that they have instead learned to live with it. I hope to learn a great many things in my life, but I hope I never learn how to live with discrimination.
“I refuse to be treated like a second class citizen,” I tell my mother. “I have to live here for the rest of my life.”
It is unfortunate that my parents have been normalized to discrimination. But I still have some fight in me. I have reason to stand my ground. I have a life ahead of me. And, hopefully, the potential for a pretty epic beard.
Naveed Abdullah Khan || “My beard makes me a terrorist? What does that make Santa Claus? Christian images depict God with a beard, so is he a terrorist too? What about Jesus? Oh wait…”
1. Metamorphosis of Woman Woman, the one who brings life. Before she can give life…she must become one of her own. Draped in the cocoon (red saree) of societal expectations conflicted with the innate desire for self discovery, woman is a battlefield. The transformation of woman happens first unseen, within the trappings of the societal mould, from which she must break free.
2. The Exhaustion
The life of life: an internal struggle, an exhaustion beyond compare. Before nature can be green, life begins with red. She bleeds you, raw with emotion, drawing the wolves of the woods ever more near. She fends for her self, she does not need your protection; she gives to you when she chooses.
3.Emergence of Woman:
Once Woman is ready, there is nothing that can hold her back or withstand her force. The cocoon will let her eyes open, moulds shatter, a flower blossoms quietly in a forest muddled with sound and malicious whispers. Everything stops in her wake. Upon the emergence of Woman.. the earth learns to breath, once again.