I don’t know how many readers will relate to this but I grew up as a sly brown guy absorbed into an all-white world and the only black people I knew were Andi Peters and John Barnes (that most prolific of football players), the only exposure I had to my forefathers’ world was the odd trip to Bangladesh and the regular rantings and ravings of my mother in her mother tongue.
Although I was subjected to the odd ‘f**k off home’ suggestion I was generally accepted and was rarely reminded of being different, in fact my identity was not something I was consumed with, for me I was just the sly brown guy absorbed into an all-white world, completely and naturally detached from my heritage
It was only when I got to university when people started asking ‘where are you from?’ ‘My answer was generally ‘from here’, And then it was ‘but where are you really from?’, ‘You’re from Pakistan right?’
When enough people challenge your assumptions then you start to question these yourself.
With time whenever people coined the question where are you from?
My answers gradually changed to ‘I am Bengali’, ‘I am from Bangladesh’.
And why did they change?
Am I from Bangladesh? No
Had I become more in touch with my heritage? No.
Did I feel more Bangladeshi? No.
The simple answer was that I was sub-consciously conforming to other people’s expectations of how I should answer the question i.e. I had become a victim of what I would call ‘imposed compartmentalization’.
And a lot of us are guilty of this, the number of people I come across who were born and have lived here all their lives and yet call Pakistan ‘home’ when it never will be, Or who call themselves British Muslim, when their actions/ behaviors would suggest otherwise.
And who imposes this categorization, it’s a blend of sources but often the media, so over the years my imposed identity has changed from Asian to British Asian to British Bengali to British Muslim. So which am I comfortable with? None
So as someone who was no different culturally to my friends Ben and James why was it so ridiculous that I could not be from here. Well I guess it boils down to appearance and more specifically skin colour.
Something we are all conditioned to do is to very simply (and wrongly) correlate nationality with skin colour, you know what I mean: Indian= brown, German = white, Chinese = yellow…….
So take say William, the Caucasian son of British expats, born in Bangladesh who speaks fluent Bengali and categorically calls Dhaka home.
He will not (never) be (perceived) as Bangladeshi as myself who was born in Yorkshire, speaks broken Bengali and now calls London home.
So for me, nationality has nothing to do with appearance, so what does define it? That’s the thing, whatever line of reasoning (e.g. its where you’re born, its where your parents are from…, ) I’ve heard I can never quite buy it…..
Nationality is a ‘red herring’, we are all asylum seekers in an open (well not strictly) world and as a result of our changing exposures our identities are in transience.
So where am I now?
Well, I am at a stage of my life where I am enjoyably exploring my roots and Restless Beings’ first project is part of the process, but my affiliations are really towards the individuals around me, they are the ones who shape who I am.
In fact to conclude this brief but pertinent discussion on the world we live in I’m going to borrow a post from the Restless Beings’ forum:
‘I see it like a big field, you have big trees with their roots growing deep which remain on the field, and then you have insects and animals which may visit the field one season but not the next and you have flowers which grow every year and others which don’t unless prioritised and some that will never grow because the soil in the field is not suitable’.
p.s. In ‘Happy?’ I wrote:
‘Whilst writing this, am pursuing another passion, namely X-factor (watching, not performing). My fave’s Laura, a cheeky Northerner with a real unique tone, and Daniel Evans (in particular his life story) will bring a tear to your eye every time (guaranteed)… ‘
I told you so….