“What beautiful daughters you have!”
It happens a lot. It is a compliment, of course it is. I have green eyes, that are pretty big, and light brown skin. My sister, has the richest auburn hair, which in the light gleamed like fire. She has white skin, with pink rosy cheeks. Mum was very dark, before Vitiligo, with jet black indian hair. I remember looking at her skin against my sisters chubby white rosy flesh…she could have been adopted. I remember climbing on my Dads lap and seeing my arms with his. Well I knew he was my Dad for certain, but having my arm next to his and see the contrast of its colour, used to make me wonder, how we could be so close butt never know what it feels like to look like the other. We had different sets of skins.
I am light- which contrary to what some awful skin products tell you- is not necessarily beautiful. Society seems to associate one with the other, not me. I was always envious of the Nigerian girl in my class with braids. To me, she was beautiful. She was bright, funny, could dance, sing and shook her beads at the end of her hair that made a wonderful noise and made her so much prettier. Her laugh was infectious too. I used to dream of being black like her. Femininity, seems to ooze from natural afro-carribbean girls.
My Dad, raised me on jazz. We had pictures of black people all over the house as icons. All I really thought at that age is that black people were the most creative beings of the earth. I am still not convinced that is a wrong perception. Dad would say things like “can you imagine, going through all this pain and suffering by society- just for the colour of your skin?”. Stevie Wonder helped him to illustrate to me this point, through lots and lots of music.
I remember Mandela’s release. My parents were so happy. Not really understanding who he was apart from he was good, and lived in Africa. Dad said “if me and your mother lived in South Africa, it would be illegal for us to be together. Can you imagine that?”
There. There it was. It started. My germinating consciousness was rumbling, developing, and ever so slowly…growing. With me.
Slam. A loud cursing in Gujurati, short, sharp and heated. Phone down and my mother turned. She screamed “Come on!!”. Tears were coming down her face and she was scowling, angry and hurt. I got frightened when she cried, I didn’t understand what it meant. I rushed, confused, not knowing what I had done. The phone rang again. “DONT ANSWER IT!! Come on its time to go, let it ring, we aren’t answering it.” I knew it was my Uncle, her brother. I don’t know what he wanted. I knew it wasn’t good. I knew then- that whatever his problem was with Dad, the feeling was entirely mutual. We used to walk down the shops in Thornton Heath, where Mum would get large bags of rice for cheap from the Indian shops. I really couldn’t see anyone that wasn’t indian there.
Alien. Everyone stares. I looked out the window at the cars driving past, on the road. They spoke English out there, like me.
As we worked our way around, Mum got the various ingredients she needed, whilst everyone around us just- stared. At me, then at Mum, then at me, then at my sister, then at my mum once more. Then outside at the road. Slowing down picking up their okras, peering over glasses… throwing some sari material over a shoulder so they could turn their head fully to have a look. Of course they were whispering and talking about us.
I couldn’t understand the language. It made me feel even more humiliated that I couldn’t. “Just ignore them, don’t look back, keep moving.” But they kept looking.
It wasn’t because we were “beautiful”. It is because we looked different. It is because we were clearly, mixed race. Half-caste. Whatever anyone wants to call it. The label is up for grabs.
That isn’t Gujarati, that isn’t even Indian. We were not part of the community, we were outcasts. Even in Swaminarayan religion, it says that this mixing, is…not supposed to happen. A trespass into English society that Indian families were not there to do. Set up shops and business and get educated, yes. Marry them? Breed with them? Absolutely not. No true Indian woman would ever do that. No Indian woman would shame and dishonour her family like that.
I won’t ever forget the looks my Mum got from people. I saw the disapproval in their eyes. I felt responsible for the looks we all got.
“When people ask you where you are from, just say Orpington. It’s rude that they ask because it doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t make a difference.” Of course, that didn’t work. No one is satisfied with that. And it really is useless letting them guess greek, italian, turkish, arabic, spanish, and so on until I really get fed up and just answer “half english half indian”. It is the only definition they will understand.
“Ohhhhhhhh!” Suddenly it all makes sense. There you go. The nodding, evaluating, the smiling saying ‘cool!’ whilst they locate the appropriate stereotypes of race in their brain. They stop to contemplate it for a moment, then the curiosity intrigues them even more. “How did your parents meet?”
That is really the racial divide in the context of the UK. We all coexist together avoiding relationships across lines though still deeply fascinated with how the others live. Or where we all actually come from. I’m the same age, even older than my cousins, yet I am regarded as ‘modern’ because I am mixed. We all get racism, we all experience it, we are all utterly messed up with perception in the homeland of colonialism that systematically destroyed all of our home countries throughout the world- now trying to celebrate we are ‘different’. “Multi-culturalism” they call it. I don’t buy it, personally.
I don’t believe that the UK is melting pot. Its a distillery. Only the most refined, those that have been purified over and over with a meritocracy and elitism end up the cream at the top.
What is it like being half white in an Indian community in England? They assume that your Mother has no culture. Never that your Dad has more than most.