PLEASE QUESTION YOUR MISCONCEPTIONS
The feeling of being an outsider cannot be understood until it's felt. You fear that you are only welcome when you are the version of yourself that they like. The pressure, the judgement and the desperation to feel accepted, is crushing. You implode. You try to fit into a society that doesn't have space for you, unless you are needed. You can't be understood when they are so certain that they already understand. Your individuality is irrelevant when they identify you with stereotypes and presumptions and generalisations. As an impressionable 11-year-old girl, I leaned into all my stereotypes because it made me feel: understood, liked, relatable. I wear the taffeta dress, I agree politely, I smile sweetly as if I'm not currently suffering from an identity crisis. I contemplate whether I would be a completely different person if I came to this country later in my life. Of course, I would. I saw a society that didn't reflect my culture and my experiences but I kept telling myself that I could belong; regardless of our differences. There's an ocean between my external self and ... me. Will I ever stop feeling like an outsider?
The girl with the ecstatic smile and her library books and her gleaming school shoes and her big group of friends, felt lonely. Setting, discrimination, bias and injustice aside, this girl just wanted to be herself; not representative of or represented by, factors that are arbitrary. "What did the colour of my skin, the shape of my eyes or the ethnicity box that I ticked, have anything to do with the unique person that I am," she asked. "Everything," they answered. Always being a minority in the room means that it is demanded of you to have a voice that is representative of a rich, fascinating and complicated culture. It's scary when your seat at the table is contingent on understanding someone else's culture and experiences. Exclusion because of your differences and 'otherness'. You are invited to a costume party and the theme is to dress like a British person.
I am proud of my cultural background and I accept that it's a part of me, but tolerance and diversity should look like, learning about each other’s cultures and embracing it. We should not be colour-blind and tone-deaf to the cultural moment and our innate differences. When the cashier at my favourite local café backed away from the counter and openly said, "I am not taking these customers with Corona,"(clearly differentiating me from the previous white customers) my eyes were aggressively pulled open; to fully absorb and understand the dilapidated state of racial discrimination. This is five years after I had arrived in the UK, long after the moment I called this place my home. Some may see nothing wrong with that. Let me paint you this picture. In all the picture books that I've read growing up, the princess has had blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin. I couldn't be a princess. I joined a school that played Rounder’s and Netball, sports I had never even heard of before. Naturally there's no way I can get on the A team. I couldn't do it but I learnt, didn't I. Fast forward five years, I've studied the culture, played the sport, learnt the colloquialism, spoken the accent, eaten strawberries at Wimbledon, boarded at school, lost some mates over the years, bought the tuck, worn the uniform, been to Henley and Ascot, drank the tea, taken a cab, watched the Rugby, fancied a boy, driven on the left side of the road, taken the tube, said 'sorry' unnecessarily, talked about the weather, queued in queues, asked matron to put me off games, passed CE, GCSE and doing A-levels, kept my emotions at bay, appreciated the NHS, folded crisps into a sandwich but how come I still feel so foreign, so 'othered'. So, I wonder if I will ever feel at home, feel included, feel recognised for more than just my labels. Disclaimer, I refer to 'they' as some people, not all people.
Is this temporary? Do I grow out of it? I feel very privileged to have made friends and found people of which I align with morally, politically, philanthropically and in terms of ideas regarding social change. We learnt about each other’s cultures, experiences and hardships and although we are completely unique and unable to relate, we created a space for people standing at the intersections of communities, with equally important voices.
Thank you, truly, for taking the time to hear my story.