When I arrived, the only school that had a vacancy for me to join in the middle of Year 9 was a few miles away from home. I got in after passing an English and Maths test. One of my first experiences at school was of trying to be friendly with a group of Asian kids from my year. There were about seven Asians and two Black students in the class. My one and only interaction with the Asian group was when someone asked me what my caste was; I anxiously responded that I was brought up a Christian. After that, they wouldn’t talk to me.
My experiences at school had been very painful. I would be scared to wait for the bus because there were a few boys that would come and speak to me in funny accents. There were a few instances where they spat on me and called me a “Paki,” which at the time I naively justified it by telling myself it means Pakistani and they don’t know that I am from a different country. I would not be able to relax at home since my parents were also struggling to be in this country in their own ways. I was often reminded of my roots and where I came from as their main worry was that I would forget the language. At school all I wanted to do was forget my roots and shed every sound and inflection that made me feel like I was an outsider. All of this had been internalized since there was no one to speak to about it all.
Mine is not an exceptional experience. There are many stories like this, and a lot of them are much worse.
On a fundamental level, I felt thrown into a world with which I was familiar but could not understand. I was a “freshy,” a “migrant,” “Paki,” “Indian,” or “Asian” at school and a “Malayalee” or a “Christian” at home. These identities were ascribed onto me and I never got to choose my own. I was not able to express my problems with these identities nor interrogate them, so I stayed within the boundaries of my new identities and dreamt of getting out of there after school. It was only much later that I was able to figure out that my community was not based on my racial identity but rather that it was made up by the people I studied, worked, and organized with.
The pain of being trapped within identities, stereotypes, and inscriptions meant that I spent my life’s journey undoing and unpacking them and forming a more complex understanding of my relationship with race, sexuality, history, and the state. Therefore, when the conversations about dealing with anti-Blackness in the South Asian community emerged, I felt as though they were again boxing me into an identity of being a specific kind of South Asian, that my role was to intervene in a community of South Asians. Again, I was being misrecognized based on my racialization. Who comprises this South Asian community?
The idea of a static or homogenous South Asian community is a reactionary one. South Asians have moved to Britain for decades, bringing with them different cultural, religious, and political traditions. They have come from, and moved into, very different class backgrounds. The workers and communists who founded the Indian Workers’ Association, the “twice migrants” who moved to Britain from East Africa and were courted by Thatcher’s Tory Party, and more recent arrivals who have come to study or to work in the NHS. Parts of this community identify strongly as socialists and went through the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s that established a collective “politically Black” identity among all those racialized by the British state. Others were and are convinced right-wingers.