So there’s a number of significant calendar dates scheduled today and the ones I’m going to focus on are World Poetry Day and International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Interestingly enough it’s also World Puppetry Day and Harmony Day (Australia) which can go together in a cynical way though Harmony day can more positively be seen akin with the two titles I’m looking at, but then so can World Puppetry Day in a negative way….
Respectful notice to the other dates World Down Syndrome Day and Youth Day in Tunisia (Youth Day is celebrated in different countries on different days). Whilst I’ve read a bit about these I’m no expert so won’t unfairly expound on the subjects but acknowledgement to those for whom these themes are significant, whether as a marker or a lifetime issue, and kudos to those trying to make good the situations.
On a sidenote it’s also Fragrance Day – hmm all I’ll say there is I prefer flora mixtures and oils rather than designer label and celebrity endorsed bottles with apparently delightful smelling concoctions and hundreds of unknown ingredients.
Ok so in regards to Poetry and Race Relations I guess I’ll start like many a Victorian novelist and by relating experiences of my London youth. I grew up in a time that I look at as a sort of racial ‘renaissance’ in general regarding issues and groups that the public hadn’t really acknowledged or tried to get to know previously. The 80’s were years with a sort of nod to the 60’s and 70’s in social enlightenment though without the holistic approach (which was abused and confused in those times meanings things like communal, energy efficient, clean living were degraded by the sex/drugs/free love ethos). In the 80’s we had AIDS awareness, then the road paving for LGB acceptance (transgender hadn’t really broken through yet), womens wages being significantly less than their male counterparts for the same jobs (approx -30% which has not changed much since for permanent positions), world poverty was coming to the forefront of the public consciousness, domestic trade union strikes (most notably the miner’s strike) and of course race relations. There were plenty of other issues fighting for the stage and others being hidden from the spotlight as always but those listed are the ones I remember as a child being the most widely talked about.
The part of London I lived in was borderline, mostly Caucasian but with other ethnicities throughout on one side and mostly Black on the other. I didn’t think much about it and got on with everybody I could regardless of what we looked like or what our parents/carers did. The area I lived in was subject to massive riots but was strangely ‘nice’ the rest of the time without much face-to-face racism but more institutionalized and hence rioting happened when things got to a head. So the people within may have not been racist but the underlying racial tension was there.
The overall makeup didn’t include as many Eastern Europeans as there are today as we hadn’t got that far with European relations, though the racial composition of Brits had already almost completely changed by previous invasions and inter-mixing. (Many still refer to Anglo-Saxons as some sort of English standard before closing the doors on who is allowed to be called English or even British but the Anglo-Sxons were not English and tookover from the Welsh as the dominant ethnicity/ies in Britain). I like many others came from third generation immigrant folk having at least one foreign born parent who were later naturalized here and then us/the second generation were born here. As then as it is today no matter how well we get along many people think still of “proper English” or “proper British” people as White people who were born here – though they’re a lot more accepting of us non-Whites since we all have the accents 😀 . (Yes they even confuse English and British so the racialism is between everyone as always but the in-house is different to the ‘you look different’ from us perspective still – and not unique to British or White people as I will explore again later.)
At the time and in the part of area I lived in non-White folk were mixed in pretty evenly amongst our White ‘human’ (heheh I won’t take it further with potential space alien breeds) family members, there weren’t segregated ethnic communities and we all lived in the same buildings, went to the same schools, shops etc. Racially things seemed not too bad for me in that other than a few flare ups between strangers or people I didn’t know giving off a general undercurrent of distrust or dislike towards me at times, no one I knew brought up colour or place of origin when they argued. It helped that my mother put extra effort into being educated and into educating me though that said I was a bit like Johnny 5 in my thirst for knowledge (I wish I could read that fast) and so minor things like that knowledge comes from where people are this colour or that colour didn’t occur to me. I also never bought into ridiculous things taught at school like Hitler hunting Jewish people because they had dark hair and eyes – seriously the way cirriculums twist, dumb down or omit altogether really makes me value home education even more. It was only when I was 12 years of age that I started to notice people/friends around me starting to take on more of what was expected from them ethnically such as going to after schools on days or weekends specifically to learn more of their language and culture and some segregating into new groups of friends which surprisingly and sadly looked less rainbow like so to speak (my best friend decided to dump me for those ethnically closer to her for example).
Up until then I’d noticed a kind of ‘fraternity’ between Indian and Chinese people, I say Indian and Chinese because out of the Asian people I knew they made up the majority, so not titling them just because they’re the the main sub-continental countries. Anyway at the time there was a mutual respect, acknowledgement, sympathy and empathy between us which I really liked. It was no surprise given the similarities and links in history, culture and religions. Though when I hit 12 that’s when I started noticing a delineation between our communities and the growing importance of noticing ‘one’s own’ i.e. separating South East and South Asians. I had previously known more Chinese people from that section of Asia but had been aware of the importance not to confuse Vietnamese and Chinese people for example – akin to though not the same as not confusing Caribbean and African people and of course since Africa is a continent not to confuse people from countries who would not appreciated being confused (and hence just ‘naturally’ learning physical and cultural characteristics of people from different areas of the world). But from that point in time the Chinese people I saw grew more chummy with their South East neighbours e.g. Vietnam and Japan (Koreans weren’t so noticeable in the overall community as far as I could tell at the time) and the Indians I knew were closer to other South and Western Asians though overall. “Indians” and “Muslims” as they were known back then (geographically, ethnically and culturally confusing I know) were also close to Black people (mostly African at the time) – part of which probably stems from the immigration and invasions into Africa akin to the neighbour-ship between Western Asians and Mediterraneans. I didn’t really know any “middle Indo-Chinese” country peoples back then e.g. from Malaysia or the Philippines. I had one good Thai friend but his family moved back and our long distance letters just stopped (I have not forgotten you though, I remember exactly what you looked like and how exactly to spell your name! If circumstances had been different I’d still have your letters – I kept them for as long as possible – I hope you and your mother are doing good and I thank her for the snacks 🙂 ).
Basically the closeness the Indian and Chinese dominated communities had was breaking apart and I couldn’t understand why at the time but my former close Eastern friends grew more exclusive and elitist towards me and those around them, and the other Asians and Black friends I had would tell me not to dwell on it, that they had their own group and to forget about it. But heck – that would mean giving up many of my friends! I didn’t have any choice in the end as even though our personalities were previously harmonious (to the extent possible for clever and bossy kids – which we were, nerds yet somehow not unpopular) my personality started getting on their nerves in addition or because of whatever it was they were being told/taught that I didn’t know about and their personalities were changing in ways that I didn’t know how to react to or understand. They just didn’t want to mix anymore leading me to being apologist for whatever it was about me that was offending them, trying to laugh it off and finally to being patted on the back by the aforementioned other Asian and Black friends and being told “they have each other, you have to be with us now“.
So why the growing ethnic/cultural indifference and/or dislike between us? Well I mentioned before the mutual admiration from having similar backgrounds, that conversely meant there had to be similar stereotypes as well and I started hearing more about bias and prejudice towards people of darker skin shades. It’s the same with many Asians – lighter skin is generally preferred, just look at Bollywood which mixes sexism with colour preference; all the women are pretty to gorgeous and tend to be lighter skinned and any darker skinned women have lesser roles. It doesn’t really apply to men in person or media, as from movies to pop videos men of all shades and sizes are popular as long as they can sing/dance/act, whereas in the same music videos for example none of the women will be overweight or average looking let alone dark skinned and of course those with Green or Blue eyes are special, with hazel being the easiest alternative. The same issue can be seen in South American and Black communities with darker skinned female media personalities having a harder time getting roles they want or ‘respectable’/high profile roles. But that’s been a part of the media agenda for ages particularly in Bollywood, making attractive women more accessible, and the disparity in looks between female and male leads and backup is obvious. How does it fit in to the falling apart of community and friendships between these places/ethnicities?
Dark skin is less attractive to many, with my lighter skinned friends saying “you’re not dark skinned, you’re like the rest of us” and my darker skinned friends saying “well you are dark skinned” – and the people around me who have the habit of comparing people to food compare me to light Brown sugar… (Heck I just want to be Gold skinned and haired damnit, not quite sure on what my ideal eye colour/s would be yet and I’d totally have to be able to change body colours for certain moods so it’s not like whether I’m light or dark would matter anyway! :-p ) The racial purity thing always rears its head and preferring lighter skin in general goes all the way back to the Indus Valley as the last commonly known point but goes back further still. Though it gets worse – many people also associate dark skin with being poor (which is nothing to look down on the poor for, more something to look down on those orchestrating and maintaining poverty) and somehow physically unclean (this one being double pronged as it infers being racially inferior and hence unclean as well having dirt on the skin). The poor and unclean connotations aren’t so common among South and Western Asians (not even in Eurasians) but the older I get the more I hear about the belief in South Eastern Asia, more notable in some areas than others which is to be expected e.g. parts of Korea. (Which may go a ways to explaining the experiences I’ve had with Korean people unfortunately and previously I couldn’t understand why they looked and behaved towards me as if I were a piece of crap that purposely got under their shoe. It’s a bloody shame since I respect them as I do anyone else and see them as the forerunners in modern fashion design for my own design preferences as well as being concerned over the massive pressure their younger generations have with conformity vs looking ‘attractive’ e.g. the increasingly common practice of cosmetic surgery as graduation incentive/presents.) So were my past friends secretly looking down on me for more than I realized? I don’t know but either way, it’s terrible that society and whatever ghostly else got between us, I never stopped wanting to be their friend and their images, particularly that of my best friend still haunts me as I wonder about the adult she became.
Part of the dissolution in relations could be the “it’s ok when you’re kids but not when you grow up” mentality. Not having particular affiliations with any specific community meant that my own immediate family didn’t have many regimented social obligations and pressures. Someone once told me that mum planned on marrying me off to which I mounted a massive and years long indirect campaign of resistance towards, but that was the main ‘throwback’ of cultural restriction I had except the usual admonishments most kids get when being told off e.g “you have it easy, in so-and-so’s house, in a traditional house, most Indians do this and that” etc. Or the “disgrace to the family, what will other people think” (how you appear to everyone from people you know to strangers to possible strangers, all of which are somehow more important especially when it comes to reputation and honour) – all of which are common in households from all over Asia to the “where is your brain/didn’t god give you a brain” insult lines found worldwide. And that’s when parents/guardians are talking with their mouths and ha plenty of you know what I’m talkin’ about, and we were getting it even though we were model kids most of the time trying hard and/or doing well in our studies, clubs and housework weren’t we!?! Anything would do; belts, anything steel or tough plastic and long, shoe heels, hair brushes etc – and those before us i.e our parents had it worse and theirs before them! Bah no wonder we were so good at hide and seek and sports! *A few ‘jokingly’ inserted sport and singing related stereotypes could be inserted there but the heavy hand applies to all races – but then again look at the countries that have traditionally done well in certain sports and how their athletes were treated. It has gotten less socially acceptable and less and less people I come across who are younger than me were treated like that but it always continues. Ok gone well off tangent.*
Back on tangent – back to the it’s ok when you’re kids bit. A lot of people I’ve seen start telling their kids to behave differently come puberty or in anticipation of it, and in my day that was roughly 12, now it’s more like 9 and when it comes to relationships Asians are the most racist, in my opinion. When it comes to romantic relationships and marriage Asians are still the least likely to look or end up out of their ‘own kind’ or closest acceptable alternative. Religion plays a big part in that in some parts of Asia and colour comes into it in others. With South and Western Asians religions particularly get in the way but that said it’s like with any coupling – they can fight any and all of the time but doesn’t mean they’ll allow anyone else to e.g. think of a wedded couple who are at each other’s throats half the time but will stand united against anyone else who criticises one of the partners, even if it’s in agreement with something one partner said/did about the other. As part of my own wonderings in sociology I found that most South and Western Asian people I’ve known would think of each other as their next ‘ideal/potential partner’ and not even think of looking outside unless really modern and in those cases it’s more the women finding partners amongst other colours but the men idealizing White and to a lesser extent South Eastern Asian women. When finding out the same from the South Eastern neighbours I found that they were more open to people outside of their sub-continent, most notably towards Caucasian people, both men and women finding them attractive. The same is true vice versa ‘who is your ideal exotic’ (not quite in those words) has most commonly yielded that the White people I’ve known or read/heard about prefer South East Asians as their number 1 alternative. There’s even a repugnant practice in some parts of South East Asia which can be likened to a revamp of colonial behaviour where Western male expatriates have local partners (mostly female) for the novelty of it because they’re “less hassle“, “more eager to please” and quite frankly don’t require treating with the same respect and consideration as a White expat partner would. Many of them keep their ‘toys’ with the promise of marriage in the long run and generally see their Asian partners as money diggers. I’m not saying it’s all one sided but either way why does it come about? Colonialists, ‘masters’, invaders/conquerers, soldiers have always/still taken advantage of people considering them ‘spoils of war’ and ‘property’ regardless of colour, place/ethnicity, origin and destination but this modern expat behaviour isn’t as obvious in South/Western Asia.
I can’t comment on how racial preferences reflect in comparison to the numbers of obviously mixed raced families because the reality of how our lives work out and who we come across/become part of our lives is not necessarily in line with what we expected or fantasized. Though from my collective experience it seems there’s a sub-conscious preference between those we consider most ‘like’ us in ways that we find acceptable. On an individual basis the mixed raced couples and immediate families I’ve known and seen tend to be Black/White, Black/Southern&Western Asian, and South Asian/White; and male/female of either colour in Black/White groupings but mostly Asian women with Black or White men, that said I’ve known a lot of Asian men interested in White and South Eastern Asian women. So my question is, does this mentality extend to friends in communities that don’t keep their kids from mixing/playing together? They might worry about their kids mixing at a later age especially fe/male friendships, but do some communities also withdraw their kids or work in such a way as to make it so their kids gravitate more inwards instead of maintaining or looking outside the community for friends, even same sex friends (when there’s no worry about alternate orientations)? After 12 years old I noticed the South Eastern community looking down on the South/Western Asians more and the South/Westerns Asians adopting an indifferent attitude. Then later I noticed the next generations of South/Western Asians using words I’d never heard before like “chink/y” (UGH) and “freshie” referring to other South/Western Asians “fresh off the boat” (again UGH) i.e newly visiting or immigrating here. What is with this need for the Us and Them mentality – the further we move away from one type of behaviour stemming from this need, another trend pops up. I didn’t put a question mark there because it’s rhetorical, people have the divide and conquer mentality inserted into their minds and maybe their blood. Always finding ways to feed into the complexes yet standing together against what is considered a common threat or something they have to put up with. In those cases the usual enmity or dislike is mitigated with expressions such as “they’re not that bad for a ___” or “they’re ok sometimes” or “they’re ok at work/school/outside but not at home“. Fickle and unhelpful.
On a couple of occasions in my early 20’s I wrote a couple of poems; the first was in answer to a different question/issue but since it’s World Poetry Day and I wrote them in the same timeframe I’m going to post them together. The second directly relates to the above.
Escape through the Sand
I walk alone across the sand,
Barefoot and determined
Parched of thirst and not knowing what my future holds .
I’ve come a long way since yesterday
Many miles upon miles upon miles
There were times I thought I’d given up
But my journey’s just begun.
Every step feels like a mountain
Each dune a potential drop
But forwards I must keep on going
I can’t afford to stop
I’m no longer the person I used to be
I’ve been forced to change my identity
These grains of sand are rough and raw
Ripping and tearing at my skin
Covering me in yellow and gold
An appropriate camouflage to be in
But even then it can’t conceal the truth of what I am
Yesterday I was a woman, today I am a man.
I’m heading towards the city
To start my life anew
Comfortable in my disguise
But at least to myself I am true
I wont be forced into a harem
No matter how convenient it may seem
I wont be forced into being a wife
With no voice, no choice, no life
I wont be forced in pregnancy
By a husband who knows nothing but vice
I wont be given away by my family
Like a possession of those who pretended to care for me
And so I left because my life depended
On those who could of raped me, rejected
Sold my life for money and then had it suspended.
So now I have only me to rely on
No one to trust or ever call upon
But now I am free, to live and just be
No rude expectations, restrictions or abuse
I must find my own way, put my time to good use
Be aware at all times, to avoid death by the noose
Which is the consequence of my crime,
A woman living as a man is not a woman but a demon set loose
In the eyes of society, they’ve no tolerance or excuse
You can be one or the other but not allowed to choose
One gender you must be and follow the rules
Or die a painful death and be branded a fool.
Well a woman I may be, and I’m as proud of it as can be
But a woman has no self within her community
And in men’s clothes at least I have dignity
I can go where I want without reason or permission
Meander down a lane without demeaning tradition
Walk without jeering, oblivious to any leering
I can have an opinion and have it treated respectfully
Without being examined on the quality of my femininity
My eyes, bosom, hips and lips don’t come into it
And if I’m laughed at it’s because of my wit.
I’m not saying that life as a man is easy
It’s not and I don’t underestimate it, believe me
It’s more physical hard work, even for the average day clerk
Unending and all day, for hard earned and little pay
But I learn and get used to it, and at least I can say
That I dictate my own fate; I’m a person and not a dead weight
Just another number for a bigamist with an ego to inflate
I stand my own ground, let the wind blow against me and chafe
But still I have to wary, pretend to shave and never act contrary
For I must never be caught and forced to deport
Face punishments unspeakable and unimaginary.
More now then ever before, I have to keep myself safe.
In tribute and remembrance to the friendships lost.
Chess and International Relations
A game of cunning, a game of guess
A game of thinking, a game called Chess.
Immerse yourself in its logic, and inside its reckless dare
Lose yourself in its strategy, or in your opponent’s stare.
There’s no going back, once you’ve gone forth,
There’s only calculation and staying ahead of the game
Causing your partner losses, and taking the same.
How was chess invented? How on earth did it start?
Well, there’s heated debate about both questions, and some take it to heart.
“It started in India!” Some say,
“No! In China!” Others retort
And even though it’s important, the argument only leaves disarray
We all know there’s political prejudice in the theories anyway.
Similar to the very game itself, based on military precision;
All this anger, conveniently academically based, promotes nothing but competition.
I know I may be far too young, to talk about a ‘golden age’
But I’m sure I remember a time when all this China vs India wasn’t all the rage.
Now, I may have been naïve, my mind trapped within its age,
But I recall when both communities used to respect each other,
And now they don’t even acknowledge one another,
Acting superior, as if on stage.
What does this have to do with chess you say?
Everything and nothing.
It’s a metaphor and an example, of things that have gone astray.
Two subcontinents who used to share benevolence,
So different and yet so similar, exotic yet familiar,
And yet now, just withstanding the other, holding each at bay.
It may not be the older generations, perhaps it’s just the younger
But in my limited experience I’ve seen many barely recognise each other.
Personally, I don’t see why,
For we are cultural sisters and brothers.
In the US, Asians are classed as Chinese and related
And the rest just don’t exist, or are labelled ‘the curry kind’.
In the UK, it’s just as bad, with Indians the only Asians
And the Chinese being sidelined.
It’s not fair I say, and hints at foul play,
We’re all South and South East Asian
Sharing countries on our borders of equal denomination,
And when willingly segregated, all we get is angst and frustration.
And what about the rest of us?
Our neighbours never mentioned?
Forced to specifically clarify themselves, on forms without contention.
We’re not the only ones, and shouldn’t act as if we are,
Big as we may be, in our distinct geography
We don’t own the whole continent and do injustice to our peers
By making our specifications the international generalisation,
Whilst their claims fall on deaf ears.
But anyway, back to chess; a game perfect for this expression,
Its roots steeped in history and mysterious origin.
It’s amazing how like life the chessboard can be,
The allure of success lurking in uncertainty
Jumping from one square to another, relying on probability,
And not all games have been fun and friendly,
Some go on for years with unbridled rivalry
But it doesn’t have to that way, if we try, we can enjoy it affably.
Move your pieces onwards, with their ultimate ambition,
Surround, surprise and conquer; the prize of your opposition.
Why the King? And not the queen? Well that is an interesting question,
The most powerful figure she undoubtedly is and that is no suggestion.
To give her second position, is surely a terrible cheek
But when I think about it, maybe she is tolerant, in order to protect the weak
Like the sergeant to the officer, we know whose the real pipsqueak. 😉
Other enigmas may include:- Why does white go first?
And what about the Castle Switch? That has to be the worst,
Because when you need to do it, the computer always says no
Yet when it is convenient, it’s the first to have a go!
And don’t you just feel sorry, for those poor innocent little pawns?
Always on the front line of fire, and the very first to extend,
The ones constantly used for sacrifice, their territory to defend,
Clearing the path mercilessly, and courageously taking the flack
Fighting for the stronger ones, hiding in the back.
In that sense it’s like society, all the little ants, going with the flow
With the upper echelons, happily running the show.
That order is reflected, in all our institutions
From school to school, work to death
We have no other solutions, hierarchy has always been and is part of our evolution.
That is why, in my opinion, Chess is a fantastic invention
Complicated, time consuming, and full of apprehension.
Composed of individual pieces, limited and free combined,
All trapped within circumstance, and futures intertwined.
It’s the game of life, so neatly represented,
No wonder the Greek gods liked to use it, to make their heroes demented.
I can’t believe life was supposed to be a game,
Forced into moves, never again to be the same.
As a prop piece your fate cemented,
Is that really what was intended?
and here are some pics of me from around the same time that I wrote the poems; first two in my favourite Chinese top:
Mum’s poetry – universal species race relations
Lalita – Why Empty?
Emptiness fills the air, the room, the look on their faces.
However, I dread the longing, the laughter, the thoughts within me –
They give me no space, no room to grow, to grieve, to be!
Why do they fill me with thoughts of plague and suffering, of nonsense and their shame?
I question every detail tearing it apart with an analytical eye.
Yet I am surprised that I find no joy in this quest as it serves me not – only wastes my time,
My energy and my life!
So why do I pursue with such vigor and hunger?
Because the bittersweet craving is the drug,
And the antidote for what was, what is and yet to become.
Pain or pleasure? – Life or death, try both my love?
Fear not the demons – for they are the fear within their fear,
They play you as they play themselves with loss and grief.
They are the losers, the weeping willows, the plague and suffering, greed-lust-sin and war & death.
Answer: The last fight, the last dance and the sweetest kiss of LalitaKali’s victory!
I Hate All Forms Of Evil
Gave you all a mind to choose – there was is only one choice that is to do right and good deeds,
You demons decided to do evil deeds harmful to all creatures – you became a virus upon the world.
NOW sit by the fire my little liar for you all will burn burn burn.
Its your day to roast roast roast my little toast toast toast.
Gave you all life and all you did was to burn burn burn, with lust greed and envy.
Gave you all a home and all you did was bring me shame by becoming thieves and parasites.
Gave you all a paradise and all you did was mock my name and turn my world in to a living hell –
You played a fools game.
Sit in the fire my little liar as now you all disappear.
Did you enjoy the game – now hold your breath – I need no answer as all is recorded forever.
Look I am here, always been there and will always be –
You know there is no existence without me!
Time for a beating – would you not agree?