Voiceless Echoes: A reflection on my own racist encounters

I fear I have no voice.

I sit at home as I watch thousands march in the United States, setting fire to a system which has long failed them. I am a child from a South Asian immigrant family, I look to the Ka’bah when I need reassurance from a higher force and I travel to the Middle East when visiting my childhood home. I have grown up listening to the adhan in Dubai, my grandmother’s songs in India and recently, screams for equality here in Canada.

As a child I refused to believe that I’d encountered racist scenarios; my stories do not mirror the statistics plastered on every newspaper or website. I host no bullet wounds, nor bruises on my skin from abused power. But the vibrancy and unwillingness to sit in silence from my western counterparts in the US has forced me to focus more on where this feeling of unease is coming from.

I am transfixed in uncomfortable social settings and discussions of race: my brain is cluttered with phrases like ‘pretty for a brown girl,’ ‘where are you really from,’ ‘you don’t look like *insert nationality here*.

My skin has been compared to mud, labelled ‘dirty.’ Countless whitening creams have been thrust into my six-year-old hands. My eyes, ‘boring,’ my hair ‘plain,’ my accent, ‘white.’ I think about the words I have forced down my throat in order to not be labelled as sensitive, the tears I've dried before they had a chance to fall and the resentment I harbour towards those who’ve put me down.

But why must I wait until they’re shooting us down in the streets before it is justified for me to speak up? And, speak up against whom? Persecuted and killed by my own and not quite accepted by Canadians.

But this inherited, forgotten hatred does not only stem from the embassies of my countries themselves, or from national leaders on marble chairs. This hatred that I feel comes directly from people I am surrounded by, people who I thought bleed red the same way I do. Racism from strangers on the street or random clerks in cross-road markets is easier to ignore, easier to feign ignorance. But, it is much harder when it comes from your own family, when it comes from your friends.

I have sat and listened to my friends discuss how they would never be attracted to an Indian, with sideways glances towards me. I’ve watched myself be denied from being a proper part of my Arab community for the colour of my skin, and my striking resemblance to my Indian mother. I’ve been shunned from India for the God I worship and dismissed by followers of my own religion for the language I choose to pray in. I’m forgotten in Eid wishes, invitations and neglected in cultural celebrations.

Where do I belong? I fear I may have no voice. I am shunned by each country for not being native enough, by religion for not being authentic enough, by communities for not resembling them in speech or appearance enough. What makes you ‘enough’?

The system in place is designed to keep us down, it has been cemented into the groundwork of our society, almost as permanent as the flag they fly over our heads. But we cannot fight a war on multiple fronts: we aren't just fighting against brickwork organizations and government policies, we're also fighting against the mindsets of our neighbours, our friends, and our families.

So, I take a knee.

For all my kin who have been slaughtered because of the colour of their skin, because of their birthplace, because of the God they find peace in. I take a knee. For my sisters in Kashmir, for my brothers in the US, for the people in Palestine, Brazil, the Gulf. I take a knee. For children of colour who are made to be embarrassed by their own skin, their hair, their voices, of what makes them them. I take a knee. Racism is a plague which needs to be stopped in its infancy, it needs to be stopped in the way we learn to view each other, the way we raise our young, the way we think.

But it is impossible to do alone.