No Country for White Men

no country

Last Saturday, my family and I took a shopping trip to East London’s Green Street in Forest Gate. Green Street is a high street of Asian clothing shops, jewellers, grocers and beauticians. It’s a great vibrant little community that also has an Islamic Centre and Gurdwara.

I was there looking for an Asian outfit for a Sangeet night I’m attending soon. I used to get my threading done in this part of London when we lived fairly nearby, some six or seven years ago now, so its familiar territory for us.

But apparently not a welcoming territory any more.

From the moment we hit the high street, the hostile glances towards us became really obvious. Literally everyone stared at us. We went into the shopping mall, people looked us. We went in and out of shops- this was the worst- the shop keepers made us feel so unwelcome. Think of the shopping scene in Pretty Woman before Vivian’s big makeover!

Seriously, it was a horrible experience. In an all-Asian area, an Asian woman with her white husband and their mixed race child are made to feel unwelcome. You could see the judgement and prejudice written all over their faces. It was intimidating, upsetting, and totally infuriating.

I’m used to people, particularly other Asians, judging me for my unconventional life choices, so it wasn’t this that was shocking.

No, what really shocked me was that this racism was happening in London, in 2015. I mean when my husband and I first started dating 15 years ago, there were certain places we’d go that this kind of obvious racism would happen a lot. Brent Cross shopping centre was one of them (!) All the aunti-jis would look disapprovingly at us, sometimes even tut at me. But that was pre-9/11, pre-Islamaphobia (as we know it today), and pre-fourth wave feminism. It was a different time. Social activism via Twitter and the fight for equality wasn’t what it is today. Not that that excuses the behaviour, obviously; but it was of its time.

So why in today’s climate is it apparently even less acceptable, less tolerable, for an Asian woman like me, to be married to a non-Asian; at least in the eyes of other Asians?

Perhaps it’s part of the growing backlash against Asian women marrying out of their community. We’ve seen a sharp rise in this amongst the Sikh community, and so perhaps this intolerance is not just contained to one section of the British Asian community.

Or perhaps the Asians of Forest Gate have become so ghettoised that they cannot hide their surprise- let alone intolerance of a white man and an Asian woman together on their streets. I find that hard to believe though. Green Street sits right next to Stratford, home of the Olympic Village- the Olympics that we won the right to host because of London’s diversity and tolerance. Ok, so maybe that was disingenuous marketing strategy employed by the Olympic planning committee. But still, we’re not talking about some ghetto in the middle of nowhere: it’s LONDON- one of the most multicultural cities in the world!

And equally alarmingly, is that most of the hostile glances came from young women- some who were probably younger than me. I get it when the older generation judge me. They hold to their traditional values which don’t often include the intermarrying of races. But I would’ve expected my peers to understand my position. How many of them have fallen in love with someone of a different race at work or at university, and would give anything to marry him? How many of them want to make their own choices, like who to marry, but can’t because of family pressure I wonder? This is hardly unfamiliar ground is it?!

I think largely what it comes down to is that we are incredibly judgemental of our own people. The biggest critics we face are our peers. Perhaps some of them begrudgingly conform to family pressure and cultural expectations and can’t stand it when one of us crosses the boundary. It seems mind-blowing that there are no-go areas for people like me who have dared to do so.

And before anyone comments: “why would you take your white husband to an-Asian area? You know the looks you’re going to get!” I’ll say this. I think we all agree that there should be no street, no neighbourhood that is a no-go area if you’re of a certain race. But apparently those areas are alive and thriving today.

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10 thoughts on “No Country for White Men

  1. London is multicultural more than any other city in the U.K or even in the World. But, I also agree with you that sometimes I feel London actually ‘pretends’ to be multicultural. I am not a South Asian woman myself. But, I am anyway Asian woman, so I can definitely understand racial prejudice, discriminatory treatment or isolation/exclusion we sometimes have to encounter from White British people. But, I’ve never thought of those from the same ethnic community….! Such a terrible experience…

  2. That’s so terrible. I remember visiting London and being so surprised by the Indianness of some of the localities there (Southall etc.) seems terrible that we would occupy whole sections of a place there and give the side-eye to their own citizens 😦

    • Many of those areas have become ghettos. As a result they are a hive of judgement and prejudice against their own people. It’s not a good a situation. Even the residents acknowledge that and many try to leave

  3. That is horrible it still happens today. A couple of years ago in a supermarket in slough I was waiting at the check-out with my boyfriend (who’s mixed Jamaican and English) & two asian girls (who were roughly the same age as me (early 20’s)) said quiet loudly “Black and Indian – that will never last” and tutted. I was too shocked to say anything back, as I didn’t expect it from the younger generation.

    • Oh my word- that’s awful. I’m sorry to hear of your experience. But sadly it doesn’t surprise me. What surprises me is that people are saying (in response to this post) “I can’t believe this goes on…” and things along those lines. Sadly inequality is rife- and actually worse than ever in some cases.
      Thanks for sharing your experience.

  4. As an Asian my self it really annoys me of the double standard we have, we are the first to shout out racist when someone says something offensive about our culture which is fair, but as soon Asian make racial comments, its justified with ‘we need to preserve out culture’ Also if it was the other way around, an Asian man with a white woman, I bet he wouldn’t get as many dirty looks. Also I feel sorry for your husband as well, must of been very awkward for him too.

    • Yes you’re so right! Why do we accept and perpetuate the prejudice that we ourselves receive elsewhere, its so hypocritical. My husband is pretty thick-skinned so it doesn’t feel as impassioned about the issue as I do. Also because for me, it’s ‘my people’ who are rejecting us that I feel the sting even more.
      It’s just so sad that it still goes on. It’s been an eye opener for me; but equally I shouldn’t have been so surprised, of course racism and inequality exists everywhere- and I know that.

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