Final 12 months, the comic Shazia Mirza did a present referred to as Coconut, the place she mentioned her evolving id as a British-Pakistani Muslim girl. It was a daring transfer, not simply by way of the subject material (amongst different themes, she explored concepts round British Asians being accused of not residing as much as pre-conceived concepts about who they’re “alleged to be”) however the title too.
Coconut is a time period that refers to an individual of color who is taken into account “brown on the skin however white on the within”, in that they’re seen as failing to mirror their inherited tradition. Mirza’s try and subvert the which means of the phrase got here to thoughts not lengthy after I had it levelled at me final week by a random particular person on Twitter. It obtained me considering, do these of us who’ve been accused of falling outdoors of slim concepts about ethnicity and race owe it to anybody to show any completely different? And if being an “genuine” particular person of color means doggedly defending, representing and embodying our heritage, how far ought to we go to guard problematic elements of our cultures?
The person who referred to as me a “coconut” did so after assuming that I used to be Sikh due to my surname and Indian heritage, and criticised me as a result of I wasn’t conscious of a particular element of a faith that wasn’t mine within the first place. Paradoxically, the ignorance was his– not mine. However it did make me marvel how a lot I owed my inherited tradition.
I’ve all the time been aware of my Indian tradition; it has all the time been so necessary to my household. I like the hospitality and the way in which it emphasises respecting elder members of the group; they’re seen as sensible and vital and should not made to really feel redundant. However admiration for one thing ought to by no means make you blind to its downfalls.
There are issues I abhor about Indian tradition. Boys are unashamedly favoured greater than women. There’s a apply of giving sweets when a son is born that’s absent ought to you could have a lady.
I keep in mind asking my father why I’d respect a tradition that didn’t respect me. I used to be 11 years outdated. My father agreed and acquired me a phrase processor in order that I may write about it. That was my first-ever article. From a really younger age, I used to be conscious of the injustices of the tradition I used to be born into. So it’s unusual that I’m penning this now, a lady in my 40s, having been shamed for not respecting my tradition sufficient. However at the same time as an 11-year-old, I knew respect was a two-way road.
The irony of being referred to as a “coconut” is that this stranger was accusing me of not being who I’m by dictating what I needs to be. The slur is a method of measuring freedom; how far are you allowed to deviate out of your tradition earlier than you’re advised that you’re not brown sufficient? However whether or not it’s a wedding, politics, or one’s personal tradition, belonging ought to by no means really feel like subjugation. We must always be happy to go away the social gathering when what we’re being served not aligns with our values.
I’ve all the time cherry-picked from my Indian tradition and my British tradition. I select Indian fun-loving exuberance, however reject the dowry system.
I select British democracy and freedom however reject the thought of imperialism and monarchy. It’s an apparent method for me to reside: undertake what sits nicely with me and get rid of what perturbs me. Information of various cultures assist us formulate how we wish to reside.
The concept anybody who deviates from their tradition needs to be considered with suspicion and disdain is unfathomable to me.
Individuals who blindly observe concepts with out questioning them should be extra conscious of what they’re subscribing to. It’s simpler to stroll a well-trodden path; it’s tougher to create your individual. To take action takes an incredible quantity of self-awareness and duty. It’s what French thinker, Jean Paul Sartre, would name “dangerous religion’; a type of self-deception, the place individuals deny they’ve the liberty to make selections – for concern of the duty that goes with actively making a selection.
The dowry system in India, for instance, was made unlawful in 1961, however individuals, together with my circle of relatives, nonetheless apply it. Researchers checked out 40,000 marriages that happened in rural India between 1960 and 2008 and located that dowry was paid in 95 per cent of circumstances.
It’s a shameful statistic that leaves girls susceptible and open to violence and even loss of life. Would the person who referred to as me a coconut on Twitter recommend that these girls – whose lives have been made hell by an outdated custom – owe it to their tradition to disregard how these practices have an effect on them?
Tradition is constituted of traditions, values, meals, language and customs and beliefs. It’s a residing, respiratory, beast of consciousness, shifting and altering, each dramatically and imperceptibly. It modifications as a result of we modify. If it didn’
t, white Europeans would nonetheless be endorsing slavery.
It’s mentioned that after your thoughts has been prolonged – it will probably by no means return to its outdated dimensions. Possibly that frightens those that stick with nonsensical traditions: if a tradition is simply too diluted, what have we change into?
Somebody as soon as mentioned: “Life is an ideal steadiness between holding on and letting go.”
There are a lot of issues about my Indian tradition and British tradition that I like, however let’s reside with eyes extensive open and let go of the issues that not serve us.
Kiran Sidhu is a contract author