China

INTRO

I wanted to write something for China, since I am leaving it soon. It manifested as a collection of moments that mean a lot to me, positive or negative, that each exist as a discrete feeling. It also unintentionally turned into a piece for James. That makes sense though. I got very emotional when I was writing which surprised me and was a bit impractical as I was in a train station

 

 


Zhongguo

Walking across campus at night and the thick air is hugging me
Ceiling fan blowing the mosquito net across my legs
First month here and I’m exhausted. The insomnia, drinking in daytime sleep
Why is everyone in the world so small? I am such a tall tree in the middle of a new forest and everyone is looking at my legs 
Being at an airport with James
Resting on the balcony in robe and slippers. Surveying 
It’s my first time speaking complete Chinese to the ticket lady 
Seeing a girl my own age walking with her mother and bursting into tears in the street
James’ arm around me at the top of the Sun Yat-Sen mausoleum
The brightest winter sun on my face at the top of the Sun Yat-Sen mausoleum 
Coughing until I vomited at 4 in the morning
James sitting calmly, holding me, as I sob and writhe with pain on the metro station steps I have just fallen on
My skin wet with a light warm rain, walking home as slow as possible
On the back of James’ bike, both in layers with scarves wrapped around our faces, racing through snow to get food
On the back of James’ bike, me holding an umbrella for both of us
On the back of James’ bike and he is freestyling songs
Being able to understand characters on signs, they are no longer just a collection of lines to me
In a bar and I am crying because I saw my parents as whatsapp contacts 
On an IV and all I can think about is curd rice
I hate the smell of mosquito repellent but it is soothing me because it smells like India and my family
Chengdu night air is like Bangalore night air 
And James came to China with me





POST SCRIPT

It’s a strength of the heart you’ve shown in everything you’ve done here. You came to a country that doesn’t see your humanity and you lived and you loved. 
Thank you

THE CELEBRATION OF “INTERRACIAL RELATIONSHIPS”

In previous posts I have highlighted the increasing importance of opening discussion concerning the mixed-race individual. Now I place focus on a related concept; the mixed relationship. Commentary on what is referred to as interracial relationships seems to be unavoidable, especially now that social networks have provided an expansive platform to discuss relationships. Whether it is a post about an interracial celebrity couple, or an offhand tweet regarding a mixed couple seen on the street, the subject of mixed relationships is certainly not a taboo one. As an individual who was born out of and is now in such a relationship, I can’t help but react emotionally and cognitively to most of the remarks I hear or read.

The overwhelming majority of responses to interracial relationships are positive. Many people celebrate them, and view them as an expression of cultural harmony. I understand why the concept – personal unity of distinct ethnicities – can be seen as evidence of increased acceptance, diversity and general social accordance. However, a huge portion of the celebratory comments I read are not talking about the concept. More often than not, it is a specific relationship which is under focus, two human beings. Viewing a relationship between two individuals as an expression of cultural harmony is problematic. In doing this, the relationship is reduced from all of its many human qualities to simply the ethnicities in question. The individuals themselves are reduced to their races. This in itself is the seed of racism. To me it is bizarre when people see a photo of a random interracial couple and rave about how “adorable” or “beautiful” they are. It would make sense if we knew the mechanics of their relationship, the human aspects; the care they have for each other or the gestures they make or the relief they provide for each other. Instead, it is obvious that the only thing that has sparked the comments is the ethnicities seen. Thus the individuals are reduced to their races. Once you have reduced someone to such a narrow component of their identity, you have opened them up to the potential for strong racial stereotyping. Hence the relationships themselves are often perceived and understood in stereotypical terms. This overt simplification of an intricate human relationship can often be extremely patronising, irritating or hurtful for those in it. I usually feel this way when people I hardly know comment on either my relationship or my that of my parents in a way that I am convinced they would not do for a mono-ethnic one.

I am not challenging the acknowledgement of ethnicity. In no way am I advocating a “colour-blind” approach where we ignore the fact that a relationship is interracial. However, instead of romanticising this fact and making sweeping comments, actual intelligent discussion could be made. Just as I think it is important for individuals of mixed-heritage to talk about their social experience, I hold the same belief in regard to individuals in mixed relationships too. Observe my emphasis on the individuals. When we make over-expansive comments about couples that we do not know, we are taking away their voice. It is up to them if they wish to celebrate the interracial nature of their relationship, or communicate their experiences. It is not up to onlookers who reduce, simplify and often stereotype in their celebrating. I am starting to wonder if there is such thing as the “mono-ethnic gaze”.

In short, I haven’t disclosed any of the human inner-workings of my relationship, nor my parents’ relationship to you. You haven’t seen either couples interacting. So why are you telling me that we’re all so cute and beautiful? Oh yes that’s right, because you are reducing us to our ethnicities and thus see us merely as an expression of a romanticized cultural harmony. Well, we are more than our ethnicities and so too are our relationships.

The image of natural motherhood: Our reluctance to criticise mothers

With a new wave of celebrity motherhood emerging in the media through the likes of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Kim Kardashian (-West), it is of interest to examine our modern conceptions of maternity. Recently it has come to my attention that fathers are readily criticised across multiple platforms in society, yet there is a certain reluctance to criticise mothers. I propose that, in order to understand this hesitancy, we must aim to understand how humanity views motherhood. The image that I believe holds most importance is the age-old conception of the natural mother. This is the image of women as bodily forms of the natural world, givers of life; Mother Nature, Mother Earth.

The word “nature” comes from the Latin word “natura” meaning “birth”. Birth is of course an explicitly female concept and so already we see how fundamental the tie between nature and motherhood really is. Since the first human beings roamed this earth, and through every civilisation known to man, there has been evidence of the Mother Goddess figure. Goddesses can typically represent fertility and agricultural affluence. This unifies birth and thus motherhood with harvest and thus the natural world. This widely held perception of the natural state of motherhood creates and sustains the view that maternity is innate for all women; women are naturally mothers. Thus it is not only difficult to conceive that a mother/woman cannot carry out her role suitably, but it becomes a harrowing insult to question a mother’s ability. We can start to understand why families are hesitant to voice problems they may see with the practices of a mother. I have known adults to blame themselves for problematic areas of their self-development, even if it is obvious that actions of their mother have had a significant influence. The pain that is associated with a mother’s perceived failure may be one of the reasons that fathers experience more critique in their child-rearing abilities than mothers do.

The criticism of fathers has become a norm. It is completely acceptable to acknowledge an emotionally absent or even inept father, both within the media and within the family itself. The assumption seems to be that this is not as hurtful for the man. This is illustrated by the amount of articles and literature that aim to educate men; how to be a “good father”. Thus fatherhood becomes something that can be taught or built. This notion is crucial. If a man is a bad father, it is acceptable to identify this flaw because there is an assumption that actions could have been taken to change this. We can now see a contrast in the images of fatherhood and motherhood. Fatherhood appears to be a social construct, something that people actively partake in. Motherhood is still seen as a natural state; where men actively become fathers, maternity is bestowed upon women. The lack of natural connotations attached to fatherhood can perhaps be explained by almost practical factors. Our knowledge of biology is incredibly young compared to our ideas about life and birth.  The actual process of fertilisation and the conception of life could not be observed by most of humanity’s civilisations. The act of a woman giving birth could of course be physically seen and consequently the man’s role in the creation of a child was dampened for thousands of years. It should be noted also that biological paternity could not even be proved; and so many fathers were completely distanced from their children. Subsequently, the female role of motherhood and care has been a natural phenomenon for as long as humanity has existed, whereas the male role of fatherhood has been more fragile.

Vast social changes in recent decades have transformed our conception of the modern woman. Conflicts therefore arise between the image of natural motherhood and the newly formed presentations of women. Women are now in work; their image can be extremely metropolitan, which takes them away from this ancient view of the woman as Mother Earth.  Scientific developments which have led to processes such as in vitro fertilisation and surrogacy have even led us to question the essential definition of maternity. Motherhood is hence a confusing concept in modern society.

Returning to the differences in evaluation of parents, we must remember that our modern conception of a “good mother” is still just a cluster of traits, for example being caring and wise. Traits will always differ between people due to our unique social development. Especially in our individualist society which places emphasis on the unique nature of each member, a singular notion of a “good mother” should perhaps be rejected. The idea of this natural maternal instinct may simply be a romanticisation. It is part of some women’s personality and self-concept but not others. However, it does seem that the view of women as fertile, bountiful earth mothers is profoundly ingrained into humanity’s understanding of the world, and so this is a concept that is difficult to deconstruct. Therefore criticism of mothers may continue to be unacceptable for a long time.

Curly Hair

White-skinned girls with flowing hair will often ask me “Why on earth did you used to straighten your hair?” or words to that effect. Their innocent enquiries rattle up a rage inside me, but I continually answer with “I don’t know, I must have been crazy.”

But I was not crazy, and I do now know. As a young girl, one is completely vulnerable to the imposition of white standards of “beauty” that our world is indoctrinated with. It is obvious to me, why criticisms for what I used to do to myself always fall from Caucasian mouths. Never have I been scolded by a girl of African descent for compromising my natural state. Instead, I may be offered a bittersweet smile; a quiet understanding. It is true that you may have the most cherished afro curls and never once long for anything else. Yet it is also true that if you have hair untouched by a natural curl pattern, you will never fully understand why on earth someone may straighten their beautiful coils.

People rave about the amount of coloured women presented in mainstream media. Yet study them; as lighter skin as possible, “white-woman hair” and button noses. I am certainly not criticising this, they are beautiful women and represent us nonetheless but they are only allowed to be presented because they do not challenge white standards of beauty. The media suffocates midnight skin and wild coils. Growing up, I did not understand my hair. In no magazines or music videos or films or television programmes or even the street did I see beautiful women with untamed afro manes. We are encouraged to stay out of the life-giving sun; God forbid our skin may be restored to its glorious darkness.  Visits to the 1980’s and early 1990’s uncover a wealth of Afrocentric hip hop, a medium which lionised the physical attributes possessed by women of colour. But as much as I revel in those luxuries, (and probably would never have stopped straightening my hair if it weren’t for The Native Tongues) a fleeting decade of music that was quickly stifled is not enough.

Commercialisation of mixed-race faces has grown to masquerade as a celebration of non-white beauty. Do not be fooled. If anything, it is glorifying the dilution of coloured attributes. Afro hair is good, if it has been mixed to create falling tresses. Brown skin is good, if it has been mixed to create a caramel cream. If someone of mixed-heritage is born with Caucasian blue or green eyes, this will be the strongest asset they possess for the rest of their life. The further somebody associates your physical features with those of a white person, the more complimented you are supposed to feel. The media has become one of the most powerful instruments to carry legacies left by colonialism, and the fact that we live in a world ruled by this agent means that these images hold more weight than ever. I do not only wish that my future daughter grows up loving her curly hair, I wish for that to be the norm. Girls should not have to go on a “journey” just to learn to stop compromising their natural state. We need more women with midnight skin and wild coils to be celebrated in mainstream media; and that is just a beginning.

RACIAL CONFUSION IN BRITAIN; AN INTRODUCTION

We live in a society consumed and captivated by identity. Categorisation of individuals has grown to be pivotal in societal functioning, as well as the social interactions that take place within it. A predominant form of this grouping is through racial identity. Although this makes perfect sense in a multicultural society, there are fundamental drawbacks to the process. I aim to explore how restrictive racial cataloguing within an identity-centric society can leave individuals of a mixed heritage in a state of confusion.

Multiculturalism is a word loaded with positive connotations: of joy and unity, of camaraderie and respect. It is not false to describe modern-day Britain as a happily multicultural society; we clearly sustain a vast multitude of cultures, the majority of which live harmoniously alongside each other. However, note that the word “alongside” has been selected quite purposefully in this context. These racial groups prosper in a parallel fashion, with rare cross-links being achieved. Think of two neighbours who frequently exchange pleasantries but never enter each other’s home. This is of course perfectly in line with multiculturalism; the definition does not state that these multiple cultures are supposed to physically combine. As long as each community can live harmoniously as neighbours, multiculturalism is effectively maintained. This coexistence does however lead to the creation of very linear, defined racial identities. If races are living in parallel, the racial identities will follow in the same way. This is how cultural paths remain distinct, even in a society of effective integration. If our multicultural society did in fact promote physical combinations of race, then surely the lines differentiating races would have been subject to some blurring by now? Instead we find these cultural boundaries are still immaculately defined, suggesting that the fusion of racial identities is not an endorsed concept. When individuals find that they are in fact a product of merged cultural paths, instead of one obvious race, inner confusion about their identity can occur.

At this point, I refer your attention back to my initial statement. Our society urges its members to fit neatly into an identified unit, as this is necessary for a multicultural society to function smoothly. The urgency to belong to a smaller community provokes a need for categorisation. However, narrow racial identities mean that mixed-race individuals can struggle to see an obvious group in which they belong. They may find themselves identifying and associating with a group that is completely different to any component of their heritage. They may try to identify with a group that does in fact represent a component of their racial background, but find themselves rejected. For example, those with one coloured parent and one white parent are rarely accepted by society as being part of the white community. In many cases, the concept of belonging is lost all-together, and external forces become almost totally responsible for the racial categorisation. The concept of self and identity is unmistakably shaped by how others see you, so if society sees only the dark pigment of your skin, you will never be recognised as part of the white community, no matter how much of your genetic make-up says otherwise. If an individual personally finds no obvious group to belong to, and is repeatedly classified by the people around them, they can start to adhere to this external identity.

From a psychological point of view, social identity theory is hugely significant, encapsulating the importance of grouping within society. It states that individual identity is based on group-membership, self-categorisation and social comparison. The idea behind social identity is that it is the part of our self-concept that is totally derived from membership with social groups. In the mid-90’s, Wendi Gardener proposed a multipart concept of “self”. Two of the components involved were the “relational self”, which is our self-identity in reference to connections or relationships, and the “collective self”, which is how we see ourselves in reference to group membership. Both of these concepts are relevant to our understanding of why our self-identity is so greatly impacted by belonging to groups. Social categories provide a basis of social identity, supplying norms and values to those who are a part of them. It could even be said that racial groups are therefore an agent of socialisation, and crucial to the functioning of our identity-consumed society.

It should now start to become clear just how much of a bearing racial confusion can have on individuals who experience it. The “mixed” identity is still not fully established or stable, and predicting how this identity will develop over the coming years is not an easy task. The immediate result of all of this is that racial identities become very indefinite and unstable for these individuals. In short, the need for categorised identity combined with restricted racial identities can create a conflict within individuals of mixed-heritage. This inner-conflict may manifest as a feeling of confusion; a confused identity. Thus in the setting of an identity-centric society, this can become hugely disorientating. Racial confusion leads to a chasm in one’s identity. And in a society engrossed by character, by status and by identification, this is one brutal void.