Life on the Edge: Being a Desi BloggerSunday, June 07, 2015
If you're not Asian, you may not know what it's like being like me. I'm writing this blog post as a bit of an educatio...
If you're not Asian, you may not know what it's like being like me.
I'm writing this blog post as a bit of an educational piece, to give some insight as to what it's like to be a Desi woman living in the UK with a non-conventional view on life. I'm by all means not the only one, that's for certain, and our numbers are ever-increasing, but we all face a whole series of challenges in our lives just so that we can exist in a way that we enjoy.
I'm certainly not on a rant here, and this will not be your typical 'Woe is Me' style post where I tell you all how hard my life has been with some kind of X-Factor style backing music and spontaneous bouts of tears. It really is meant just to enlighten, and remind people that everyone faces their own unique struggles, no matter how they look.
To get things started, I'm a Fashion, Beauty and Lifestyle blogger and I love it. I love having a platform to share my style, my vision, my talents and my opinions. I love that there are people out there who read my posts, like my Instagram pictures, engage me on Twitter or Facebook and just generally like the things that I do. It's amazing to me that I have people visit my page from places like Cambodia and Peru - despite how far apart we are, we share something.
But blogging for a Desi woman in the UK isn't straightforward. It's not quite an every day struggle, but you can be blogging, tweeting and Instagramming away for weeks on end without much incident. You'll get yourself on a roll, build up some momentum and then Bang! Something happens. Or to be more precise, someone happens. It's incredibly frustrating that there are so many different types of people, some close, others not, who don't want you to succeed. But who are these people, and why?
I've been fortunate, in that my family are generally quite different and open-minded anyway. But for a lot of Desi women, family are the first real obstacle to being yourself given that you most likely live with them. Everything you do is scrutinised, from the clothes you wear, to the things you do, to the people you meet, to the amount of makeup you put on etc. The list is almost endless. If you're under that much scrutiny, it can be tough to do something different and creative, as you'll feel stifled and controlled.
Of course there are those extreme, and thankfully rare, horror stories of Honour Killings, forced marriages and being made to 'Go back home' to India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. This doesn't happen to everyone, but it certainly plays on your mind as a kind of silent, never-uttered threat.You may think your family would never do that, but then doesn't everybody say that? You'll also hear people deny that this sort of thing even happens. It doesn't happen often, but it definitely happens too often to be ignored or dismissed out of hand.
This is where the fun really begins(!) I'm sure you may be aware that within Asian communities there are three currencies: Pounds, Rupees and Pride. At times it's difficult to even work out which is more important, but the pride sees over-competitive extended families butt in to business that just isn't theirs. Like a bolt out of the blue, extended family members will cause you problems, no doubt jealous that you're able to think for yourself. They'll taunt your parents about how disobedient you are, and how you love to show the whole world. They'll spread rumours around the community and 'back home to HQ' and stalk your every move. In any other walk of life, that kind of behaviour would be seen as borderline psychotic. But for Asians, it's just standard.
What's most wonderful about Extended Families is the hypocrisy on display. I have a male cousin who enjoys clubbing in Manchester, going on holiday with his mates to get pissed and also dropped out of Uni. I have an unmarried female cousin in her thirties who spends more than just a little bit too much time following my online presence and spreading rumours about me, my Aunty decided she'd treat her kids very differently, giving some of them priority, leaving one with such low self-esteem she can't do anything by herself - yet their families have the audacity to say that I'm a problem. Wow. Just, wow.
Friends are supposed to support you through thick and thin, but often Asians are remarkably fickle creatures. Again, I must stress that not all Asians or friends are like this as I have some pretty amazing friends, but you do get the occasional oddball who seem to think it's ok to judge. One of my former friends was a hijabi who would quite literally be embarrassed to be seen with me if I had my arms on display. My arms. Yes. Of course, it was a complete irrelevance that she'd had a string of boyfriends over the past 6 months. But hey.
Then there are those friends who've been treated like princesses by their terrrified parents their entire lives, being given everything they've ever wanted. Since they've never really had any need to think for themselves, they aren't particularly creative, so if they see you doing something they like they'll get a bit jealous and try to copy your every move. When confronted, they'll say you're nothing special and you aren't the only one. Maybe so, but you look exactly like me.
Passers by don't really affect bloggers as such, but they affect all Desis in some way or another. I've had some borderline insane comments from random people that just walk by in the street, including the now legendary: "What happened to all the Asian men? Did they die?"
But it isn't just the insults, the verbals or the sleazy, pin-dicked freaks driving by in their penis extensions horning at us for attention. It's the looks. Asians are renowned for their vast array of facial expressions and we're Olympic Champions at giving people dirty looks. If you're Desi, female and different expect all manner of looks from all manner of people. Some will be evil looks, some dirty, some sleazy and some will just plain look down on you, even if they do look like a cross between Quasi Modo and the Elephant Man.
In answer to the most popular question: "What would your mother think?" - She knows, and she loves me just the way I am. Now go play with the traffic.
I guess stalkers could really fall into any of the above categories as well, such as the extended family member who makes it his/her business to find every photo of you online and share the 'juicy' ones with as many people as possible in a bid to disgrace your family.
But they could also be complete randomers either from the web or from reality who either take a shine to you or harbour an intense hatred for you. The thing about Asian stalkers is they tend to follow silently for a while before taking some actual action, either approaching you directly, just abusing you online or sharing your pictures around with their friends, who share it with their friends and it all goes around in a big circle before coming back to you or your family members. It's weird, the vast majority of my followers are actually Desi, but then the vast majority of positive interactions come from white people.
I thought maybe the Asians were passive users, but I checked a few out and they're pretty active. I find it a little odd when they add a comment to one of my photos just to @ one of their friends but even more so when they just say 'LOL'.
The other thing about Online Stalkers, particularly of the Desi variety, is we have this awkward Asian thing that my mum actually gave this great example of. If you open up a successful shop selling screwdrivers, 5 other people will see how successful you've been and open up their own Screwdriver shop on the same street claiming they've always wanted to sell screwdrivers.
On the online world it's basically the same, except it's much easier to steal the ideas of a random stranger and requires much less effort. I sometimes wonder why very few Desis have made it so big in the blogging world, but then quickly realise it's because we don't do ourselves any favours. Instead of supporting each other, we seem to prefer trying to outdo each other instead, whilst everyone else is moving forwards.
The workplace is probably the one place you might expect not to experience any of this kind of thing, but unfortunately you'd be wrong. The Desi woman can expect to receive all sorts of comments from pretty much all sorts of people at work, both males, females, fellow Asians, Whites etc.
The people who might give you some grief at work are also smarter than the average hater too, because they know there's a framework of rules and policies in place to stop this exact sort of thing from happening. These people work their way around those roles by being quite passive aggressive. They'll rarely say anything straight to your face, instead they'll make sly little digs. Small in nature, but many in number as a way to try to break you down. They'll say things like "Oh look, you've got a mark on your skirt" or "What's happened to your face?". Said alone, these things seem fairly innocuous, but built up over time they start to add up.
Of course, only you will ever hear these things, that's the plan. And when these people dish out compliments to others but make a point of not giving you any, regardless of how nice you are to them, you know they've got issues. Not that I go to work for compliments, it just creates a really divisive atmosphere.
The funny thing is though, the people that tend to act that way, often find themselves being disliked by colleagues anyway, despite all of the compliments they tend to dish out. Fortunately, people generally aren't stupid, and can see through such fakery. It's such a shame too, because it just makes Asians look backward and it actually kills me inside that such people create bad impressions that the rest of us have to overcome.
These can be westerners in the workplace, on the street or on the internet. Unfortunately in Britain, there are all too many people who can only really make friends with people who are just like them. So when they see a Desi woman who doesn't appear like 'the rest', they think they may be able to identify with me. They think that I could be just like them, that I might like eating various parts of a pig, consuming copious amounts of alcohol at weekends and whatnot.
Initially Westerners will assume you meet the common narrow stereotypes of an Asian woman: you eat curry for breakfast, you have no voice of your own, you love to cook, clean and make babies. Then when they see that you don't really meet those stereotypes, they'll think that you're one of them. The thing is, we're neither. Life isn't always so black and white, we love parts of both cultures and dislike other parts, we are a blend of both. Sadly, it's not always seen that way.
What To Do?
There are a couple of things that irritate me when I talk about these things. Some people give the advice of 'Oh just ignore it'. Yes, ok. You try to deal with all these things and ignoring them all at the same time, see how you get on. Thanks for the advice. Even more irritating are those people who actually deny that any of these things happen . Just because it hasn't happened to you, love, doesn't mean that it doesn't happen at all.
"Don't tell me my struggle isn't real."
For those of us blessed with thick skin, all of this is just water off a duck's back. There's nothing to fear because you just don't care, and good for you. That's exactly the attitude you should have, because you're a pioneer. You're doing your bit to advance your own culture and humanity in your own little corner of the world. You're taking the best of mutliple cultures and fusing them together to make something better.
For the rest of us though, we need to stick together, we need a great support network and we need to keep going. Those who stand against us seem to have an awful lot of time and energy to waste, so you need to be indefatigable and unrelenting. You need to keep pushing the boundaries and enjoying what it is that you do. Don't give in to those with narrow minds, let your own keep on expanding. There'll be dark moments along the way, but the successes will only ever feel all the better for it, and they'll just keep coming!