Being a parent alters the way you see yourself and the world. In that instant when your baby is handed to you everything changes and nothing that’s come before that moment can prepare you for what’s next. Of all the roles I’ve had in my life; daughter, sister, wife, friend, this is the most important and, at least in the early years, requires me to give 100% of me and expect nothing in return. There’s a massive shift in your identity which is both daunting and exciting.
As a second generation British Pakistani Muslim woman, identity politics has played a key part in my life. I was born in Cambridgeshire but moved to London when I was 3. I went to playschool, nursery, infants, junior and secondary school in East London and I loved every moment of it. Even from a small age I knew East London was a special place. My classrooms were representative of so many different people and cultures that I would have been a complete fool to not appreciate and learn lessons that were not on the curriculum. From my earliest memories I recall friends from China, Somalia, India, Jamaica, some with mixed heritage and others like me, Pakistani.
I went to an all girls secondary school, where I first learnt about the politics of gender and, at 16 decided against going to a local College instead opting for a place in North London. At college I started to get to know people deeper than their physical appearance. I made my first Shia Muslim friends in College (and learnt the difference between Shia’s and Sunnies!) my best friend was Hindu Gujarati and my crew was once again made up of a mix of people, boys and girls, straight and gay, black and white.
Recent events such as Brexit and now the election of President Elect Donald Trump have made me question how I and others around me view anyone who’s “different” – non-white. Living in London I don’t have to go far to see people who are not like me, just a trip to my local supermarket or even the bus stop and I’m guaranteed to meet people from all over the world, and for me that’s a real blessing. I was born and have lived in England my whole life. Whilst my skin may be a shade of black, and that might confuse some as to my origins, I’m British. I like tea, believe in queuing and get overly invested in conversations about the weather! Although quite frankly, in 2016, why do I feel the need to justify my nationality? My husband and I are both British but our parents were bought up in very different cultures, he is Bangladeshi and I’m Pakistani. Even though many would struggle to tell us apart (we’re both brown!!), we are in fact from different cultures but share our Britishness. I’d like my daughter to take the best of all three places when she’s growing up and amalgamate it into her identity, wherever she chooses to live.
As a mother I want my daughter to have friends from all over the world. I want her to be curious and respectful of people’s differences. I want her to celebrate and embrace people for who they are, not only because their like her! I want her to travel and learn about different cultures and traditions and to grow emotionally and personally from those experiences. I want her to see women at the top of their game, women of all colours representing and inspiring all people. Unfortunately these aspirations, in today’s political climate, seem increasingly unlikely.
Progress isn’t just having a Black or female president. It’s not about something happening way over there that we all cheer about. Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have all successfully and democratically elected a female leader, but still we see them as somehow less evolved or democratic than us? We still look at women who CHOOSE to wear the vail as backwards, we treat black men with suspicion. How should we react to the President elect of America being endorsed by the KKK? Or by virtue of him being a rich white man will we just glance past that? Why do those of us who are not white have to increasingly justify ourselves and our narratives, however harmless? We’re living in scary times and I’m most afraid for our children who might grow up believing that we should fear differences, that people who dress differently are somehow suspicious or that skin colour matters.
2016 has been an interesting year; for me it bought an abundance of joy, with the birth of my first child I became a mother, my whole life changed and every day since then this year has bought something new, exciting and terrifying. I have no expectations for 2017 as I’m still learning and adjusting to my new life but I’m looking forward to the unknown. Outside my small world I hope the blip in the matrix that caused some of the major upsets we’ve seen this year find peaceful resolutions. As is often said, every ending is a new beginning so to 2017 I say As-salamu alaykum (peace be unto you) and pray it responds with the traditional Islamic response “and unto you be peace”