The burden 

A short, unfinished piece started by me remembering my father saying “you’re not my son, so don’t act like one”.

Our sons, our brothers

Placed on a pedal stool before they could sit

Already perfect and complete.

Not allowed to falter

And failures considered growth.

Safe to go, wear, love as they see fit.

The world opened to them,

Open for the taking –  they can take it.

So they take and they take.

Our fathers and uncles,

Telling us all of their burden.

The men who upped.

Yet how they forget

The backs that cracked

And the bellies that split in two

To give them the world.

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Advice for someone like me

I was recently asked what advice I would provide for younger women who are like me. Dissecting “women like me” could be turned in an epic graph as I am made of many layers and levels – each with their own barriers to overcome. 

First generation British; eldest daughter – not son; born to two brown migrant parents; one of whom was an abusive predator; the other who was practically a single parent and stay-at-home mum; growing up on welfare; being a visibly Muslim women of colour. 

When it comes to giving advice, I thought about the feedback I received throughout my (short) career on things I can improve. And one thing that has come up time and time again is I don’t show what I’ve been doing. 

I am the type of person that will do what needs to be done, and I never understood the need to do a song and dance about literally doing your job. But I noticed how others around me would. And that meant I consistently looked like I was doing less, even when I wasn’t – and often I was doing more. What struck me also was speaking to people who would describe the work in such positive light – work that I would always consider to be average at best. 

The mix of being a women and expected to just overcome combined with humility being so ingrained into the cultures of many people of colour – we often do not even have the skills to describe or recognise our achievements. 

I realise we are our own worst critics. Not just about what we have done, but when it comes to believing we are capable of so much more. 

And so if I had to give advice to women like me – I would say to recognise this. Do not change your character but recognise that this particular characteristic may not necessarily translate well in interviews and applications, or the work environment. When people give you positive feedback, write it down if you have to. Internalise it. Learn to use it when required. 

You can have humility but also have faith in yourself. 

#BurkiniBan

I am sick of women’s bodies being used as collateral to make points. What a women wears or does not wear should not be the choice of any person – certainly not of any man. 

For the mayor of Cannes to ban the Burkina whilst saying the Burkini is a”symbol of Islamic extremism” demonstrates the move towards demonising Islam as a religion – as opposed to demonising the very few who have extreme views. It once again ignores the statistics in global terrorism and ignores the academic literature on what causes extremism. News flash – Islam itself is not the cause. 

I find it extremely hyprocitical for a person to claim they will help women who are forced to wear something by forcing them not to wear what they want. The covering of the hair, arms and legs is a very common practise amongst Muslims – and is no way a sign of extremism. Linking the two only fuels the already heightened rhetoric on how a women in a hijab must be an extremist. 

I wear my hijab as a sign of my devotion to my Lord. No one asked me to wear it – and yes I was inspired by my mother and the strong faithed people around me. But they also inspired me to study hard, to be brave, to love myself. I am also inspired by other women who do not wear the hijab – Malia Bouattia, the first Muslim women as NUS president – for example. And I am inspired by non-Muslims – both women and men. 

Taking inspiration from people does not make you an extremist. This banning of an item of clothing once again assumes that Muslim women are weak, that they are not smart enough to make decisions about what they wear, that they don’t have the free will in their communities to choose what their wear. 

How far from the truth. It is the women, our mothers and aunts, who propel us to be where we are. Strong and fearless women who push us, make sure we don’t settle for anything less and keep us going. If only they knew. 

This ban has not liberated anyone or stopped any kind of “Islamic” extremism. What it has done is stopped women enjoying a swim, provided further ammo for gendered islamophobia and and once again shown the political system does not ask the opinions of those it effects. 

I find it very telling that there has been silence amongst many “feminist” groups about this. No outrage in support of their sisters who are having their autonomy stripped from them. Once again highlighting just how white mainstream feminism is. 

When, as happened in France, an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burqa rather than creating a situation in which a women can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her, but about unclothing her. 

It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. 

It’s not about the burqa. It’s about coercion. Coercing a women out of her burqa is as bad as coercing her into one. – Arundhati Roy

The problem with the left

And I say that somewhat ironically. There is not a problem with the left but a problem with humanity. A problem, which with further thought, you discover is not so much a problem but a reality. The left – like any group – is not homogeneous. What binds us is wanting a “fairer world”.  Yet we come with varying spectrum of politics, opinions on priorities, names that we call ourselves (the -ists) ideas on how to organise, beliefs on what the perfect world should be.

So I find the whole question of “the problem with the left” as being problematic in itself.

What inspired me to write this post in the first place are two things:

  1. Owen Jone’s dissertation length piece on Jeremy Corbyn
  2. Some direct actions or social media actions I have noticed recently

So first onto Owen Jones. He made several interesting points and highlight many issues that needs to be dealt with. But he offered no solutions. And this is the thing, he spent a large chunk of his piece reaffirming his expertise and credentials. Then surely he should be offering solutions – if not the likes of him then who?

And onto the direct actions – I am referring to London Black Rev organising a direct action to chuck bugs into Byron as part of the resistance against them. The following sums up my thoughts on it:

While I appreciate the symbolism of the cockroach thing at the ‪#‎boycottbyron‬ protest yesterday, gotta be honest and say I don’t back it.

London Black Revs – which is an individual masquerading as an organisation tbh – acted without consulting those who called the action.

Those who participated in the insect action didn’t think about the affect it’d have on workers; by this I don’t just mean the clean up but how those with precarious immigration status might feel about police being called inside the restaurant itself.

This isn’t the first time London Black Revs has acted irresponsibly. Last week, LBR put out a call-out about UKBA vans in N London. Myself and two friends responded and went to the location to provide support. It became clear that not only was LBR not even there, but was actively sourcing information from racists on Twitter to pass on to us. This was thoughtless in the extreme, and could have put us in very real danger.

I don’t trust someone who tips off journalists about an action and not their fellow activists. I don’t trust someone who acts recklessly in situations where it’s not their neck on the line. I urge you all to think carefully about whether London Black Revs is an individual you trust in a political or a personal capacity. If not, there are other (better!) groups to invest your time and your effort in. Stay safe friends xxx – Ash Sarkar

And this brings me onto the thing that links these two: unity within the left. I have a lot of people saying that people are traitors for speaking out, that they are doing the jobs of the right-wing media.

“Unity” is used as a silencing tool. A shut up and take it. No – when something does not sit right we should speak out. That is the only way we can make sure we remain progressive, and not stuck in a bubble waiting for the next burst (think Conservatives getting in at the last two General Elections, Brexit, and the very likely election of Trump).

My worry however is how to ensure we are united enough so that the efforts we put in mean we are making significant steps forward in the right direction. This is why I never fell for #Lexit – I knew the left are not organised enough to be able to take over the narrative sufficiently to be useful.

And it is disheartening. We are consistently under-resourced, unorganised, dealing with internalised racism, sexism and abuse – I just don’t see a way out. We need leadership – and it will not come from middle-class white straight men.

The solution is accepting this. Look at the #BlackLivesMatter movement – started by three queer Black women. And it grew from Twitter and Facebook. We should be taking lessons from these rather than using them to push forward our own political agendas once again (side-eye to London Black Revs).

The revolution will be led by Black, queer, disabled, Muslim women. And until these groups are respected enough to be given space it will only lead to the downfall of the whole movement.

Ramadan diary: day 4

So as fate would have it, I am not fasting today as I’m on my period. I keep forgetting to track my cycle but 2 months ago I did restart. The tracker on my phone shows I’m meant to start in a few days so perhaps two months isn’t enough for it to figure out my cycle. Or perhaps the change in diet affected my hormones? I remember there was one Ramadan a few years ago when I went on my period twice! It’s amazing the amount of things that can effect us and how delicate yet robust Allah has created us. What a balance.

You know when you can just feel that change in the deepth of your stomach. I prayed it would hold out for a few more hours. But alas, just two hours before Magrib I was able to eat again.

This unexpected start meant I was very unprepared. Luckily I have a local shop because otherwise I would have been totally stuck. Not so luckily they do not stock sanitary towels. So yesterday was the first time I used tampons!

Funnily enough I have been meaning to give them a go. Growing up I always thought they were haraam but reading into them I realised that was more of a cultural seasoning rather than based on fiqh and the women of the past used similar methods too.

Well what better chance to give them a go than when you have no other choice! Now skip over this paragraph if you’re grossed out easily. But basically after standing in several different positions, making a total mess on the bathroom floor and wasting 5 tampons, I finally managed to get one to go in properly. My review so far – very easy to go in once you know how. I only had the option to use the cardboard applicator ones which are meant to be more difficult so I’m actually looking forward to trying out the plastic ones. Or perhaps they’re worse for the environment? Never mind. The use of disposable products is bad enough as it is. It’s the coming out part that feels so uncomfortable and I still don’t know if I can feel it inside or if that’s just my imagination.

Not actually fasting is weird and I feel like I’m wasting Ramadan. Even though I know the blessings are there and the only way I will waste it is if I don’t do the things I planned to – all of which have nothing to do with me eating – there’s just a little emptiness in my heart. Also it’s just nicer to fast with everyone rather than fasting again on your own. I guess I have to make sure I stay focused. Not eating works as a constant reminder of it being Ramadan so I need to keep a conscious reminder instead.

I’ve decided not to eat in work hours. I do not want to have that awkward conversation with the men I’m working with. And I do not want my body to get unused to fasting.

Anyway, this time off has given me a lot of potential. I spent last night watching some lectures on the Quran by Nouman Ali Khan. And since I’m travelling home today and working from home tomorrow, I will have time to concentrate on Arabic again. Whether I will have the energy to do it is another matter.

There is nothing wrong with having a good job, there is nothing wrong with having a nice house, there is nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong when that is your goal – Nouman Ali Khan

Travelling 

Whilst everyone has long forgotten about the Easter weekend, returned back to work or realised they have even less time for their deadlines than they thought – I am still on holiday. In fact I am currently getting my foot massaged in Thailand.

And that’s given me some time to reflect on travelling with friends, travelling whilst visibily Muslim and travelling whilst attempting to observe the hijab.

Travelling with friends is a type of fun you just don’t get when you’re with family. Whether that be staying out late, just the jokes or the type of activities you’re able to get up to. In particular to my case – I don’t even have to worry about the holiday as I have a friend who likes organising. No need to book hotels, search for things to do or worry about routes. Being the eldest in my family, that was my role when we travelled – and boy was it stressful. Fun but stressful. I like having the mental capacity to completely enjoy myself.

All the friends I am travelling with are Muslim. But, unlike me, they all either don’t wear the hijab or are happy to take it off if they feel necessary. I on the other hand will never take off my hijab. My hijab is a part of my identify that I am not willing to compromise on that.

This does make it awkward when going to the beach or water parks. I do have a full length swimming outfit (basically a scuba divers outfit) but I feel super visible when I’m dressed like a sushi and everyone else look like salmon. This is already a massive compromise since I typically wear flowy outfits. I need to invest in one of those burkanise everyone is talking about!

It’s even worse when my friends went clubbing and essentially refused to take me if I kept my hijab on. I have been dancing before and regularly go to bars with work. It does make me uncomfortable and I would rather go somewhere where alcohol – and the atmosphere that surrounds such places – was not so prominent. But I do go along nonetheless. I’m sure clubbing would have made me feel very uncomfortable. I’m sure I would have felt like sushi. But it should have been me and not my friends who policed my faith.

Perhaps I should have started this post with dear diary…

International women’s day 

I remember the strong women who have made me the strong woman I am today. I celebrate my existence and my survival. Against the odds – I was not killed for being a daughter. My mind was not killed for wanting to learn. My dreams were not killed for wanting to soar.

My mothers and my sisters. My foremothers. It is the blood they shed and the rivers they cried that means I was not killed.

I love them and cherish them. And I love and cherish every women who is here and not here so that I can be here.

But they are not all here. I remember the one in eight women in the UK who loose their lives in the hands of violent men. I remember the women who are told what they can and can not do. I remember the women who are told our pain is not important enough and our struggles petty. I remember even women who tell us our pain is not important enough to and our struggles are petty.

I remember the patriarchy. And today I vow to keep trying to dismantle it. For my sisters. For my daughters. And for my brothers. And for my sons.

What

massacre

happens to my son

between

him

living within my skin

drinking my cells

my water

my organs

and

his soft psyche turning cruel.

Does he not remember

he

is half woman.

– Nayyirah Waheed

there have been so many times
i have seen a man wanting to weep

but

instead

beat his heart until it was unconscious

– Nayyirah Waheed

Happy international women’s day. I apologise for being a few minutes late. And I apologise for ignoring my blog recently. So many things to say. So little time. So little energy. I have been very sick but have recovered and hope to be back blogging soon 🙂

Being a strong women

I think my mum is depressed. She asked me “why don’t I feel happiness inside?” And with those words I felt a little piece of me shatter as I realised she was the strong brown women. The unbreakable, not allowed to tremor.

I assume it began with the trauma of coming to a foreign land in the hope of a better life for her unborn children. Leaving her parents, siblings and the world she knows behind. Coming to this cold place where they never accept her, shout abuse and all she can do is smile back.

My dad beat her, emotionally tortured her and abused her children. This was not a secret – everyone knew. She had to bring us up on her own because dad was never around. He was earning the money but he’d keep her on a budget. She never treated herself. But the expectation is you stick with your husband for the sake of the children. And you pray for him. And you pray for yourself. And you keep going.

When mum had the strength to leave him, the whole community turned their backs on her. She heard people she did not even know talk about her. She worries about no one marrying her daughters because of it. She worries about her son growing up to be a d*ck and people blaming her for it. Her worries never stopped when the man left.

Our mums – black and brown women – expected to carry our burdens on their shoulders. They are the mythological superwoman: infallible, resilient, machines. Protect their men even when they betray them. Protect their children, their parents, their siblings. Our families include all our cousins – even 5 times removed.

But who looks out for them? Who asks them if they’re coping? If their shoulders need a break? You’re so strong, so brave they say. Keep smiling through the tears they advice. Poor mental health is not seen as an option. You keep praying. And you keep going.

Now prayer is a powerful thing. It has got me through the worst of times and I thank it for my best of times. But that does not mean poor mental health does not require treatment. You would not cut your finger off but just pray for it to fix itself.

But even my mum – the strongest women I know – refuses to get help. Perhaps because she doesn’t know what help could even be. She doesn’t want to take psychotics. And why does she need to speak to anyone when she can speak to God? It’s as if seeking help is admitting defeat and breaking the oath we are born into. The oath to care about everyone else’s needs and to carry all their pain.

And then there’s me, another brown women. Baring the weight of my mother’s pain, my sisters’ pains, my brothers’ pain. Now financially supporting my family because the tax man has decided my mum is not a single parent and so does not deserve benefits (they believe my dad still lives with us and won’t believe otherwise). Worrying about the my brother’s grades. Worrying about him being accused of being a terrorist because he is a brown boy with a beard. Worrying about my sisters getting their hearts broken. Worrying about my families, my friends, my world. Another strong girl doomed to be a strong women.

What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person – John Green, Paper Towns