It’s so much more than East meets West
Written by Hardeep Gill
In the beginning
Sometimes I ask myself how differently life would have turned out if I wasn’t a person of color. Would it really be that different? I guess the part that makes me feel sad everytime I answer this question, is that the answer is “yes”. It would be that different.
We grew up on the outskirts of London in the nineties and there was a lot of us—Sikhs from Punjab, a northern region in India. We were one of many families living in Slough, a suburban British town famous for the industrial revolution and a show you probably know called The Office (which I’ve never seen by the way). We had a library and a bus station and one time when I was about 7-years old, Queen Elizabeth came to visit us. Going to Sikh school on Sunday’s wearing a salwar kameez and then eating bangers and mash on Monday nights was the done thing. It was all I knew. This ever-blurry combination of two worlds that felt neither here nor there. Not fully mine, not anyone else’s.
I remember the first time I experienced racism. I was about six years old and the word “racism” wasn’t even a part of my vocabulary yet. It was break-time in primary school, and a girl in my class told me I couldn’t come to her birthday party that weekend because I was “brown”. Ouch. Sad is an understatement. That shit stuck with me forever. And it makes me sadder to say that, that little but big moment shaped me in so many ways. From then onwards, being an outsider was something that I was constantly aware of, defined by even.
I don’t think I realized that my Dad had a thick indian accent blended with broken, barely-there English until I was 12 years old. It hit me out of nowhere one day. Like shit, “how come he can’t say things properly, the same way I can.” It was around this time I started to learn that it wasn’t only Dad’s English that was broken and barely-there. He was too. He felt so much anguish towards his decision to move to the UK for this so-called “better life”. In some ways it was and other ways it wasn’t. Still, we tried to blend in. A holiday in Portugal in 2004 met the juxtaposition of screaming matches with bibi, my gran, who sincerely wished all her grandkids somehow get cancer and die.
Teenage years flew by and before I knew it, I was about to start my degree in Fashion Journalism. I know, it doesn’t even sound like a real thing. Dad felt the same way, and chose to ignore me for a few months because of it. A note to immigrant parents or parents everywhere: ignoring your child does them no good, trust me. I convinced myself that going away to uni was going to be my escape, my time to be the real me, but in those three years, I never felt further from that. Now I had to try and fit in here. I was one of two brown girls on the course and the other never even looked my way. So I did what I had been used to doing by then, I became the token. To the world, I was “H”, the English girl with a bright red lip, cunt bun and a big fur coat. It’s what everyone was wearing then and I didn’t wanna be different. I didn’t wanna be me.
I arrived in NYC in September 2014. It was HOT af. I was running away but I didn’t care. I wanted a new beginning so I created it. People wanted to know where I came from, they were curious. Dominican? No. Guyanese? No. I was just me. Indian, British, a New York transplant, a girl, a woman, searching. I was using the name ‘Hardeep’ again. And then the light came on: I just hated myself ever since I could remember. And I bet that bitch Jade Billington with her narrow mind had a lot to do with it. It’s okay Jade, I feel sad for you. Only because you’re part of a vicious cycle and it’s because of these cycles, the lessons not learned that there’s so much hatred in our world. Anyway, the lesson here is that sometimes you have to cross the ocean to find yourself. On some eat, pray, love shit.
The era of “Woke”
It’s 2019. I am a person of color. I am woman of color. Tupac is my savior. He said change would come and it’s here, it’s happening now and we’re in it. I can say these things out loud even to my white friends and instead of turning away, they understand. They care. And now I’m on a mission to learn more. More about where we come from, our land, the people that call it home and the parents that looked at life very differently. I think knowledge is the only true power. And when we use it properly, the sky will always be blue. Now, let’s make the world better.