My childhood best friend is from Delhi, India. Well, she was born there and then moved to England when she was about 3. That’s when we met. I went up to her and asked if she wanted to be my best friend and I guess “the rest is history”. One of the beautiful things about our friendship is that despite our personality differences and the demon that is puberty, we always managed to stay close. To this day I speak to her on a weekly basis.
Growing up with her was interesting. Our differing racial backgrounds never felt particularly significant. She had her family and culture, and I had mine. We shared practically every celebration we could. I remember one year she helped decorate my family Christmas tree because she told me that she had never done that before…. I was so surprised! Christmas is a very sacred holiday in my family- not for religious reasons but because my whole extended family stay in one house for a few days and it’s truly magical. Shikha celebrates Christmas in a very similar way, also with a big extended family. She goes to her aunt’s house and has the best time with her cousins.
A few culture clashes began to emerge as we grew older. Every year I would go with her to the Nine Nights Hindu festival that takes place in November. We would dress up in saris and Shikha’s mum would do henna on our hands- we felt like princesses! Shikha and her friends would teach me the dances, it was so much fun! We would laugh so hard that we couldn’t stand up. The festivities lasted into the night, well…..until midnight- which felt very grown up at the time. It was only when I got a bit older that I noticed I was 1 of 3 white people in the hall. I recall a young child coming up to me and asking “Are you Indian?”. When it happened I laughed, and said “no”. But I have to admit, I began to feel self-conscious, like I stuck out and as I entered my teens that’s the last thing I wanted.
I spoke to Shikha about it and explained my anxiety. I felt like I wasn’t wanted there and that I didn’t belong. Her response was “that’s what I face all the time, I can’t count the amount of times I have been the only non-white person in the room”. That really hit me. I had never considered that before. We both grew up in a very white, conservative town in Sussex. We went to infant, primary and secondary school together. I had never really given thought to the different challenges and discrimination she must have felt. I like to think this was just my naive innocence masking my ability to see and that I have now become more educated on issues such as race.
What’s really interesting is that I remember always being aware of gender and sexism at school. But race, religion and age discrimination weren’t really on my radar. Not intentionally of course. I cared about gender because I was a girl and sexism affected me directly. I could see its impact. My small group of friends included people with different backgrounds, religions and abilities. I was knowledgeable about our differences but it didn’t impact our friendship. I respected them as my friends and we had fun.
I recently learnt about “intersectional feminism”. This is feminism that understands and recognises the ways in which people of different backgrounds experience oppression; taking into account factors such as race, class, age, sexuality and religion.
So that’s what I’m trying to learn more about. Feminism is very important to me, as is inclusivity. But to truly support equality for all, you need to learn as much as you can about differing forms of oppression and discrimination. You must have an appreciation of the level of privilege you have and how you can use it to support those in less privileged positions.