3 min read

To the Bastards of the West

by Faisal M. Lalani

I write this not only to rally, for I know your spirits are already at their fiercest. Your aspirations to fight for a better world are powerful, which is why instead I hope to inspire a preliminary motivation: a reason to fight for yourselves first. Specifically, the part of yourself that has endured the personal sufferings you’ve faced in large part to your brown skin, winding names, and clashing beliefs. Ours is a collective trauma, not only because of our similar experiences, but in how our shared histories have defined the targets we wear everyday. That history is rooted in the part of our identity that we’ve relegated, consciously or not, as secondary. Some of us have even dissociated from that part, and I don’t blame you.

Perhaps it’s shame. This makes sense: those kids in class always snickered at the substitute teacher mispronouncing your funny-sounding name. The bullies in the hallway never let you forget that you were somehow a terrorist. Walking down the street you shied away from crowds because you were afraid someone would laugh at your big nose or elongated ears or bushy unibrow. But shame is a revolutionary sentiment. What lies in its guise of despair is actually a moral reckoning. And, as unfair as it may be, the responsibility for this reckoning falls to you.

We accept the humiliation we think we deserve. Replace any colloquial condemnation of Brown with Black and see how immediately repulsive it becomes. That is not a criticism fueled by envy of victimhood, but rather, an acknowledgement of how even a seemingly “woke” society compartmentalizes their sense of justice. And we not only tolerate it, but allow it to inform our self-worth. If our perception of our own identities is so heavily influenced by the wavering tolerance of people who don’t understand the essence of us, then are we not complicit in our own suffering?

Do we even understand us? What bearing do we have on the intricacies of the persisting aroma of masala in our homes or the psychological baggage of the parents we defy in secret romantic exploits? And what exactly is the culture we’ve spent our lives retaliating against? The stereotypes we embrace will have us believe that this culture is backwards, that we are not “successful” hence we “evolve” from our archaic roots.

This is not to say that all facets of these roots are to be fostered: the casteist, racist, and sexist underpinnings that comprise the subtext of many of our families are to be rightfully challenged. But to escape our identities in denial that these prejudices exist is a betrayal of the great many people that are victims of them. The consequence of this illusion is the same as perpetuating them through instigation. Acceptance of self is not the same as doubling-down on shunned beliefs, but rather, the first step on the path to understanding our own oppressive histories. Our identities are complex, and romanticizing them as retaliation will only persist suffering.

Before we arrive at the question of how, we must reinforce the answer to why. Your attentions are monopolized by grander threats to humanity: climate change, rapacious capitalism, public health crises - how can anyone expect you to take on yet another cause, no matter how ambient? This, then, is where I emphasize the thesis that this problem is the foundation in which all other world-ending issues rest upon. The empowerment of your identities is crucial not only for your personal growth, but because the fights for the future of the planet rely on the courage of diverse and holistic individuals. Know first who you are, or risk having the world decide for you. And with the global influx of authoritarianism, polarization, and disinformation, perhaps this is a risk we should consider not taking.

The methods of empowerment vary depending on your talents. You, the problem-solving engineers, the caretaking doctors, the socially amicable entertainers, the astute accountants, must find ways to use your accumulated skills to journey through the history you believe holds you back. Join the advocacy groups that prioritize untangling our pasts. Support the collectives that facilitate grassroots development. Most importantly - embrace who you are. Watch more videos of the actors that look like you. Read more articles of the writers that speak like you. Empathize more with the community that is you. These are not exclusionary sentiments - in fact, the opposite: this is a balancing act where the spheres of influence that impact you daily strive for equilibrium. As the Black Lives Matter movement has repeatedly emphasized: the upliftment of that which is neglected is not exclusive, but redemptive.

We are held together internally by our self-worth and externally by the validation of that self-worth. This means, in the simplest yet most radical of terms, that all of this is a matter of love, particularly towards yourself and especially the part of yourself that the world doesn’t seem to value.

Prove them, and yourselves, wrong.

Hampi, India (2019)