Shakti perspectives: Joshua S
BROWN IN A COLONIAL LANDSCAPE
An issue that I believe is inadequately addressed within the South Asian diaspora is the struggle of having to assimilate within the West, and the subsequent impact this has on our own mental health and everyday lives. In my own personal experience, I feel as if my connection and spirituality with my own culture has been severed in an effort to 'fit-in' and belong within this white man's 'country'. Over the years, and with each living day, I aim to unpack the trauma that this has brought me and my peers, and understand where and why such events occurred within my narrative and the ancestors before me. I often trace back many of the problems I see within our community to the devastating effects of European colonisation and how its shockwaves can be felt within all of our blood till this day. I say this because, as an immigrant identity, I rarely saw my parents growing up - for their time was instead spent occupied trying to help us survive in this land; time that should have been spent with us, teaching us our languages, our food, culture, and our customs, was instead spent working. The fact that we came to this country with nothing meant that we had to create our own opportunities - meaning that my only connection to my culture and my own parents, was lost as a child, and instead spent working to survive.
For, I remember as a youth, staring at my reflection and looking back at a brown boy, to be so confused as to why my skin and face was the way it was, feeling as if an alien in my own body - for my youth was spent being exposed and shaped to the standards of White Australia. being left so confused as to why I didn't fit into the narrative it attempted to put upon me. To be educated of my heritage confused me - for because I hadn't spent that valuable time with my parents, I learnt about my own Asian identity from the white man. He told me that my skin was dirty, that I was dirty, and lazy, and uneducated, and a pest to society - so much so that I began to internalise these backwards Orientalist beliefs, and enter into a cycle of internalised self-loathing. For so long I rejected my own brownness - I remember days were spent trying to fit in by trying to act 'white', or the long showers in which I would rub my skin so hard that I would rash, aiming to wash away my 'dirty skin', or even the lack of pride I had in both myself and my own culture.
As a strong brown man today, I have learnt to reject this nonsense and reclaim my identity - albeit it is met with a struggle. There is difficulty in attempting to embrace your culture in Australia, for although we may front ourselves as a multicultural society, I don't believe infrastructure exists in allowing for a true flourishment of diverse cultures. That in the current day, I am often sold back lazy stereotypes of what my culture is from the white man once again - the exoticism of South Asia is prevalent in the Western portrayal of Indian culture as being composed of yoga, saris, bindis, and colour festivals. For over the years, I have come to learn that my culture is composed of diversity and detail - not a broad caricature from a second-hand perspective. It feels as though sometimes I'm in a desert, and I see access to my culture here as an oasis - but this oasis only turns out to be a mirage that only brings me closer to exhaustion for chasing after it.
Alas, these are facts that I live and struggle with each day of my life. Yes, it is true that I have lost a vital connection to my culture - however, this does not make me less 'Indian' than some try to categorise me as, nor does it mean that I lack culture. In fact, this generation is in a blessed position, for we have the ability to push and create culture at a greater extent than ever before - be it through our achievements, our innovations, and our beautiful art - for me this is through my artistic practice of photography. In fact, I believe that we are in blessed but also cursed position - for we are in the unique situation of having the privilege of understanding our oppression. 'Time' was never a luxury for our ancestors, so I now use this modern luxury to articulate the trauma that has been passed down for generations - knowing that my family's trauma stops with me, and therefore, my culture's colonisation stops with me as well.