There’s more to Sameena Hussain than the colour of her skin or what she does at Eid and she’d like you to ask her about something else, once in a while…
I have come to a bit of a realisation lately. It’s something I’ve known for a long time but never fully admitted or wanted to accept because, well, it doesn’t exactly make me feel good about the world I live in, so choosing to ignore it was kind of handy.
I am a drama practitioner and performer: my work has allowed me to meet and work with wonderful people from all walks of life, each of us fighting out of our imposed boxes. I like going for walks, hanging out with my friends and playing board games. I enjoy food and I’m Insta-snappy happy (#foodismyfriend) I love my coffee and crime dramas and am also a Friends geek.
But somehow along the way I have become the Muslim ‘go-to’ girl for folk who have issues with Islam, Muslims or, really, anything that anyone from the South Asian Diaspora might have done to upset them.
When I say “folk” I do need to be clear that I don’t mean my friends or people who genuinely are interested in my opinion or who want to engage me in conversation. I mean people I meet at a bus stop or on the train, maybe in a cafe, people who have seen me in passing and have finally built up the courage to come talk to me.
Well, rather, talk at me. They want to have a good rant and say their bit because in their world, I’m the closest they’re going to get to a representative for Muslims/Asians, or who one gentleman referred to as “you know, your lot”.
On one occasion I was sitting in a cafe drinking my coffee when the gentleman near me reading his paper lowered it, looked at me and asked, “You’re not planning to go off to join ISIS are you? I mean you’re one of the good ones.” I was in utter shock while he continued to complain at me.
That’s what it is – they’re complaints and they want to notify me as though they think that I’m on a committee or something and I can add it to the agenda for the next meeting: “Be better Muslims!” It’s infuriating. Don’t ask me to validate and defend someone else’s ideologies because (you think) we look the same.
While writing this I realised this has been happening for nearly half my life. The younger me was so much lovelier and sweeter (bear with me, it helps me contextualise). More than anything she wanted to be accepted, for her Muslimness and her Pakistaniness.
She was great. She was funny and intelligent. There were lots of awesome things about her and the Muslimness and Pakistaniness were a part of that. Looking back, it makes me extremely sad and angry that a child should have to go through that.
Even then she was the Muslim and Pakistani representative, whether she wanted to be it or not. But she would listen to the rants and the vents and the complaints. She would defend and try her best to answer the questions, because she felt that’s what she had to do if she wanted her Muslimness and Pakistaniness to be embraced in the Western world.
At a certain point that changed. I started not needing acceptance from anyone. It was me and I embraced it wholeheartedly. I do a lot of work with young people and a lot of it is centred on self-worth/confidence and acceptance. I knew I needed to practise what I was preaching.
One of the moments that played a part in this was when someone said to me, “You’re not really ‘Pakistani’ are you? I mean you’re more white than Asian,” (said person was Pakistani) “you’re a Coconut.” It was the first time I had heard this term.
Again, I found myself upset and arguing; seeking validation from this person that I was also Pakistani. Afterwards I realised I needed to stop defending and validating the actions of others and also stop seeking acceptance from people who don’t know me. I’m just an aesthetic to them.
Now and again I think back to the number of people who never got to know that vibrant, passionate young girl and it is definitely their loss.
So now when I’m greeted with ignorance, I still listen to it but I don’t have the desire or need to answer the question or defend my heritage. Instead I try to hold up a mirror (not always successful and fruitful), build rapport and make them see ME, talk to ME not the masses they want me to represent. I owe it to that little girl (and many others).3507 Views
Sameena is a drama practitioner based in West Yorkshire and one half of performance group Purple Kettle. She recommends doodling with a coffee, likes her Poirot in the form of David Suchet and, speaking of facial hair, she hasn't got round to doing her eyebrows ever.