Cultural Identity

South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM) in the UK has been one of the most exciting things to happen in 2020. A long time coming for sure, but now that it has launched, I’m thrilled to be involved as an event manager, co-host and musician for a virtual concert – Musical Expression of South Asian Faith & Heritage.

Growing up in Birmingham, part of a spiritual, musical, Punjabi family and as 2nd generation British-Indian, I have most definitely had a fair share of ‘I have no freakin’ clue’ moments in my life. I value so much of my heritage, traditions and values but there are also certain elements that I fundamentally just don’t agree with. Over the years, it’s undoubtedly brought confusion… Who am I? What do I stand for? Do I actually belong here? I think whilst being a minority ethnicity, particularly in Western societies, it’s really important to acknowledge that it’s completely normal to feel confusion, experience *imposter syndrome and question which aspects of each culture you identify with. It can take years to figure out where you stand on the spectrum of British-Indian identity and there really is no right or wrong way.

Solidifying our identity can be a really tough and long process, no matter what our age, background or race. So many experiences and cultures impact who we are and those constructs in themselves, constantly evolve throughout our lives as humans too. We associate ourselves to many different *cultures and *subcultures, whether it’s our religion, geography, caste or race, or associations to activist movements, music genres, the arts, sport, gastronomy, history, science, technology, level of education – the list is endless. But, based on how the experiences we have unfold within each of these cultures, we either adopt the values and beliefs wholly and fragments of them stay with us for life, or they are short-lived and fade away as we outgrow them.

Having a solid identity is fundamental to our human existence, for our self-esteem and general well-being but at the same time, our identity is constantly evolving, as we continually experience and learn new things.

Honing on the strengths of being both British and Indian, to me, my identity fundamentally means being unapologetically authentic, constantly striving to be the best version of myself, being a badass standing up for things I feel passionately about and holding my values and morals as a human being at the forefront of my life – in every positive and negative situation.

Now, as a twenty-four year-old brown woman, I’m passionately learning even more about British colonialism and systemic racial issues, which conveniently weren’t covered in any school textbooks or my curriculum. I’ve started noticing *micro-aggressions and *gaslighting on so many levels and I find myself stunned, that it never occurred to me as problematic or wrong when I was younger, despite always being strong-willed and observant.

I look at my life in three phases whilst considering my identity development so far. The first decade of my life, I was the biggest Indian cinema loving child you could probably find in England. My mother raised me with Hindi language for which now, I’m so grateful. If you asked 6 year-old Vibs who her idol was, she would respond by telling you not to call her Vibs, but Poo from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (if you know you know.) She didn’t have a clue who the Beatles were and constantly cut out Busted and Lizzie McGuire pictures from corner-shop magazines, to try and fit in with her classmates. But coming home after school, she would run up to her purple-everything bedroom, dress up in Indian attire and dance to Bollywood music for hours on end.

Then came the second phase – teenage. This still is a blurry time for me. I had so many different identities I embodied in different roles in my life, some more unfortunate than others. High School Musical and Twilight played a huge part (no regrets). I took singing and playing guitar more seriously, I started to face mental health problems, but didn’t entirely know what it meant and particularly remember having some serious body image issues. I attended a predominantly white-upper class girls’ school, where I started off as the worst academically performing student, but left as the stereotypical hard-working, conscientious Indian nerd with straight A*s and As. I was a different person in every environment – a true chameleon, but definitely shied away from certain aspects of my South Asian heritage, as I navigated through the emotional and hormonal roller coasters. I wish I had been taught about the actual consequences of British colonial history in school. I wish it had been prioritised to educate children on how *systemic racism and *inequities exist. I really do believe I’d be 100 steps ahead on my level of *wokeness, if we had fully integrated and promoted resources back then. (This is what SAHM is all about!)

Phase 3 – early adulthood to present day. I’d like to believe I’ve found a good balance in who I am and what my identity means to me today. The process of university-life in itself is educational and transformational on so many levels. In these last few years I’ve learnt what it means to be self-reliant and independent, what resilience is, the importance of being picky about the company I keep and where I prioritise my time. I’ve understood the true value of travel and life experience over any material possession. I’ve understood the only way I can truly love and care for others, is by loving and caring for every aspect of myself first. I view and place value on my family and friends differently from when I was younger. But above all else, I’m aware of what parts of every culture I’ve been a part of – whether inherited or chosen – I truly identify with. I know what makes Vibs, Vibs.

My heritage and family history comes with fearlessness and sacrifice. My roots lie among phenomenal grandparents, who were the first ever inter-caste couple in Britain to get married. It makes me feel strong and like I can achieve absolutely anything I want to. I love being South Asian. I am proud to be British-Indian, despite the hard-to-swallow histories my ancestors faced in order for me to be here today. But let’s be clear, acceptance does not mean submission. Our society and political systems today, across the world, have still very much been built on deeply ingrained, yet underlying and undiscussed *white supremacy. The most part of unlearning is still to come. Systems need to be deconstructed and rebuilt to achieve a more equitable existence for all of humanity.

I am motivated more than ever before, to continue dialogue to break down the inequality that exists because of these systems. I will keep calling out things said and done that aren’t aligned with *anti-racism and continue to stand for what is right. I will vote responsibly. Our generation is placed in a time with the greatest opportunities and technology to support bringing tangible, systemic change. Yes – it will takes years, but the shift has already begun. I hope I can be a bridge in this *butterfly effect and do my South Asian ancestors proud.

*Imposter syndrome a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalise their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field which lead to people feeling they don’t belong or deserve to be where they are.

*Cultureset of ideas, beliefs, attitudes, values, norms, morals, customs, roles, symbols, and rituals shared by a large group of people that is transmitted across generations. A way of life that evolves over time and can become very different from how it first started out. Culture influences how we see reality and has a huge impact on what we believe and feel to be objectively true.

*Subculturea cultural group within a larger culture, often having beliefs or interests that vary from those of the larger culture.

*Micro-aggressionsa statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group. The insults/ insensitivities may be based on socioeconomic status, disability, gender, gender expression or identify, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion, experienced in day-to-day interactions with people.

*Gaslighting a manipulative tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality, memory or perceptions.

*Systemic racismracism resulting from the inherent biases and prejudices of the policies and practices of social and political organisations, groups, or institutions. It is also referred to as “institutional racism,” a term coined by Black Power activists Charles V. Hamilton and Stokely Carmichael to distinguish it from individual racism, which is typically more overt. Systemic here refers to the core racist realities that are manifested in each of society’s major parts including but not limited to—the economy, politics, education, religion, career, healthcare, housing and inheritance.

*Inequity – an instance of injustice, unfairness, bias or favouritism.

*Wokeness a state of being aware, especially of social problems such as racism and inequality

*White Supremacythe belief, theory, or doctrine that white people are inherently superior and are the dominant group in any society, typically to the exclusion or detriment of other racial and ethnic groups – especially Black people.

*Anti-racist the policy or practice of opposing racism and promoting racial tolerance.

*Butterfly effectthe phenomenon whereby a small minute localised change in a complex system can have a cumulatively large effect elsewhere over a period of time.

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Safety & Sanctuary

Borough of Sanctuary

Over the period of Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve had the opportunity to work with an array of organisations, charities, communities and political leaders to bring a culture of welcome to the Borough of Sandwell.

In my role, I have created and been maintaining all social media pages and communications for the #BOSSandwell Campaign. The campaign is working towards greater inclusion, equality and opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers, as well as standing strongly in solidarity with the #BLM movement and anti-racism.

If the refugee crises are shown in the media, stories rarely ever address the links to environmental migration. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 33.4 million people were forced to leave their homes in 2019 due to disasters negatively affecting their livelihoods. This number is only expected to increase as we move further into the 21st century.

“The Atlas of Environmental Migration, which gives examples dating as far back as 45,000 years ago, shows that environmental changes and natural disasters have played a role in how the population is distributed on our planet throughout history.”

Dina Ionesco – UN IOM

With more and more catastrophic climate-related events having direct causal links to human activity, it has never been more important to focus on the displacement and safe settlement of humans.

More than ever before, I feel the urge to actively work towards breaking down perceptions of “other”, separation and racism. Working in my home town, Sandwell to do just that feels right. After all, it all starts at home.

Humans have always moved. We are all (im)migrants.

Mohsin hamid

International Women’s Day

What motivated you to choose your profession and what do you love about your job?

During my time studying Psychology at university, I was unsure about which career path to follow. I happened to take a module on global challenges and I had a cliche penny drop moment. I knew whatever I did going forward, had to focus on the climate crisis. Ever since, I have not looked back and after completing a diploma in climate change, I started working in sustainable business and environmental behavioural change within the retail sector. I am lucky enough to continue my passion of music alongside this. I love that my job allows me to see direct impact and purposeful change within a large organisation. I love that through my music and creativity, I get to connect to people of various backgrounds on a deeper and more emotional and spiritual level. Both areas of my career truly fulfil me and drive me to be the best version of myself – constantly pushing the boundaries of my full potential.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

There are many accomplishments I am proud of, particularly within my music career. However, from an academic perspective, achieving a First Class Psychology BSc (Hons) degree alongside the Dean’s Award has to be at the top of my list!

What was your worst failure or setback and what did you learn from it?

I had to resit my second year of A levels, and I consider the grades I achieved the first time round as my biggest setback so far. It massively knocked my self-confidence which I struggled to shake off for quite a while. I have also overcome many personal battles over the years, particularly my own mental health, but of course this is always a work in progress.

I don’t particularly like the word failure as it implies a lack of something, according to a set standard of norms dictated by society… Which we then go on to use as personal check points. My life experience till date has taught me that no matter what the situation faced is, anything can be overcome by resilience and having an awareness of various perspectives. Everyone’s definition of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ is subjective and every individual has their own personal timeline in life – which is undoubtedly perfect for them. To compare oneself and our behind the scenes with our peers’ reams and reams of best life highlights (particularly on social media,) will only lead us down a dark hole of dissatisfaction and unfulfilled desire. I only treat my setbacks as lessons or tests of resilience, and I enjoy every positive, progressive moment to the full.

Define a great leader and what are some traits you think great leaders possess?

A great leader to me is someone who lives their belief through their actions, not just their words. The world we now live in holds many ‘influencers’ but much fewer ‘inspirers’. Thought leadership through action is the way forward!

Who has been your biggest influence and why?

My biggest influence has to be my Guru ji or ‘spiritual guide’ – Baba Hardev Singh Ji. Although sadly no longer with us, from a young age until now, I have held an enormous amount of respect and love for him. I have learnt the fundamental values of life and what it means to be a good human being, as well as the importance of holding onto purpose and self-awareness through every situation. Being a part of something greater than yourself is life changing and I wouldn’t be who I am or be where I’m standing today without his teachings. 

As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?

I have only just started my career and so have not had any major barriers as such. Although, being a woman of colour, I have really felt the lack of representation and pioneers to look up to within the industry, whom I can genuinely relate to. Though things are rapidly changing both systemically and within large organisations, there is still a huge gap in female representation, particularly women of colour at the “top.” I do often question whether this will still be the case in a few years time.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

Take time to find your individual purpose and what YOU define as success. Not what your parents, friends or colleagues think – but what you think. Too often I have seen instances where peers and colleagues of mine have rushed into graduate or apprenticeship schemes, joined the world of work and within a year or two, find themselves lost with zero motivation and no job satisfaction. Take your time. There really is NO rush or only one right way to get to where you’re supposed to be! Once you find what drives you (and you will if you allow yourself the space,) what your natural strengths are, what feels right, what feels good – everything else will flow automatically. 

Another point: to be able to rely on just yourself, you need to learn how to be comfortable in your own company – go out of your comfort zone and test your boundaries. How are you when you’re all by yourself – alone with your thoughts? Learn to overcome the emptiness or void or need for another person you may feel inside. Once you’ve passed that step, you will become so secure within yourself and unleash a whole new level of self dependency and confidence. As a side-note, I’d also highly recommend reading ‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne. It has genuinely changed my life!

What do you want your legacy to be?

I rarely feel comfortable shouting out about what I do. I would much rather just get on and DO and not talk about it. For me, if I have connected to an individual, if I have brought about positive change, helped someone or helped mitigate the climate crisis in some shape or form – I know I am doing exactly what I am supposed to and that in itself is my legacy.

How do you maintain a good work-life balance?

Like many things, maintaining a work-life balance is a constant work in progress for me. Some weeks are better than others, but I find having a calendar or diary that works for you is essential to make work-life balance possible. I also find having a separate work phone and laptop helps massively to disconnect when you’re supposed to. I try to always remind myself that if you love what you do, it’s not just a job – it’s a way of life and that (hypothetically) should mean you don’t have to physically take it home with you!

The International Women’s Day 2020 campaign theme is #EachforEqual – “An equal world is an enabled world”. What will you do to create a gender equal world?

To create a gender equal world, I will keep saying the things we as women are told to keep quiet. I will continue to educate (and not patronise) my peers by explaining what feminism really is – if they don’t know already. I will not be phased by a room full of men, or silence my opinions in-front of them,  irrespective of their titles. I will be conscious of biases in the workplace and beyond. I will point out things that need to change, particularly issues of gender pay gap, inclusion and diversity, LGBTQ+ rights and social mobility. I will continue to break traditional standards that make women and men feel they are wrong to express themselves however they please – openly wearing, eating and drinking whatever they want. I will stand up for all those who make any decision for themselves or their bodies. I will stand up to bullies and narcissists. I will openly say I’m on my period if I need to and not whisper it like it’s something to hide or be ashamed of. I will be courageous and allow myself to be vulnerable and seek help whenever I need it, including my mental health. I will have open and respectful conversations with my elders to break down stigmas, stereotypes and double standards – particularly those that exist within the South Asian community. I will not let labels such as ‘too emotional; too serious; too intense; too moody; too passionate; too quiet; too confident; too loud; too much of… anything‘ define me. I will not apologise for being my authentic self and I will continue to champion not caring about…”but what will people say?” 

I will.

The Circularity of Gratitude

In May 2019, after a whirlwind four months of ups and downs, countless rejections, near successes and let downs, I was headhunted and whisked away into a fast-paced, cut-throat yet invigorating chaos… London.

As a young child, I always dreamt of living in the city. Whenever we visited, driving passed the bright lights of piccadilly or strolling through streams and streams of free art galleries – I always knew I would end up here at some point in my life. Now I knew it was happening, the excitement was real. – actualisation

I had three days to find a place to live and ten days to relocate from my nest. After just one week of work, my every weekend of summer looked a little something like: Liverpool > Toronto > Glasgow > Birmingham > Cambridge > Leicester > London > Leicester > Birmingham. Safe to say, I had officially learnt the art of an autopilot, robotic lifestyle – in all my worlds. Never the less, I was loving summer life in the capital and taking full advantage of so many amazing things to see and do. – productivity

Before I knew it, 2019 was coming to an end and approaching the new year I realised how unnatural this crazy bubble I had kept myself in really was. I was on the go, ALL the time – nothing was slowing down. I found myself stuck somewhere in between finally being content and in the swing of things with my new job, yet feeling an escalating pressure to develop my creative side. With more opportunity, comes much higher expectation – particularly in the music industry. Then of course came the pressure of corporate culture – a constant need for more and unparalleled unfulfilled desires. – rat race

My mind was a mess. I had to pause.

I took a few weeks to reanalyse where I was heading. Did I really need to make more money? Do I really need to rush? What’s the rush for? Do I need to be so invested and affected by things that aren’t helping me grow? What was the reason behind my pursuit of career in sustainability again? What’s my passion? What’s my driving force? Is my work purposeful? Do I really want to create my own music? Am I actually present in my mind, today? Do I really need to be thinking about getting on the property ladder already? What were my goals for just the next 6 months? Why are my thoughts SO loud?

STOP. REWIND. INTROSPECT.

a game changer

I’ve just stepped into my eighth month of being in the big wide ‘corporate world’. It’s so easy to get trapped and pulled into the dissatisfaction of those around you that you forget the key to everything. The answer to silence the noise, the chaos, the rush, the pressure, the excessive material desire – everything taking you away from the present moment…

gratitude | shukraana

Starting every morning being thankful for everything you DO have and not what you are “lacking” was my refuge. Grateful to be alive and healthy. Grateful to have a sense of purpose. Grateful to live comfortably and having amenities millions don’t have access to. Grateful to be making a difference. Grateful to be able to experience so many wonderful moments, art and culture. Grateful to be empowered enough to pass on positivity to others.

Such a small shift in perspective, but a protection blanket from energy which brings you down and can sometimes make you feel like what you already have and what you already are, isn’t enough. In gratitude lies a clearer headspace which ironically allows you to still think ahead and pursue even greater goals. In gratitude you give more and receive more, you invest more and grow more. It’s a reciprocal, chain reaction. Whatever you put out into the universe comes straight back to you in ten fold.

Gratitude is clear.

Gratitude is contagious.

Gratitude is circular.