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.


One response to “Cultural Identity”

  1. Hi Vibs, just a truly brilliant, insightful and inspiring journey of your life. A heartfelt thank you for sharing such thoughts which can only help me and others appreciate the great life we all live. Regards Rumesh


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