As a Hindu, growing up I went to school every September with multiple coloured bands (rakhi) around my wrist. The result of a tradition where sisters tie bands around the wrists of their brothers to signify their love and the bond between them (we get bands she gets gifts or money).
Every so often I get a message from a teacher that a school leader has looked at these bands, the colour/existence of a turban, a burka, a hijab, etc. and have made comments such as,
‘That’s not business wear’
‘Why do some pupils get away with wearing bands/hats?’
‘We need to be more equal’
‘Beads are not allowed in school’
‘That hair is too short’
‘That hair style is not professional’
As a child, when a teacher asked me to cut off the bands, I thought long and hard about it. I’m talking as a compliant 11-year-old, I had already explained what they were and the personal meaning they had for me. She was insistent and I was compliant, I escaped (I have no idea how) went home and decided that I would wear my blazer, to cover them up for the rest of the term.
I (and some of your students) see these artefacts as more than just things, they hold deep cultural meaning, more than that they form part of our being and more importantly our identity. Yes, you could argue that all pupils reach for artefacts when defining and building their identity. This may be different, some pupils have had their identity squashed, ridiculed and ignored, where some pupils have and do not.
For example, some pupils will have to anglicize their names, some will even have to accept a completely different name, this is not uncommon. Some names are difficult to say for those whose speech has been trained exclusively through an English lexicon. Although isn’t funny that certain different names are often learned i.e. Mendeleev, Kirchoff, Ptolemy, Tchaikovsky and from education Piaget and Vygotsky.
Accepting this is not a choice, this is a question of survival.
P1: Hi my names Pranav Patel?
P1: Pranav Patel
P2: That’s difficult
P1: Pran-av Patel
P1: You can call me Pran
P2: That’s too difficult can I call you Pete?
My grandfather often said that we should be proud of our culture but to remember we are guests in this country, although he was born a British subject with the same rights as any other. He knew that acting in any other way was to risk the verbal abuse, the destruction of property and the P*** bashing/public beatings (including some by the police). In a society where the people in power see you as an ‘other’, the risk of verbal and physical abuse is still very real.
I do not judge my grandfather for those words, as aforementioned that was survival. Saying that it is now 2019 and I will stand up and claim my birthright and I will stand for the others. I was born a British citizen and afforded those rights, I stand where my grandfather’s and my parent’s generation could not.
Those coloured bands the rakhi, the colour of turbans and all of the other symbols that define the culture of the ‘others’. Attempting to take them away takes away a part of them, a part of us. Whether you like it or not, those actions say that we will be seen as outsiders if we do not assimilate. Similarly as not even attempting to pronounce our names says you do not respect and value me enough to even try.
Come at me, for my rakhi, that child’s turban, hijab or how professional hair is.
I dare you.
I am ready.
My name is Pranav, in fact, my name is પ્રણવ. Learn it. We both know what time it is, know that I’m coming for you.