Buying printer cartridges for many folx is a mundane task. In this recent experience, I also found that it’s also incredibly costly. This is a letter to the dear old man who stopped me on the way out of the shop to ‘ask’ about the decolonise the curriculum hoodie I was wearing.
Him: “What do you mean by decolonise the curriculum?”
Me: “To teach a fairer representation and a more authentic truth, to create a more egalitarian world.”
Him: “But the curriculum is what it is?”
Me: “At the moment, white folx are overrepresented and disproportionately in our curriculum, and the overarching narratives are for want of another word ‘disingenuous’ and damaging.”
Him: “The English went to colonies and tried stop people eating each other.”
My heart starts to race. There is a pain in that monotonous drumming in the space in my chest. It’s not a physical pain; it’s not anger; it’s a feeling of deep and familiar sorrow. My soul and I are here (again) defending my brownness (all of the other perceived ‘…nesses’) because we as a collective have adopted a state of national amnesia.
We, and I mean, we, as educators, have genuinely failed.
We engage in discourse; the gentleman states his age, I inhale deeply, count to 5 and bring myself down at this point. Sir is my father’s age, and the way I was raised means almost always ‘that respect comes with experience’. My adulthood has taught me that toxic is toxic, but you know, I give this white-skinned uncle some grace.
We talk about the colonies the world wars with all the decorum of the British norms and conviviality. He stops at one point, looks at me up and down, stopping at the length of my beard and spits out, “The English were great for the Indians”. I’m now perplexed; I have just spent 3-4 minutes skilfully introducing and accessible unknown concepts around the ideological epistemic underpinnings of exploitation and commodification.
I stop and wait.
In silence, I wonder if I have lost my mind. Did I say anything about Indians hating the empire? or the ills that we committed in South Asia? That arrow was in the quiver for a shot later in the gambit.
At this point, my driver walks up behind me (a Muslim man with a glorious beard, he follows the sunnah of the prophet (PBUH)).
It starts to make sense with his next comment.
“Well, your lot may not, but the Hindooos loved the British”.
The most straightforward reply is to calmly state that I’m a practising Hin*du* and possibly deconstruct the attack based on a perceived Muslimness; this is a shocking example of false islamophobia.
However, as a people committed to fighting oppression, we don’t get to pick our battles. Serving the equilibrium is easy when you have nothing to lose. The mark of integrity is shown when we sacrifice power to redress the balance. That get of jail free card is stamped with the same hate that my kith and kin who follow the words of Allah face daily.
I find myself in a place of dissonance, incongruence, there is respect, and there is harm. This is a novel feeling, the maintenance of day to day harm and civil discourse is my bread and butter. There is a recognition that struggles with the choice of solidarity, now attack me directly all you want, come for my people, and I’ll tell you about yourself. Yes, that’s in the notebook for my therapist at supervision.
I look over at my driver. We speak in non-verbal broken dialect of nods, facial movements and postures of the eye. As a non-Muslim, I don’t know what this is like; I do know, however, what it is like to watch good people stand silent in the face of oppression. A nod and tiny curl of the lips signifies of connection ends our secret conversation and transaction ‘I’ve got you’.
Couple this with the fact that clapping back at this white man will help neither myself, him or the equilibrium. We trudge on through the swampy quagmire, walking him home through this disorientating dilemma.
I then talk through the ideology of agnotology, complicit duplicity and epistemology of ignorance. As simple as possible through some expert pedagogy as articulate and calmly as when I was at the grindstone in the classroom.
“Well, all this makes you a racist.”
At this point, this is labour and not one of love. Now I have to explain that as a PoC, I cannot the racist in the way legal, academic and sociological frameworks utilise that word. That racism is systemic, and as a brown man, I cannot systemically disadvantage white folx.
It continues; he challenges our credentials and quesions.
“What have browns and Blacks done for mathematics? Physics ? Chemistry?”
my driver, obviously annoyed because he knows between us we hold four postgraduate qualifications, scoffs and says
” Erm, 1. You know Pran teaches physics and 2. His Tedx talk is on the website.”
there is a pause, and then
“It’s time to go the engines running.”
We dance again to the rhythm of undoing the harm of the education system. The idea of hurt and violence is not penetrating the hard shell. We talked about the variety of experiences that my driver and I had faced in the last three months, police violence, overt racism, and surprisingly we made progress. There is a flicker of empathy and possible self-reflection.
Then it comes crashing down; part two of a critical reflection is often accompanied by guilt and shame. It is always easier to run from those emotions than to reckon with and feel them wholly.
Then comes metaphorically another slap to our faces.
“Why do you hate Britain?”
My driver jumps in, giving me time to compose myself.
“Who hates Britain? This my, sorry, our home! Born and raised in London. Well I am. Pran is from the Midlands…”
As the sting of the slap embeds, the five fingers leave an instant tenderness of the skin; I am moved by the grace of God or the universe to heal my oppressors hate rather than soothe myself.
“Let’s us think about this; many of us are trying to make the place we live and love better in the UK. I would say that’s not a burden that’s given but the responsibility of all. Every politician, teacher, activist, campaigner, and lawyer I could go on take this on. Would we ever accuse Boris or Keir of hating our country? Or is that solely reserved for brown and black folx.
“Yes, yes, You need to forget all this and integrate, work hard and make the most of it.”
Forlorn and tired from this unpaid exertion. I flip the narrative.
“Do you understand how easy it is for you to exist in this world as a man racialised as white? To not worry about your safety and about those you love? “
Through clenched teeth and watering eyes, we relayed a incident of individualised and systemic racism we experienced together that week.
“Those things will and can never happen to you, and so could you spend 10 seconds, sir, and reflect on the impact of you asking us to forget and continue to carry on has.”
This request falls on deaf ears.
“No. My mother was attacked because of antisemitism whilst pregnant – I know hate.”
This is not a war, well, not from our side of the shop floor. This is about sharing experiences. We reply in unison.
I go on.
“That’s a terrible thing to have experienced. Let make sure that this doesn’t ever happen again to anyone. We stand with you.”
The instinct to run is now in full flow. The flight button is pressed.
“I can’t talk about this anymore – it’s too upsetting.”
He says, turning on his heels and walking away.
My driver and I – look at each other, again no words leave our lips. Although we are silent, the message is clear. We don’t get to walk away from our oppression. It is our burden, and today also it is our responsibility to eradicate it. ‘This is the price we pay’ we are left both wondering what the transaction is for and what we get in return.
The white flight, the distraction, the near tears are exhausting. We leave that shop through open automatic doors, both whispering silent and silent prayers.
Turn to each other, and in earnest, smile –
“We did our best today.”