A lot has been happening in the world, and within our family. Many new emotions, thoughts, obstacles, hurdles, and even quests! The one I want to write about today is the decision we had to make about whether or not to share information about racism and oppression based on what is currently transpiring in the US (and even Canada) – the Black Lives Matter movement with our nine year old son Kaelen.
Racism, classism, sexism, oppression are not terms we were introduced to only in a theoretical sense. Karthik and I were both born in India. I was born in India to a Sikh family in Chandigarh. We lived as a ‘joint family’ for the first three years of my life. We then moved to Patiala, Punjab, and lived there through the 80s until we moved to Toronto. In Patiala, even in St. Peter’s Academy, the catholic school that I attended, we could sense that we were different than the sisters and fathers that ran the school, and from Hindu kids that were our classmates. Poorer kids could be made out, even though we had uniforms and all of us received the same education. Children that spoke English well were considered superior and mostly belonged to well educated and well-off families. These were just “givens” of the school culture growing up.
The reason that I mentioned living in Punjab through the 1980s is because it was a primarily Sikh state, and because of the brutally violent and divisive times the country, especially the North, and particularly the state of Punjab went through. Oppression. Discrimination. Against Sikhs. We lived through that. We survived through the riots. We lived through the killings. We survived. Our Sikh family survived.
I was a young child in the 80s. Oblivious. And I felt absolutely no sense of fear. My parents didn’t let the external reality seep into our family life (or not that I noticed). Everything was still normal and happy and exciting. I didn’t know why my brother and I were often sent off to my grandparents’ or uncle/aunt’s houses in Chandigarh to stay with. “So many vacations – hooray!” Though my parents did their best to protect us from the harsh reality of that time, they couldn’t protect us from the harsh treatment my mother experienced from my grandmother (father’s side) since we often witnessed it ourselves – and it shaped the way I saw her for the rest of her life. But that’s besides the point.
They also kept us protected from the tough reality when they were desperate to leave India – when my father’s life was threatened multiple times. He was a divisional manager for an insurance company, but the problem for many was that he was not corrupt. They needed him to be in their pockets. He refused. After realizing how much danger our entire family’s lives were in while living there, my parents had to get out, and so we did. But even then, I didn’t know. I was never introduced to that fearsome reality at the age of eleven.
After we moved here, life was absolutely not what we expected it to be. My father experienced extreme racism and couldn’t land a job because he wore a turban. My mother experienced emotional trauma at the hands of her brother and his wife whom we lived with for a while since my father couldn’t get employment. We all experienced abuse at their hands actually – they were awful. It was like living with Cinderella’s aunt. My parents didn’t share how truly bad things were even then by baring the brunt of their abuse and hiding the real ugliness from us. But we saw enough, as we were experiencing it quite a bit ourselves. Until this day, I feel the raunchy feeling of hatred towards them thinking how can humans treat others that way, especially their own family. That feeling will never leave.
As new immigrant students, my brother and I experienced our own abuse. We were not just new students, but different than the majority of the school’s white population. Kids can be harsh, and boy they were! I was smarter than them because our education in India was much superior, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was the way I sounded and the way I looked. My brother’s turban was an obvious target. We didn’t share our pain with our parents, or even with each other. We were so busy protecting our small family from all that each of us was facing individually and together. Instead, we cooperated, provided each other with strength, and banded together to move the fuck out of that awful house and finally find peace living without further abuse.
On our own, my family worked hard, supported each other, and finally found success. I have been working since I was fourteen to pay for myself. We studied on OSAP. We found jobs right after school. My parents provided us a safe space, unconditional love, and lots of trust to explore our individualities. We all faced racism. Every single one of us. Some of our life trajectories have changed because of it. How could I have returned for the second day at the Rudolf Steiner center to train to be teacher after experiencing what I did as a brown woman? Sure it was a week or two after 9/11 and a lot of white folk were experiencing turbulent emotions, but I had nothing to do with those unfortunate events just because of the colour of my skin! I wasn’t part of the problem. They were. We all faced oppression. We still do.
Today there is no one to shield me from reality when it gets hard. It’s been a while actually. Many tough truths have come along my path. The very latest – murder of a black man at the hands of a white policeman in Minneapolis, that we all watched and heard. This has stirred the BLM movement back up, and it is extremely important for humanity in my opinion. Black folk have suffered the most in this world, and for so very many damn years. It truly is painful to think about the oppression the black community has faced and continues to face across the globe. Every nationality seems to put white people on a pedestal and has for much too long! I have experienced this personally. I have tried to be more “white” or run from my “brown-ness” in the past. It shames me that I too held people on a pedestal because of their skin colour, and put myself down because of my own. That’s what moving to Canada initially did. That’s what the abuse did. That’s how I thought I could protect myself. But no. The abuse continued and still does. People think we can’t see it, but it’s there. And it is shameful and disgusting. Superiority because of the colour of their skin – ridiculous! Their absolutely useless privilege that they can’t even see. It’s pathetic, and the reality is hurtful. Worse – so many say they are aware of their privilege and are not racist, but do not even utter a word to stand up for those oppressed.
In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.Martin Luther King, Jr.
I can see from my past that whenever I have experienced injustice myself, it has left emotional scars that prevent me from calmly addressing similar situations or incidences. I can see that I hold a judgment towards those that have inflicted those injustices towards me even for unrelated actions they carry out. I don’t think out of love but anger and hatred instead.
If I didn’t have these incidences to reflect upon now, I wouldn’t have wondered whether to share the harsh reality of today with our son. Questioning whether to share reality or not with this innocent munchkin has been important, especially when I read posts on Facebook asking parents to share the truth with their kids, or when I see people taking their young children to protests. I have wondered if we shelter Kaelen too much. I wonder if we are letting him live in this ‘fantastical’ world of imagination and rainbows/sunshine too long. I mean, he cannot escape some truths – of when Karthik and I fight, of how dangerous Covid-19 is, or seeing me broken after my aunt (who was like a mother to me) passed away last week. We can’t protect him from those incidences as much as we have tried. But finally, Karthik and I have decided, he is too young for other realities.
At the age of nine, we would rather him listen to his music and audio-books, play with LEGO and light sabers, create board games, help slice maki rolls, write and illustrate trilogies, get over his fear of adventurous bike stunts, and maybe even get over his fear of bees (killer hornets these days) and his annoyance with spiders. We are hoping that this safe space to learn and grow will also grow his ability to put any fearful reality in perspective. He will have many brutal realities to deal with in his lifetime just as we all do. He will have a chance to muster his strength, his resolve, his judgement then – hopefully coming from a place of love and knowledge, instead of fear, hatred and ignorance. By restraining ourselves to share everything with him now, we can do our best to provide him the space to cultivate as a whole. We accept our privilege of having this option, and are extremely grateful for it, recognizing that many don’t. We have decided to let him continue to be in wonderland for now!