The ambition to succeed should never be at the cost of hiding your past, upbringing and locality; be proud of where you come from.
Why do some of us lose our tongues in the face of social class anxieties, or political injustice? This isn’t about being scared, or worrying about reprisals against one’s person or family. By speaking out against injustice, lots of people are doing this anonymously, most of us will never be in the firing line, especially when we live thousands of miles away from the arenas of the ‘conflicts’.
I’m merely observing an inconsistency in behaviour, which can be a little hypocritical at times and bandwagonish. Problems are raging in our own backyards, but some of us are concerned about the oppressed elsewhere. It seems they want to be involved in popular causes that don’t impact them directly, joining the rallies of ‘victims’ 1000s of miles away from home, hanging out with their fraternities in exile. They’ll go as far as collecting money for the poor, downtrodden, and dispossessed ‘victims’, shedding tears for their dead. They never once turn their gaze to the victims closer to home, the poor and dispossessed souls from their own societies.
Britain is full of dispossessed souls, victims of structural inequalities and social class bigotry, but that’s another story for another day.
As someone with roots in the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir – a conflict region in the Western Himalaya, I suppose one way of framing this conversation is to look at my own experience within the context of identity politics and conflict. Indian and Pakistani state-actors are currently fighting over my grandparent’s homeland – a piece of “land”, some 85 thousand square miles of resource-rich territory. Peoples in all parts of this State have been wronged, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Sunni, Shia, people of no faith (there’s a few of them), Christians, whatever the ethnic or social background of the victims. Muslim Kashmiris in the UK seem to be more concerned about Palestinian Muslims – (without minimising the plight of Palestinians; note, Palestinians and Israelis are both victims of egregious conflict. Absolutely, Israeli children, mothers, fathers, the elderly are victims of ‘conflict’ too).
But, why are some people energised by the suffering of one people, but not concerned the suffering of others? Why constantly speak about Isreali crimes against Palestinians, but never speak about Chinese crimes against the Turkic Uighur Muslims? I don’t think it’s because they don’t know about these inhumane conflicts; who hasn’t heard of the Kashmir Conflict? It’s because some people fare more important in their imaginations. People create hierarchies in their minds, and they accord “victimhood” according to that hierarchy.
If you think I’m making this up, ask yourself why media companies hired by charities, feed into stereotypes, handpicking “victims” for their “telegenic” qualities? Skinny people are not the only victims of war, or hunger. The media openly exploits latent prejudices widespread in our societies; no one cares because they get the job done courtesy of the big fees they’ve accrued. This tells us a lot about the societies we live in – a materialistic society where people are valorised because of their material possessions, fame, physical appearances, social backgrounds, status, it’s an endless list of superficial qualities worshipped to the point of no return.
You don’t think it’s odd that we’re made to feel sorry for children who are “telegenic”? What about the children who are not telegenic, are they less worthy to be seen on our screens Even in human suffering, the same priorities are deployed by marketing companies for charities, as those employed by fashion or modelling agencies selling their products to consumers searching for the next “fix”.
You think alcoholics and gamblers are the only “addicts” out there? Some people have become addicts to false priorities that do not even enrich their lives, without these addictions, they could not survive.
Try doing something different. Don’t wear make-up when you go to work tomorrow, change your high heals for flats. If you’re a man, shave your beard you’ve lovingly groomed courtesy of the changing fashions. I’m not saying following fashions religiously is an addiction, far from it. I’m saying some people can only function through conventional norms. The fear of not following a herd is a death sentence to them, and the societies we live in make this all the more possible. Not only are our fashions mainstreamed, but even the people we like and dislike are mainstreamed; our sympathies are manipulated and we never question what we’re being spoonfed.
Are we really individuals with our opinions? Do we really believe that the people we’re imitating are deserving of that status? By conscientiously following celebrities and their fashions courtesy of the people paying them huge fees to sell their products to us, are our lives really being enriched?
It’s never occurred to you about the near absence of South Asian “British” models in British commercials, on catwalks, in British catalogues? Are good looking people missing from the British Asian community? A serious question? Or, is it because of how “Asians” are being presented by big media and fashion houses implanting false ideas in our minds about what constitutes “cool” and saleable?
Asians are consumers, right? Asians are apparently smart? So, they’re allowed to grace the studies of News Stations, or offer expert advice on medicine and nutrition. You don’t think there’s something perverse about how individuals from diverse communities are stereotypically presented because of an imposed identity that renders them smart but not “cool” for the brands being sold by decision-makers in charge of marketing budgets? How did East Asians become less masculine than African Americans? Am I alone in thinking it’s perverse to hear from some women that they’re not attracted to members of their own race, group or ethnicity, because it’s their choice? So, being manipulated is akin to exercising personal autonomy. May be I don’t understand how evolution works, but aside from race being a social construct, who put the particular idea in the minds of naive and impressionable women that some people are “cool” whilst others aren’t?
Who are the people who create the stereotypes around fashionable and non-fashionable groups and then set the budgets? Why are they never challenged about the fictions they promote? There are implications for how imposed group fictions are perceived in the wider society and how stereotypes define an entire generation born and raised in the UK, who think to get ahead in life they have to succumb to people’s expectations and deny something of themselves.
Stereotypes are dangerous when they’re mainstreamed
Think of it like this, why do some people demean the “Indian” English accent? How things are different when a “white” person calls a “brown” person a “Paki” – “OMG” – that’s racism! But, you weren’t being racist when you laughed at the Indian or Pakistani accent, it sounded funny to you. Have you ever laughed at someone speaking English with a French accent? You’re quick to laugh at someone speaking English with a Nigerian or “African” accent.
You’ve probably never thought once about these social realities.
There’s no conspiracy when I tell you that the world we live in is unjust and unfair to the least powerful people on earth because of circumstances beyond their control. This is about power and how it is exercised unjustly; it has nothing to do with the inherent value of people, groups or identities. Millions of ordinary individuals are “imagined” on account of group-identities imposed upon them by power-dynamics.
Most people are products of their environment, not because they are social animals interacting with their environment, but because they’ve never questioned the things they take for granted as “common sense” truths. They’ve allowed themselves to be regimented into conventional norms. They let individuals with power do all the thinking for them – falsely equating this with a “correct” way of existing”.
Back in the days when people were genuine
Let me try and re-frame this discussion through our experiences growing up. Life was less complicated when we were growing up. It was blissful on account of not having to think too much! We still had a sense of unequal power-relations; we understood the difference between the “in-crowd” and the outsiders. We knew who was cool and who wasn’t, like “the nerds”. And let’s face it, lots of people gravitated to the cool kids, even when they behaved like complete morons – the more obnoxious a “twat”, the more “cool” he seemed. This would be akin to similar antics within our wider society, between the dominant group and those existing on its fringe. If individual members of the dominant group deserve censure because they’ve behaved objectionably, the group still retains social respectability on account of power relations we take for granted.
How often does the media blame rich, powerful people on account of their “mainstream” identities for the actions of individual members? How often do we blame respectable groups for the actions of their individuals? Yet, we are always being encouraged to criticise powerless groups, courtesy of mainstream media for the “criminal” infractions of individual members. How many of us make a point of criticising the groups of our more respectable peers for one or another individual “infraction”?
Is it because we want to appear ‘inoffensive’ to people who we look up to, because of the social dividends that come by way of behaving like this? We value ‘social connections’ so much that we think we could get ahead in life by ingratiating ourselves to people with power – the “in-crowd.” We want to belong to this particular group. It’s easy belonging to this group. Its place in society is guaranteed, its status is celebrated effortlessly by the mainstream, this is why they insist on having a revolving door to themselves.
In many societies around the world, we have negative expressions for such behavioural tendencies; understandably the social phenomenon in question exists everywhere. It’s connected with power-relations; some people are important, others are not. The important people have power, social prestige and privilege, what we otherwise call the hallmarks of the dominant group. The ‘not-so’ important people have none of this. If you happen to come from the fringe of a society’s power structure – the fringe group, you want to join the ranks of the dominant group, and you’ll do everything possible to get there, even if it means ‘poo-pooing’ your former lives.
Lots of people do this, without realising that they’re the first to make hatred against their own dispossessed group acceptable. To get a leg up, they worship social connections, and once they’ve left their former lives, they hate on it to prove they were never from it.
Social climbing is a pejorative expression used for aspects of upward mobility, which in itself, is not a bad thing. Becoming rich or socially affluent are not a bad thing, although one can see how people start to distance themselves from their “past”, their original “peers”, even their “forebears”.
For lots of us, when we were free-spirited adolescents, with little care for our future prospects, we used to look disfavourably upon such antics. But as we matured in our increasingly materialistic social worlds, we started to think of the social dividends of such behaviour. There’s always something inherently honest about young people, until they have to compete with each other for the things society values.
In the decades that followed, a lot changed, and we became something else. We joined a rat race and we gradually lost our values and principles. We started to coalesce with the respectable members of society, forgetting about the struggles of all those who came before us.
Our adolescent years were also a time to be ourselves. We were trying to find ourselves in the midst of people who were similarly trying to find themselves. No one really cared about saying the right things or being anodyne. What you said came naturally to you, if you happened to be wrong it wasn’t the end of a friendship. From this cadre, we had the beginnings of the contrarians and those who refused to be silenced because they had an opinion that they wanted to share. Social change usually comes through the originality of such people, whether people intensely detest them because of herd-mentality. If you think about it – it’s usually the herd that props up systems of injustice everywhere.
The contrarions never once self-censored. They didn’t care about ‘social respectability’, or how they were perceived by their peers; they said what was on their minds.
But in the world of the upwardly mobile “go getter”, there’s a price for this kind of ‘authenticity’. In this world, vocations are little more than careers. They tip-toe around themselves trying to placate their new ‘friends’. They want them to know they’re really like them, and not the people they were previously associated with; if ever the past-connection was to become known, god-forbid, they would be mortified! They want to positively efface themselves of their former lives because this is the price for ‘fitting-in’, moving out of natural personas into new facade-ridden ‘identities’. If they mess up in this social environment, it’s as if the entire planet will combust!
Social climbing, and I’m speaking about the negative aspects of upward mobility, leads to intellectual-regress. The two are connected that they’re really two sides of the same coin. You no longer think for yourself. You no longer speak for yourself. You content yourself with being a sheep of popular fashions, attitudes, of conventional wisdom, because it’s the safest option. You huddle with likeminded sheep who look the part, speak the part, dress the part, think the part.
You’ll never speak up if something is wrong, because you want the permanent approval of your new peers, society’s icons – because you’re scared of becoming exposed as an ‘imposter’! You self-censor to the extent of losing your intellectual integrity. You are content to view the world through the prism of outsiders. It doesn’t matter how they behave towards your former peers, or how prejudicial their views are, even as some of them were less benign to your parents’ or grandparents’ generation.
You are now someone else.
Behaving like this boils down to not having personal integrity I’m afraid. We think it’s natural progression from our early years of trying to better ourselves socially (“progress”). It isn’t. Trying to emulate those with ‘power’ because you formerly lacked it, is more about you than the people who have power, and those who don’t. The dominant group in any society self-perpetuates because it has people like you wafting around it, prepared to join at the cost of becoming its less-respectable counterfeit extension. Perhaps, if you do enough grovelling, they’ll let you into their inner sanctum, and you wont feel the need to be ‘insecure’ all the time.
If you’re lucky in your own lifetime, you’ll forget about your upbringing. If you can’t, you’ll positively hate on your ‘people’ to prove that you’re not from them. A lot of what we read about ‘bad communities’, ‘bad ethnic groups’, ‘bad nationalities’ is usually at the behest of people who’ve just joined the dominant group. You can literally sense insecurities in their redemptive words or “exculpatory” writings.
Think of it like this, aristocrats couldn’t care one iota about the people at the bottom of the social pecking order, they are comfortable in their skin. They have nothing to prove. It’s usually upwardly mobile people trying to enter some middle class, from humble backgrounds, crucially when they morph into the social climber, who produce a lot of the dribble you read about ‘dysfunctional communities’ in our midst.
The mainstream media loves such stories because it’s a justification to despise the delinquents in our midst, it’s not as if the “narrators” are doing the “hating” from outside the fringe group. Nope. It’s the “good”, “righteous”, “well-balanced”, “progressive”, “objective” insiders that are actually doing the hating. “It’s not racist when the insiders spill the beans courtesy of those they now emulate”, they’ll say.
Individuals who behave like this have no intellectual integrity. It has nothing to do with progress or modern values. It’s about getting ahead in life at all costs and proving oneself to one’s new peers.
To have intellectual integrity, you have to be invested in your own person, your own beliefs and you don’t care how uncomfortable your beliefs make people feel. You express your views because you genuinely believe them to be true – you are invested in your worldview – whatever the social consequences of espousing such ideas. As I’ve said, the people with the greatest chance of changing their societies are fiercely independent, and they are positively disliked by the powers-be because they refuse to become sheep, history bears out their struggles. These pioneers refuse to emulate those in power, and directly challenge them.
It’s usually these sorts of people who change their societies for the better, and not the sheep who want to drape themselves in the flags of their ruling peers. When things go wrong, our self-hating social climbers try to find another powerful tribe they can join, and they start the whole process again of doing someone else’s bidding. They overcompensate to be like their new admired peers, even as they lose even more of themselves.
Hear me, when I say this to you, you’ll never find contentment by being like this, because you don’t know who you are. And it’s not too late, you can still find yourself from amongst your own locality and upbringing – challenging injustice in your midst rejecting the demonisation of outsiders.
By becoming someone else, ‘social climbing’ your way to some imagined social utopia, means you’ve never once looked in the mirror and said, who am I really? Where did I come from? By being yourself, you’ll start asking questions about your roots, your beginnings, your parent’s life stories, about your forebears, their struggles, about neighbours, the people ‘hating’ on you. You’ll start pondering why some people are celebrated whilst others are not; why do we have ‘victors’ and ‘losers’, ‘rich and poor’, why does the world seem so unjust. Was this all by accident?
And it’s then your mind will become perturbed.
But you’ll never self-hate again. You’ll have more self-respect.
You won’t feel the need to belong to the right ‘tribe’ for the sake of getting ahead in life. You’ll speak your mind because your words reflect who you really are, and you don’t need a tribe or a group to validate your social worth. Your personal experiences will validate your words, and that’s just fine. And if it turned out you were wrong in your observations, terribly wrong, no biggy, you still had intellectual integrity, from which your personal integrity comes.
You’ll simply change your views, because it’s the right thing to do.
For social climbers, no amount of social climbing and self-hatred of their former lives is going to bestow upon them personal integrity even though they hold fastidious to their new ‘social status’. If that’s the price they want to pay for losing themselves for upward mobility and social status, then I guess their new peers are welcome to have them! I just feel sorry for their children who are orphaned from the life-stories of their forbears knowing nothing of their true origins, now looking down at others who came from the same stock all those generations ago.
In sharing my thoughts, I am not speaking about the hundreds and thousands of ordinary people from Britain, who speak up against social and political injustice, even if it means going against their social group, families and extended networks. The social and political equality we enjoy in Britain, by no means perfect, is the cumulative struggles of people demanding rights for everyone.
You may not know their names, or the sacrifices they made for human rights and liberties, but this is why Britain has so much it can be proud of, even as it once had an Empire. These unnamed heroes challenged unjust authority (good authority is to be celebrated), were ostracised, demonised, victimised, their personal integrity assassinated, but they never gave up. Ultimately, they succeeded, and we now enjoy the fruits of their activism. This is one of the least celebrated aspects of British values, but it is symbolised in the idea of the “underdog”. Brits love the underdog, and we should always be proud of the “underdog” status.
As for giving the Kashmir example, I am making the point, that Pakistan-administered-Kashmir (‘A’JK) is being exploited by Pakistan Officialdom (not ordinary Pakistanis. The vast majority of ordinary people, like ordinary Pakistanis, are good people whatever the illusory group identities unaccountable elites assume for themselves). AJK’s 1 million strong diaspora from the old Jammu & Kashmir region, now domiciled in the UK is silent, with the sole exception of the “Kashmiri” pro-independence activists, a lonely group of hardworking persons of conscience, who I don’t necessarily agree with because of their origin myths and politics; I’m a democrat not a nationalist, I’m at home anywhere in the world.
I am confused at the near silence of what is happening in so-called ‘Azad’ (Free) Jammu Kashmir whilst Pakistanis are quick to decry the crimes of India against Kashmiris in Indian-administered-Kashmir. I believe this is because of the dynamics I explained in my post, aside from politics and the national interests of countries; some well-placed members of our own community choose to remain silent, or side with Pakistan, because of an overarching sense of British-Pakistani respectability pitied at odds with AJK – a fringe place constantly demonised for being backwards and primitive. All manner of confirmation bias is sought to make the stereotypes stick. These imposed anxieties have weakened the resolve of the wider community to challenge Pakistan, as mainland Pakistanis in the UK, a tiny minority of unrepresentative actors have become gatekeepers to the British-AJK community. Howsoever we understand this imbalance, AJK and its diaspora are the biggest losers, not least because there is no shared sense of British-Pakistani fraternity between mainland British-Pakistanis and the people of ‘Azad’ Jammu Kashmir in the first place, regrettably I say. The ambiguous nature of AJK, and its corresponding identity as a separate territory to Pakistan, controlled by autocratic actors in Islamabad, has not helped. It’s time we accepted we do not originate from Pakistan but Jammu & Kashmir. We are proud Britons today, whose forebears came from undivided Jammu & Kashmir. Our loyalties lie with Britain and speaking truth to power.
Articles, Reports on “Kashmir” from News Agencies, UN and Human Rights Organisations
First-ever UN human rights report on Kashmir calls for international inquiry into multiple violations