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illustration by Rosa O'Mara @8bitrosa

Whitewashing

words by Safiya Bashir

It is a funny thing to hold the pencil and rub out one’s own multitude of histories. To take the rubber in my hand and for the sake of blending more seamlessly into my often white surroundings, erase away that what makes me most colourful.

The stories, the hopes, the realities, the hard work, the cultures from the generations of people that have culminated to make the whole woman that writes this today.

The rich and diverse history of my family members and background and childhood have interwoven to make a tapestry made up of Islam, Pakistani culture, a love for family, community, hard work, eternal optimism to seamlessly and inexplicably create a person I am nothing but proud to identify as.

So why, when faced with questions from a stranger demanding to know where I am really from, why my parents don’t drink, or show interest in my Pakistani heritage, do I awkwardly feign disinterest?

When telling stories, I filter out the mass family gatherings, the Bollywood music constantly playing from the kitchen and the tedious arguments with my mum about the appropriate length of my dress. Instead, I find myself solely telling stories of ski holidays, trips to the regatta and growing up amid middle-class Bristol.

I erase the red from wedding Saris, the yellow from home-cooked dhaal and the brown faces of my ancestors,

leaving nothing but an off white pallet that will be more passable and least noticeable, when for the more often than not times I am the only person of colour in a room.

To whitewash oneself is to erase the beautiful and complex histories that make us exactly who we are. To whitewash oneself is to remove the variety of our vibrant communities. To whitewash oneself is to say avoid saying proudly that my parents are Muslim, my Grandparents struggled to make a living for us in this country and my favourite food is my Nannyjaan’s freshly made parathas.

So the next time I engage with those who wish to know more about my brown face and what that might mean, I shall tell them about the array of colours it comes with. To be proud of my differences, celebrate my whole self and claim the Technicolor threads of my family histories.

illustration by Rosa O’Mara

See more of Rosa’s work on instagram here

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