British-Asian – this is me. But what does this really mean? Am I British first and then Asian?
For many of us there is a very blurred line between the culture we like to identify ourselves with and the culture we are expected to conform to.
I was born in East London and raised in Essex. For most of my life I have been mostly surrounded by White, British people. I was one of the few non-white students in my year group, both in primary and secondary school.
At an early age I began to realise the obvious, and the not-so-obvious, differences between my upbringing and the way in which my friends were raised. Our cultural differences became increasingly prominent as my social perspective broadened. I’m not going to go into the details of an Asian upbringing in this post (I’ll leave that for another day), but these cultural differences shaped my mentality and behaviour in a way which left me lacking concrete cultural identity. I say this because in spite of my upbringing, outside of my household the only culture I was exposed to was White, British culture.
The problem that we have is that we are being pulled towards a culture dictated by our social environment, but simultaneously we are stretched the other way to the culture of our ethnic heritage. My Pakistani parents place a high regard on our cultural traditions – that’s understandable. What I notice is that each generation waters down the culture of their parents to adapt to the current environment. This has left us with a fluid, hybrid mix of different influences. We are culturally ambiguous.
But how “white” or “ethnic” should you really be?
You’re judged on how much you fall into either category based on the way you speak, the music you listen to, the clothes you wear and the people you spend time with. Asians, if someone believes that you are “too white” you’re labelled a “coconut” but if someone believes that you are “too ethnic”, well then then you’re “fresh”. Of course I fully understand that these comments are mostly light-hearted; however, from a broader perspective, I am certain that there is an implicit expectation of ethnic minorities that runs deep within our very own society.
If I compare myself to other “British-Asians” I know a lot of people who would tell me “Danny you’re too white”, whereas some others might say the opposite. You don’t fully belong with the white Brits or with the Asian Brits – you don’t hold enough of the mannerisms of either culture. This leaves you hanging in the middle, wandering between the two and adopting each side of the spectrum’s values every time you lean too far to one side. This is cultural ambiguity.
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” – Marcus Garvey
My personal opinion is that culture is a process. By this, I mean that it’s constantly changing and adapting to our environment whilst holding on to some of the core values that have been cemented into our heritage. Unfortunately the generations before us might not see it that way – some say that many traditions should always be upheld. This resistance causes tension and cultural conflict between us and the generations above us.
Don’t blindly follow a way of living for the sake of cultural approval. We live in one of the most culturally diverse Western countries and we should fully embrace this head on. Who’s to say that one way of living is better than another? Learn from the lifestyle of others and then consciously define your own culture.
I’d be interested to hear your perspective on cultural identity and how it moulds you as a person – let me know in the comments below.