Being away from my country, I am having a difficult time processing world affairs, especially the killing of George Floyd, which has left many around the world, including me, speechless, angry and stunned. To all the black people who have long and continue to suffer the systematic oppression in Western countries, especially in the United States (US), I stand with all of you.
I don’t understand or can gauge your pain, but in silence, words, and action, I am with you.
Respecting the suffering of African-Americans, I would like to bring to limelight the racial stigmas related to being black or a dark-toned person in Pakistan. For hundreds of years, having a dark complexion has been looked down upon in South Asian countries. Pakistanis are no less, where a dark skin shade is culturally wired in our brains as synonymous with poverty, illiteracy, and slavery.
I won’t be overstating that all of us have been racist at some point in our life, be it casually, unintentionally, or knowingly. To me, it seems that we are in a race to be whiter than white people. For us, our sense of pride is skyrocketed when someone compliments our facial colour and delivery of the English language. As a result, we adopt practices that corrupt society at large and infuses it with just not racism but injustice too.
“It is just not the educational system, but this racism is systematic and deep-rooted in our societies, for which we are equally responsible. There are racial slurs pretty standard such as “Kalia,” “Kali,” or “Kalu” to disrespectfully address someone with a dark skin tone. As if their measurement of respect comes with the shade of your body.”
I am sure, like many others, I had a strange experience of unintentional racism through our education system. We were repeatedly lectured on how Islam treats everyone equally. The guiding example of Prophet Muhammad (PUBH) was quoted now and then, on how despite resistance from Arab society, he (PUBH) appointed Bilal ibn Rabah to call the first prayers, but in the same breath, our very teachers favour kids with a fairer skin tone. Those kids were likely to become your teachers’ favorite students. I also heard remarks such as, “OMG! You are so beautiful because you are white” or rejoining the classes after the summer break; one teacher unforgivingly remarked, “What have you done during your summer break, you have become so black!”
It is just not the educational system, but this racism is systematic and deep-rooted in our societies, for which we are equally responsible. There are racial slurs pretty standard such as “Kalia,” “Kali,” or “Kalu” to disrespectfully address someone with a dark skin tone. As if their measurement of respect comes with the shade of your body. It doesn’t stop there; brown parents want a fairer daughter-in-law for their son, which helps them boost their societal pride as if she is a commodity or a showpiece. In the same bid, women are obliged to use fairness creams so that they can wed their prince charming.
I have always had a difficult time coping with advertisements prescribing color change possibility with-in 20 days of regular use. To add further, I knew someone who went to the US for higher education and wanted to marry an African-American. The family back in Pakistan didn’t approve of the marriage, objecting to her appearance. Similarly, I think of all women in Pakistan whose wedding proposals are causally rejected, on being dark. The amount of trauma and stress it leaves the person with, is unexplainable.
“I can write a long speech about how I support the black lives movement in the US, but my head continues to bow down in shame because the ones in Pakistan are treated far worse.”
I, however, am still speaking from a privileged position of being a man and can hardly relate to the suffering of women in Pakistan.
We often criticise US authorities for the handling of black people, but it is worse here in Pakistan. From security guards to cab drivers, the initial mental framework of respect is proportional to someone’s fairness. These and many other instances add up to racism at all levels in Pakistan. I can write a long speech about how I support the black lives movement in the US, but my head continues to bow down in shame because the ones in Pakistan are treated far worse. I, therefore, pick to criticise my own country and culture, with an ambition to change myself and the people around me in understanding that somebody’s colour should not be a measurement of their ability, intelligence, worth or respect.
Please remember when you lash out at white people with #blacklivesmatter hashtags on your digital channels. Use your presence to be the voice of those who are unheard or racially abused in Pakistan. Whatever inspires you in your life, be it religion, science, or culture, let’s reform our vocabulary and lifestyle, and celebrate people beyond their color, ethnicity, race or gender.