Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The House Slave Syndrome

I visited someone in Oakville the other day. Bengali guy, new house in a new subdivision, housewarming party and all that. In the middle of showing me the house, the uncle turned to me and said, "You know what's the best part of this area? All around, for miles, no desis. All white people!"

He positively beamed as he said this.

I could only stare. I wish I could find it in me to be rude and reply, "Well, uncle, too bad your neighbours can't say the same thing!"

Sure, I can understand some of the issues if you live in an area where there's lots of Bengali people. I sympathize with you if you have to go to Crescent Town to deliver a pack of sweets to Kulsum Aunty because your brother got his G2 driver's license, and God forbid should you talk to any girl on the way there, because 4th floor's Rohima Aunty, the BBC of aunties, is ever Watching, and will report how you went on and on with the daughter from the new family who had just arrived from Kuwait, all because she held the door open for you as you had forgotten Kulsum Aunty's buzzer number.

Yes, that can be a problem.

But some people wear their dislike of people of their own race as a badge of honour, and this I cannot stomach.

For some reason, I just can't imagine a white guy saying the following.

"Well, Jim, this area is so good. No white trash for miles! All Jamaican, Tamil and Bengalis here. Delightful! I must tell you, I am sick of the bland cooking these white people do. When these brown guys cook in the middle of a hot summer afternoon, a delightful aroma fills the neighborhood - so exotic!"

This sort of post-colonial hangover is not just limited to finding a house in an area devoid of desis. It also appears in the form of people like Michelle Malkin, an American of Oriental descent who delights in telling the right-wing why the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War was a good thing. It appears in the form of the Muslim who thinks all hijab should be banned because "we" should "integrate".

I, for one, have no problem with other cultures. And I, also, do not have a problem with mine.

Now, in the tradition of a favourite blogger of mine (Samosa), I leave you with a video. They say the hijab and the niqab are supposed to make a women less alluring. Ya, right!


Em said...


I'm totally with you, I can't understand the sentiment at all.

I think the Kulsum/Rohima syndrome is less salient than that of filth... Drive into the Bengali part in town and you might - for a second - forget that windows serve purposes other than chucking rubbish out of. But it would be stupid to generalize that to ALL Bengalis/Desis.

BAN-ENG tomorrow. I'm nervous already :S.

mousehunter said...

I hear you. The whole, I don't like my kind thing. I can understand where an area is over-run by one kind of people or another, but diversity makes a community so much more interesting. My inlaws used to live in an area that was probably 85% Sikhs, each house with finished live in basement. So when the white guy with the H2 and boat moves in a couple doors down, you have to wonder if he did his homework or who his real estate agent was? Never know, the neighbourhood could be abuzz with chatter, "you see that brown guy that moved in? There goes the neighbourhood!"

Athena said...

Pshh she was barely wearing that hijab after the first scene :P.

BTW what movie is the song from? My friend made me listen to this song before on youtube but I didn't catch the name.

isheeta said...

that is an AWESOME song to listen to, esp at 4.30 in the morning, and the whole hijab thing adds to it, imo.

Maliha said...

I was wondering about that the other day, is it a class thing? Like people think to make it, they have to shed their cultures and "blend" into whiteness (and the measure of making it, increases as such?)

But its not just here, even back-home the richer people want to associate less with the masses... (I am using rich relatively loosely, but it could just be the upward mobile or wanna bes or whatever)

Squarecut said...

I wouldn't be surprised if I found out that BCB (BD cricket board) reads your blog or something. Anyway, Golla did get dropped, and Shahriar Nafees got in. You see, I knew it was tiem for Golla to go! HEHE!

And for the white neighborhood thing. DOn't blame it on the uncle only. THat's how it is exactly in every single race. Chinese folks also want to move in with the whites. The black kids be in the ghetto, and as soon as they get their professional jobs, they be the first people to abondon their black brothers. Same thing happen with the Arabs. ANd the desis too. I think I have only =seen Mexicans that are, mashaAllah, proud of their heritage.

Rawi said...

Good post, Mezba. Self-hatred is a pathology. Although of course, the self does not exist in a vacuum.

mezba said...

Em: As I watch now Bd are 9/1 with Tameem just gone. Damn!

As for the filth part, we don't see it in Toronto. I have been to Europe and we don't have these ghetto immigrant enclaves here (well, except Jane/Finch). So no filthy garbage from windows here.

Mousehunter: I like a diverse community too. Makes for interesting times. As long as your neighbours are decent people it's all good - and you need good fences.

Athena: It's the song "Maula Mere" from the movie Anwar. To (hija)be or not to (hija)be - that was the question.

Isheeta: It IS a great song isn't it? If you were on Facebook (hint hint) you would see my status and that song!

Maliha: I know what you say by class - there are some people here (I am thinking older black-rimmed glasses silver hair people) who just think because they speak with a little less accent and has a bookshelf full of Karl Marx books they are not brown any more. I never understood the self-hate.

Squarecut: Really? I was surprised as hell to see Shahriar back. Hope he makes runs. Hell, hope we ALL make runs and score 500+ and beat ENG to a pulp. *sigh* 23-2 now.

I would have to do something on this move with the whites thing. Why is it like that? You will see good neighborhoods (clean, lawn mowed, less crime) are white - so I don't blame some people for wanting to move there. Higher property values, good school and all that.

Why is it that immigrants = bad neighborhood? I will have to examine this aspect more.

Rawi: true said.

Anjum (barsaat) said...

great subject to post on, I'm of the same position as you - while I try to keep away from too much exposure to desi society because of the watching and the gossiping and desi snobbery (like the uncle's comment), at the same time I do love spending time within our culture and ppl.

Funny thing is, I live in one of those new big-house suburban developments, and about one third of the community is desi - from gujju to punjabi, the whole range! and I like it. When I see the sardar uncle taking his after-dinner walk in his powder blue turban, kurta pajama, and blazer.. it makes me smile.

Anonymous said...

I would love to be in a community which is mixed. Many places that have the same culture concentrated in one area usually end up getting a bad rep! I would want good neighbours who will respect me and vice versa. I know this couple that avoids eye-contact whenever we meet them (desis), I guess they must have mistaken me to be a desi too, so, these days, I *pretend* I don't see them too. So sad, I want nothing from them,wish they knew that! Nice song btw.:) sf

isheeta said...

aww shucks mezba!

its ok, i'll spy u with my brother's profile if I have to... dont be surprised if a strange dude pokes u for no particular reason! lol

'liya said...

I probably would have pointed to his arm and said "um hello, but you're brown"... I just don't understand that type of thinking

My street is the best, on one side I have Greek, on the other side Indian, and opposite is an African family and then an Italian one. Diversity is the best.

ABCDlaw said...

Ok I'm going to come out and say that No desis around for miles seems really appealing to me. Its not that I'm ashamed of my ethnicity as I am scared of the gossip mongers. I live in a VERY small community and was often talked about because I was the only kid without a mom to shut up all the other aunties, so I was an easy target. My teenage stories were embellished and spread around.

I also found out that my desi 'friends' would often use any 'dirt' they could on me and run and tell mommy, even stuff I told them in confidence, as a friend would later end up circulating, with additions of course. I'm hoping that my experiences were unique, and that most desi communities aren't like this, but it did leave me scarred. That's why whenever I'm out and about, and I see a aunty, I immediately tense up and do a mental check. Most of the time, Ammi will receive a call later about how my clothes (like a sweat suit I may wear to run a quick errand to the grocery store) was unislamic, why was I out so late, and so on. It's not safe for me to go out with my cousins either. I went to the movie with one and an aunty saw us driving there together and pretty soon the whole community kept talking about my 'boyfriend' and how I was dating someone. People he was my cousin! You'd think people would have better things to do than talk about a girl, especially when ALL these aunties kids were off doing god knows what, but no. I was a favorite target.

So after having experienced this, I honestly would prefer a less desi populated place, just because I never want to go through what I did again. I hope that I meet some awesome diverse people when I move, and who knows, being in a 'white' state may actually make me want to seek out desis :)

Athena said...

I kind of agree with abcdlaw. Also, I 'd love to live in a diverse community but yeah, I don't want to live around desis only either :P. I like how it is now. Some close family friends live 5 mins drive away but that's it.

Somehow every time there are too many desis who live near each other, there's a whole lot of unnecessary poltics and crap.

Squarecut said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
isheeta said...

ABCDlaw, shut me up if I say anything out of turn here... but.. well, I have to disagree.

The problem isn't a desi place populated with desi people, but a desi place sourrounded by NOSY desi people. Contrary to popular belief, not every desi is a nosy desi person. Having said that, this means there are places out there where not every desi person is out to get the other desi person (although, yes, this IS rare!) This then leads one to conclude that you're better off living off in a non-desi community.

At the same time, from your blog and from what you've described.... it seems to me that the problem with you living in a place less populated with desis is not desis iteself, but with the relatives itself, who happen to take the fun out of your life by their intrusion in yours.

Not all desi people are alike. Especially if you live in a more modern, young desi ville (like the newer suburbia towns here near Toronto). I find it funny how you wearing a sweatshirt/trackpants can be constituted as unislamic by these auntijis.... but then they are auntijis, and anything thats not a jubba is unislamic. They're also your relatives, who just seem very bitter/jealous people and who really seem like always taking you for granted. I mean, a sweatshirt is the most comfiest get up anybody can wear. Its like wearing a shalwar in my opinion! baggy, comfy, and canbe pretty too! I live in desiville as well.... so I am surrounded by relatives as well as desi people. However, there is a big difference in how I am viewed by moderate relatives, vs conservative relatives.... and I have to say, when the latter say anything stupid to me, its like water off a duck's back.

Why am I yapping about this? I remember Irshad Manji wrote a book called "the trouble with Islam". When I went to RIS, one of the speakers said "the problem is not with islam, the problem is with muslims!" So, imo, the problem isn't the desi town itself, its the small number of people with their shallow mindsets who make it hell for others!

You're a future lawyer with ample debating experience, so I will shut up because I am probably making no sense! But I did want to mention that when you do move to Ozland, which will be a change of scenery for you, you will see a more different, side of desi poeple who won't be breathing down your neck because they won't be so closely connected with you. Ive got cousins in australia, and families there are just so more relaxed... everywhere. I'm not saying necessarily it will be better, but it will be different. Nice change of scenery for you, im sort of envious at the same time :)

Again, I apologize if you disagree, and I most certainly have not been subjected to the trials and tribulations that you have been through growing up in the hands of desi relatives, but I have grown up in a few countries surrounded by diverse desi communities... and I just wanted to say some of us in desiville are not that bad! Especially the ones who are constantly subjected to this sort of 'self(desi) hate', and who learn from it in return to avoid it themselves.

Its been my experience that as humans, we have the propensity to hurt the very people we are familiar with (as opposed to strangers), and the fact that being desi......well, its a double edged sword in that case.

ABCDlaw said...

Ish-I hear what you’re saying, and I have to tell you, I’d heard stories of communities where instead of picking people apart, desis would come together and help one another. I just wrote it off as a Desi urban legend, but you give me HOPE that such communities do exist!

I’ve just been stuck between the nosy and not so nice ones. I think since I was spurned by 2 sets of desis, my own extended family and the random aunties who live in my city, I’ve formed this very negative image of what desi society is. I may be cynical, but I think there’s still some hope left, and that’s why I love the online world! I’m able to meet awesome non-judgmental desis like you, mezba, and so many others!

Elyria said...

I'll admit that I'm a house snob. I don't care what race you are but take care of your house and give it some curb appeal for goodness sakes! Some ethnicities happen to be repeat offenders and thus are on my "must avoid at all costs" list.

My in-laws live in a rather nice neighborhood where theirs is the only house that has rusty railings and sports plastic neon pots with matching fake flowers. My MIL likes to open her front door when she's making the daily biryani; you can smell the masala two blocks away. The neighborhood's going to have a party when they finally move out next month.

Em said...

Just noticed an added dimension to the uncle's intolerance... not just "no desis" but also "All white people"... He didn't just diss desis, but all non-white, inc latinos, orientals and all that

I wonder if he feasts on jacket potatoes and baked beans to really emulate the white supremacy.

Also, Mezba and the bangalis here, Shubho Noboborsho!!

The Bengali Fob said...

HAHAaha! Totally was dying of laughter about the BBC aunty! that's too funny!

And the video, I think it's teh eyes that do it. Some girl just have REALLY nice eyes!

fathima said...

so on the one hand,when i first read your post i was all "self-hatred must stop." though, as pointed out in the last comment, your uncle's comment wasn't just about bengalis, but about everyone who isn't white. which, i think, is another issue. i mean, it's one thing to be anti-brown and another thing to be white supremacist. there's a bit more room in the first, i suppose. but realistically speaking, the two collapse and people who are the first are basically also the second.

anyway. after reading the comments i realised that i am, i guess, also guilty of self-hatred. i am sri lankan, you see. sri lankan muslims comprise a tiny community in toronto. and because of this, people (aunties and uncles alike, let's not pretend the uncles don't gossip) are always up in each other's business. so i do my best to avoid other sri lankan muslims. it makes my life easier. but - and this i like to think makes me different from your uncle, for example, but maybe it doesn't - i don't think all sri lankan muslims are like this. i think that it's because we're a tiny bunch and not yet well-established, that there is fixation on what people (especially the young ones) are up to. the parents want their kids to be the best. this means knowing what the other kids are doing and how they're doing it. (i'm simplifying.)
and here's the thing, people living in smalltown white america would probably also feel claustrophobic. they could probably relate to the wariness acbdlaw and i have of our respective communities. so it's not a brown thing, or a south asian thing, or a muslim thing. there's nothing essential about it, about our need for distance. it's a human condition.

Salacious Samosa said...


I laughed so hard!

This is why you have to pair the niquab up with the new Christian Dior shades that cover any exposed parts of the face. For Christ sake! What kind of a Muslim are you?

Shame wallahie!

On the topic of self hatred. I meet Pakistanis all the time who clearly hate their own, and hang out with white folks until something snaps, then they move back home and marry a Pakistani. Then again you can be just like me and hate everyone... it works well and at least you practise predujice in a consistent way.
Auntie Samosa

mezba said...

Anjum: our subdivision is a lot like that too. Lot of desis, followed by Chinese, and then some whites who probably will sell and move out. There is a mosque nearby which is why many Muslim people (desi and non desi like Arabs and Trinis) are buying the houses nearby.

Sf: aw, that's too sad. I like all our neighbors, we got to know them as we all moved in together when the subdivision was built and all had issues with the builder, then we all built fences and so on.

Isheeta: haha ok.

Liya: Imagine if you had dinner at every one person's house, one a day. In a week you could sample international cuisine from all continents!

Abcdlaw: I think desi communities gossip, but I think it's symbolic of ALL communities. I know plenty of Italian and other East European Catholic communities where the women will gossip if a girl becomes a single mother or unwed pregnancies occur. It's just that we don't know the bad of that community because we don't mix with them a lot - and they don't gossip about a desi girl in their midst as they don't care.

Athena: re: above but politics is one thing Bengalis are good (bad) at. If there are three Bengalis in a room there will be four political parties. I remember York had two Bengali student associations and I heard New Brunswick had four groups in the 22 bengali students they had! It's not just politic politics, it's also "she brought tandoori kabab on the day it was my turn to make meatloaf, so she deliberately tried to upstage me..."

Isheeta: I agree.

Abcdlaw: I have to tell you such communities exist! I was once stuck on the highway (ran out of gas - can you imagine - I thought that only happened in the movies to stupid people) and called my neighbor up (who barely knew me then) and he left a party and came rushing with a container of gas! There are many other times we neighbors had to help each other out. Good neighbors are God's blessings.

Elyria: lol.

Em: Subho new year to u too. Yes I agree - it's not just self-hatred but eagerness to be white when he's not!

Bengali FOB: I will do a post soon iA (if I remember) on BBC Aunties, CNN Aunties, FOX news aunties and the differences between the two.

Fathima: ok it wasn't my uncle uncle but some person we know, who happens to be my dad's age and that's why we call him 'uncle'.

Samosa: Dixie Chicks become Dubai Chicks! Dubai - Only place I have seen a niqabi look sexy!

Maleeha said...

ok that was such a cute song. i loved it. thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Mezba. I live in a neighborhood near the mosque, so a bunch of my neighbors are muslim, bengali, pakistani, syrian, morrocan, bosnian, with tons of kids always playing outside(I mean always). Yes its not the fanciest neighborhood, or peaceful and quiet, but I love it. Where else could I hear children laughing and playing and aunties drinking cha outside telling funny anecdotes while studying chemistry from my room? I'm at home.

mezba said...

Maleeha: I love that song, even now, and the video is just too cool! ;-)

Anon, home is always home sweet home.