London is a cacophony of words, sounds, languages. And it recognizes me. Knows where to slot me in its ancient filing system complete by gender, race, class, sexuality, region, religion, ethnicity, age, ability. Its creaking, ancient, ad infinitum system of fitting human beings into boxes is covered with a shiny gloss and many colours so at first it feels exhilarating. Like throwing oneself out of a plane. And it creates a kind of dreamscape where things, images, people from the past and other places disappear and reappear in different order each time. But over time, the exhilaration wears off and I begin to notice that words sound the same but mean different things.
I realise that I am visible in London. But only as the other, the foreigner, the lesser than…the natives. To be despised, demeaned, feared. When the island’s natives call me Asian, it isn’t necessarily a compliment. When they call me Indian, they are making assumptions of my political ideology and class rather than my country of origin. After a while, I begin to feel relief when they call me Paki. It is a slur and not quite true but at least the word means what they intend.
There are others like me who also face these insults. This British ability to invent a dizzying variety of racial and ethnic abuse is perhaps one of the less pernicious legacies of ruling the world. I seek out others targeted by these weapons to check if they too feel relief, if we speak the same language even if we converse in English. And often they agree.
The slurs are at least honest because at most other times, the natives tell us that we do not understand their words and actions. That we do not see truly, hear correctly. This island and its natives are very good at playing a special mind game where truth is declared false.
But we, the newly arrived, the colonized, also speak in foreign tongues even when forming the same words. I begin to worry that the Empire Mothership excises our ability to seek freedom of the mind as a condition of entry.
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