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I Tasted White Privilege In My Pakistani Community

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By Fatima Asad

 

When my first-born was born six years ago, I finally felt what my mother must have felt when she had me.  As I welcomed this new little human, adjusting my life to meet her needs, I was in awe as most new mothers are.  I cherished every part of her being, amazed at the Lord’s miracle. However, that joy was tainted by social poisons around me and I remember my mother uttering the words, “Here we go again!

You see, until now, I had fascinated over my baby’s wee fingers and toes, expressing gratitude that there were two healthy sets of ten. I had been too preoccupied fulfilling her needs, and utterly mesmerized by her complete reliance on my motherly mercy.  Therefore, the thought of her complexion -her skin color- failed to crossed my mind.  People congratulated me while simultaneously insulting my womb, my husband’s ability to father, and ultimately my destiny- Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) plan.

Mubarak ho! Congratulations. BUT the first child should always be a boy!

Making up for the disappointment that she was not a he, they looked for other avenues to comfort my assumingly aching heart.

At least she is fair skinned! You are a lucky woman, Fatima. She is fair skinned AND has light eyes!

My mother would squeeze my shoulders or give me a reassuring stare that said, “Ignore them. This happens.” She reminisced about her experiences in Pakistan with a fair-skinned daughter and the struggles she had to face because of her own light complexion coupled with light green eyes.  She didn’t have to travel far down memory lane as the same memories flooded my mind, opening like long-lost, rediscovered secrets I had stored away.  I recalled people applauding my mother’s fairness, yet she was forced to take extra measures to “cover up” while going out for groceries or simply for a walk around the block.  I witnessed many hypocrisies when her sisters-in-law could go out with a mere scarf around their heads, while she was pressured to wear the niqab (face veil) on family picnics.  I again witnessed the hypocrisy when esteemed family guests would arrive and my mother was encouraged to look her ultimate best, complete with a new hairdo while the sisters-in-law mostly tended to the kitchen.  My mother developed a certain hatred for this blessing and when she spoke up, she was labeled as disrespectful, disobedient, or a bad Muslim.

 

Those family friends, close and distant relatives, and even neighbors, didn’t simply have my mother for entertainment.  I remember having to put on my best outfit, crying as my hair was styled and being bribed with goodies to be on my best behavior and smile for the guests.  After my mother was complimented, I was pushed under the spotlight.  Forced hugs and stares into strange men and women’s eyes were showered upon me so they could be momentarily elated after looking at a little “white” girl’s hazel eyes.  Blurred moments flicker in my mind, but one instance sharpens every time I look back.  “I could stare into these eyes for eternity,” a man three decades older than me continuously repeated, while the room full of my protectors -my refuge- simply laughed and offered him more chai.

The worst part of this bonus attention, especially for something that was not an achievement or result of diligence, is that the other children in the house become invisible.  My sister and my cousins stood there, waiting with wondrous, hopeful eyes that they too would be given some sort of a gold star for being alive. Not only were they were deprived of acknowledgement, they were disgraced for being a part of this world.  After seeing me, people pitied them for their slightly darker skins and lack of blue or green in their eyes.  “Aye haye, bichari kitni kaali hai.  Dekho is ki behan kitni gori hai.  Chalo Allah naseeb achay karay.” The poor child is so dark. Look at her fair skinned sister.  Oh well, may Allah make her destiny fruitful. I don’t need to cite comprehensive socio-psychological studies listing the negative impact of such remarks and behavior, especially at an impressionable age.  The restraints that are put on relationships because of such negative societal effects can be and were damaging for years.

 

I wouldn’t have realized that what I had experienced in Pakistan was racism and abuse if I had not immigrated to America.  Talking about or even acknowledging racism continues to be a struggle for the Pakistani-American community and a couple of decades ago, no one thought anything of it. In fact, like people “back home,” the Pakistani-Americans loved pointing out people’s skin colors and consequently putting a net worth on their existence.

Like most, my interaction with the Pakistani-American community began at the masjid/community center when I moved to New Jersey at the age of 9.  I was an active member of the mosque and loved every visit; I even led the youth group for girls for some years.  However, many of my classmates and friends (including my sister), often despised going there.  Whenever we met a new auntie or potential friend, after the initial customary greetings, we were met with remarks such as, “You two are sisters? Really? But you’re so much prettier.  You have such light skin! Really, you’re from Pakistan? You totally don’t look like a Pakistani.  You look just like your mother! Your sister must look like your father.” I wish I could say that remarks like this rarely took place or from seemingly “uneducated” adults, but we heard them more often than we would like to remember – and from women of all ages, professions and even from their daughters.

 

This brings me to a slight tangent.  When people exclaimed that I did not look Pakistani, I was supposed to accept it as a compliment.  To those people who still attempt to honor me with this insult, I am reluctant to accept YOU a fellow Paksitani.  You have failed to understand the meaning behind this identity as many Americans have failed to behave according to theirs when they point at your dark skins and your hijab, labeling you as un-American.  What then, is the difference between you and those ignorant, sad citizens who claim to love America’s anthem and flag, yet fail to cherish her values?

 

Back to the desi community’s dynamics regarding fair-and-lovely.  I have always been the “white” girl in my Pakistani community. I have been honored, revered, compared to celebrities, asked out on dates, sent proposals, taken more seriously than my dark-skinned peers, presumed to be the better student, befriended quickly; all because of my whiteness.  Outside the Pakistani community, I still tasted the advantages of my skin color despite displaying a visible symbol of my religion.  In contrast to my fellow Pakistani, Bengali or African hijabis, I have been socially accepted, hired for jobs, befriended at social events, and asked out – with far less struggles than my sisters.  It is almost as if people are willing to ignore or allow you to wear the hijab, provided you meet specific physical standards. No wonder we see some hijabi bloggers crossing unfair limits, compromising their identities and faith to prettify every aspect of themselves, so that maybe the hijab will no longer be “the” physical obstacle.  I admit I have had it easy and I refuse to listen to another person tell me that our Muslim (and non-Muslim) community focuses on our personalities.  Tell that to the dark-skinned girls who are disgraced, belittled because critics continue pairing their (uncontrolled) color with their choices.

 

I cringe when people stop my blue-eyed daughter, look into her eyes or touch her skin- as if hoping some of the color will rub off onto them.  I absolutely hate it when people point at her from afar like she is a zoo animal, which they paid to gawk at.  We are still the white girls, revered because of our “American-ness” and as we travel through China and Pakistan, I sense we have a long struggle ahead of us. But I am hopeful.  To pass the current test, I hope to instill humility and gratitude in my girls- teach them that what you cannot control cannot define you.

 

Blessed with a second daughter, history is attempting to rewrite itself, but I will not let it succeed.  Nay, I will fight it and make sure that it writes a new chapter.  I cannot tell the difference between their skin tones as I am too busy cherishing their souls, but society eagerly points out the different shades- using it as justifiable means to impose their labels on my children.  I am not my mother, restricted by social pressures of ignorant communities.  I am an informed, ever-thirsty for knowledge, American, Pakistani-Muslim who knows that it is high time we stop this utter nonsense and the concept of a master race.  I will not say that I am ashamed to be fair-skinned nor will I use the argument of white supremacy to make myself feel guilt or shame.  This is something I cannot control, therefore, it should not be a source of pride nor disgrace.

 

 

Fatima Asad is a an American-Pakistani Muslim Mama. She is a writer, blogger and homeschooler.  You can follow her journey on her Facebook page, or connect with her through her blog.

Fatima’s inspirations derive from her frequent travels around the world, along with her mixed cultural upbringing.  She takes pride in being a culturally confused mama and also shares the highs and lows of raising little confused humans on her Instagram page.

 

 

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Avatar

    a teen

    March 29, 2018 at 11:11 PM

    Salaam, I agree with you completely, especially as someone who speaks from the “other side” of the color spectrum. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Pakistani culture, but I would hate that the place I was supposed to feel most safe and connected, the masjid, was tainted by the judgment and criticism of the aunties there.

    However, I am seeing a great shift against this racial bias at least among the Pakistani-American teenagers of today (me being one of them). Perhaps it’s rebellion from cultural standards or a newfound decency towards people, but we scorn industries like Fair & Lovely and do not discuss skin color. Unfortunately this shift is not wholly complete as the girls will refuse to stay in the sun too long, claiming its becuase of skin disease, silently knowing its an internal, prejudiced disease that stop us.

    • Avatar

      Fatima Asad

      March 30, 2018 at 11:31 AM

      Thank you and yes, I am noticing this slow, yet determined shift alhumdullilah. It’s interesting how you point out the sun bathing point. Now that I think about it, I have witnessed this on a few occasions. ?

  2. Avatar

    Sakinah

    March 30, 2018 at 4:16 AM

    MaShaAllah Fatima such a well written piece!

    • Avatar

      Fatima Asad

      March 30, 2018 at 11:33 AM

      Thank you Sakinah! It is supportive friends and community leaders like yourself that are part of this much-needee change in our society.

  3. Avatar

    Ahsan

    April 4, 2018 at 9:50 PM

    Hey sis, I don’t really why you have an issue with people complementing your eyes and skin, and same with your baby. They are simply trying to tell you that you are beautiful. Every culture values the rare individuals in that culture that signify “rarity”. Being blue eyed and light skinned is seen as a beautiful thing in Pakistan. Whether that has roots in some kind of inferiority complex and a desire to be white, I don’t know. But i would just be appreciative of people who complement. Would you rather they treat you with scorn for your appearance? I think you have needlessly politicized this issue. I have been living in Canada for 20 years and would have no tolerance with some Pakistani BS expressions, such as the whole have a boy first and the whole stupid thing about how “dhoop me mut jao, skin Kali how jai ghi”… Just roll your eyes at this foolishness, but do be grateful that Allah gave you beauty, how many people long for that? Anyway just my two cents

    • Avatar

      Fatima Asad

      April 6, 2018 at 11:04 AM

      ASA I understand what you mean and alhumdullilah I am very grateful for Allah’s (SWT) blessings. There have been many who have complimented with the best of manners and appreciation. However, the point here was to shed a light on viewing this God-given trait as an accomplishment or being a victim of inferior complex because of it. Thank you for sharing your point of view.

  4. Avatar

    Monique Hassan

    April 5, 2018 at 2:42 PM

    Assalamu alaikum. I am a revert American, pale skin and blue eyes. I have wondered sometimes if American non-Muslims would treat me differently if I was not so pale.

    On the other side of this, I do not like to show my face online. I am a writer as yourself and I recognize the need to show we are human online, but I feel very uncomfortable to glaringly say “look into my whiteness” or become known as the pale revert sister. I elect to wear niqab when it comes to online video conferences or a need for my image. My face becomes the focus and I don’t want that. Know me for my words, not for my face.

    • Avatar

      Fatima Asad

      April 6, 2018 at 11:06 AM

      ASA sister. Thank you for sharing this. I can relate to this. It is not a pale skin issue for me when it comes to online communication- it is like you said, a privacy issue and also focusing the attention on my work and words rather than mostly on my appearance.

  5. Avatar

    Usman

    April 6, 2018 at 9:42 PM

    This article reeks of veiled narcissism and melodrama. Why would anyone make such an issue of being complemented on beautiful features? It’s analogous to a 50 year old man bemoaning the curse of having a luscious and virile full head of hair amongst a group of balding men.

    • Avatar

      S

      June 24, 2018 at 4:54 AM

      The problem is that you equate whiteness with beauty and that’s what she’s talking about! She doesn’t want the extra attention and dark-skinned women shouldn’t be sidelined because Allah SWT blessed them with the *wrong* skin colour, naoozubillah min zalik.

      andr being singled out for praise and attention at the expense of others when’s trying to make a point about v

  6. Avatar

    Ibra

    October 20, 2018 at 8:38 AM

    Thanks for removing my comments. Some people can’t handle the truth and criticism, but love to critique.
    I will reiterate, if color is a problem among Pakistanis esp the ones from up north and the Pind, don’t generalize and say it’s a problem amongst all Desis.

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The Hyperactive And Inattentive Child | Dr. Hatem Al Haj

Dr. Hatem El Haj M.D Ph.D

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child looking at cherry tree

Bismillah,

Some kids are fidgety and hyperactive, as if they are “driven by a motor,” constantly moving around, bouncing off the furniture, and unable to stay still and quiet. They may be also quite impulsive, so they can’t wait for their turn, blurt out answers before you finish your sentence, and intrude in on others. Others are inattentive and out of focus – almost always. They are disorganized and forgetful, and they lose their things regularly. These criteria could be bad enough to qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD, which is Attention Deficit And Hyperactivity Disorder. This disorder is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Some may have the inattention alone, others the hyperactivity alone, while a third group has both.

This spectrum of disorders may lead to poor performance in school, inconsistency in work, emotional immaturity, and social difficulties, but let us not forget that these kids may have some special strengths as well, such as their boundless energy, enthusiasm, humor, and creativity.

The diagnosis of ADHD will need a specialized health care provider to make, but the following tips will be helpful for kids who share some or all the aforementioned criteria, whether they have the disorder or not.

Since a big part of the problem that will lead to most of the difficulties in schooling is the disorganization and lack of focus, it is recommended that we help those kids stay organized and on task through the following measures:

o Consistent schedules and having daily routines even when it comes to the waking up rituals: going to the bathroom, brushing their teeth and putting on their clothes. (Older kids should have prayed fajr before sunrise.) Have the schedule on the refrigerator or bulletin board in their study or bedroom. (Don’t forget to schedule time for play and wholesome recreation.) Let the child be part of the planning and organizing process.

o Keep in the same place their clothes, backpacks, and school supplies. Use notebook organizers and color-coded folders. If you homeschool, make the day structured and buy them a desk where they can put their belongings, and if you send them to school, make sure they bring back written assignments.

o Decrease distractions as much as possible. If you home school, then I suggest for you to keep a quiet environment as much as possible and avoid excessiveness in decorating your house (particularly their study place) with knickknacks and pictures. Maybe this would provide us a reason to try (and hopefully appreciate) minimalism!

o TV and videogames are bad for all kids, and even worse for kids with ADHD, except when permissible programs are watched in moderation. See the AAP’s guidelines for “use in moderation.”

Some tips for parents and guardians

  • Consistent rules must be in place. Rewards must be given to the children when they follow them, and punishment must be judiciously used when the rules are broken.
  • Kids with this condition may have low self-esteem, and it is detrimental to their welfare to further lower it. Thus, praise good behaviors frequently even if they were little and expected, such as putting their shoes where they belong.
  • Do not be frustrated with the inconstancy of the child’s performance. He may get a 100% on one test and then fail the next. Use the first to encourage them and prove to them that he can do better.
  • One on one teaching/tutoring may be needed to enable the child to keep up with the schoolwork.

Should we use medication?

Medications are sometimes needed. You must consult your doctor regarding their use.

Here are my non-professional thoughts:

  • Prescribing those medications should never be a kneejerk reaction. First, we must be confident of the diagnosis, then, try all other modalities of therapy, and finally, entertain the option of pharmacological intervention.
  • Medicating the children should never be for the interest/comfort of the parents or teachers; it should be only for the interest of the child.
  • Medications should be tried if the child is failing to keep up with learning knowledge and skills s/he will need in their future, and other therapies failed to help them
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Loving Muslim Marriages Episode 3: Are Muslim Women Becoming Hypersexual?

Saba Syed (Umm Reem)

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Loving Muslim Marriage

Are Muslim women with sexual demands becoming “hyper-sexual,” being negatively influenced by life in a Western, post-sexual revolution society? Allah made both men and women sexual, and the recognition of a Muslim woman’s sexual needs is a part of the religion even if it seems missing from the culture. This segment is a continuation of the previous week’s segment titled, “Do Women Desire Sex?”

To view all videos in this series, as well as an links or articles referenced, please visit www.muslimmatters.org/LMM

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How Grandparents Can Be Of Invaluable Help In A Volatile ‘Me First’ Age

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari

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I grew up in a small rural village of a developing country during the 1950s and 1960s within a wider ‘extended’ family environment amidst many village aunties and uncles. I had a wonderfully happy childhood with enormous freedom but traditional boundaries. Fast forward 30 years, my wife and I raised our four children on our own in cosmopolitan London in the 1980s and 1990s. Although not always easy, we had a wonderful experience to see them grow as adults. Many years and life experiences later, as grandparents, we see how parenting has changed in the current age of confusion and technology domination.

While raising children is ever joyous for parents, external factors such as rapidly changing lifestyles, a breath-taking breakdown of values in modern life, decline of parental authority and the impacts of social media have huge impacts on modern parenting.

Recently, my wife and I decided to undertake the arduous task of looking after our three young grandchildren – a 5½-year old girl and her 2-year old sibling brother from our daughter, plus a 1½-year old girl from our eldest son – while their parents enjoyed a thoroughly deserved week-long holiday abroad. My wife, who works in a nursery, was expertly leading this trial. I made myself fully available to support her. Rather than going through our daily experiences with them for a week, I highlight here a few areas vis a vis raising children in this day and age and the role of grandparents. The weeklong experience of being full time carers brought home with new impetus some universal needs in parenting. I must mention that handling three young grandchildren for a week is not a big deal; it was indeed a sheer joy to be with these boisterous, occasionally mischievous, little kids so dear to us!

  1. Establish a daily routine and be consistent: Both parents are busy now-a-days earning a livelihood and maintaining their family life, especially in this time of austerity. As children grow, and they grow fast, they naturally get used to the daily parental routine, if it is consistent. This is vital for parents’ health as they need respite in their daily grind. For various practical reasons the routine may sometimes be broken, but this should be an exception rather than a norm. After a long working day parents both need their own time and rest before going to sleep. Post-natal depression amongst mums is very common in situations where there is no one to help them or if the relationship between the spouses is facing difficulty and family condition uninspiring.

In our trial case, we had some struggles in putting the kids to sleep in the first couple of nights. We also faced difficulties in the first few mornings when our grandson would wake up at 5.00am and would not go back to sleep, expecting one of us to play with him! His noise was waking up his younger cousin in another room. We divided our tasks and somehow managed this until we got used to a routine towards the end of the week.

  1. Keep children away from screens: Grandparents are generally known for their urge to spoil their grandchildren; they are more relaxed about discipline, preferring to leave that job to the parents. We tried to follow the parents’ existing rules and disciplinary measures as much as possible and build on them. Their parents only allow the children to use screens such as iPads or smartphones as and when deemed necessary. We decided not to allow the kids any exposure to these addictive gadgets at all in the whole week. So, it fell on us to find various ways to keep them busy and engaged – playing, reading, spending time in the garden, going to parks or playgrounds. The basic rule is if parents want their kids to keep away from certain habits they themselves should set an example by not doing them, especially in front of the kids.
  2. Building a loving and trusting relationship: From even before they are born, children need nurture, love, care and a safe environment for their survival and healthy growth. Parenting becomes enjoying and fulfilling when both parents are available and they complement each other’s duties in raising the kids. Mums’ relationship with their children during the traditional weaning period is vital, both for mums and babies. During our trial week we were keenly observing how each of the kids behaved with us. We also observed the evolution of interesting dynamics amongst the three; but that is a different matter. In spite of occasional hiccups with the kids, we felt our relationship was further blossoming with each of them. We made a habit of discussing and evaluating our whole day’s work at night, in order to learn things and plan for a better next day.

A grandparent, however experienced she or he may be, can be there only to lend an extra, and probably the best, pair of hands to the parents in raising good human beings and better citizens of a country. With proper understanding between parents and grandparents and their roles defined, the latter can be real assets in a family – whether they live under the same roof or nearby. Children need attention, appreciation and validation through engagement; grandparents need company and many do crave to be with their own grandchildren. Young grandchildren, with their innate innocence, do even spiritually uplift grandparents in their old age.

Through this mutual need grandparents can transfer life skills and human values by reading with them, or telling them stories or just spending time with the younger ones. On the other hand, in our age of real loneliness amidst illusory social media friends, they get love, respect and even tender support from their grandchildren. No wonder the attachment between grandparents and grandchildren is often so strong!

In modern society, swamped by individualism and other social ills, raising children in an urban setting is indeed overwhelming. We can no longer recreate ‘community parenting’ in the traditional village environment with the maxim “It needs a village to raise a child’, but we can easily create a productive and innovative role for grandparents to bring about similar benefits.

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