#EverydayRacism is a project formed to raise awareness on discrimination, racism, and bigotry. It is a series of stories told by ordinary people who stood up against bullying, unjust treatment, verbal, physical or emotional harassment based on gender, religion, race, age, or social class. We in Jutland Station hope to break the spiral of silence through reporting on such incidents.
by Uday Kapur, photo from NPR
Language is important. In his introductory essay for The Good Immigrant, British author Nikesh Shukla examines the exoticisation (or as he calls it, bastardisation) of Eastern languages – using the Hindi word Namaste as an example. In my culture, Namaste is a greeting – a means to show respect. It does not, as Western pop-culture would have you believe, give your soul an express ticket to the top of the spiritual charts. It does not, as Shukla says, open your third-eye. Words matter. The minute people start straying from the original meaning of the word, it begins a process that impacts and alienates different cultures and people for generations.
Last September, I was on the number 14 bus, heading back home after class. I was listening to the new Swet Shop Boys record, an album made by South Asian icons Heems and Riz Ahmed. The album is chaos – a beautiful collision of classical South Asian music and the US/UK hip-hop scenes that combine reflect the post-9/11 world we, people of the South Asian descent live in. As I was waiting for my stop, a hand grabbed my shoulder from behind, a Caucasian, very likely a local man was staring at me. “Turn that immigrant sh*t off.” he said. I was blank – I might have misheard what he said. His grip on my shoulder got stronger – there was no mistaking what was said. I walked away – putting the headphones in my pocket.
Language is important. In his 2005 album The Rising Tied, Japanese-American rapper Mike Shinoda recounts the story of his grandfather being interned by the United States government during World War II. “They called him immigrant,” he raps. Almost always, the words we use impact the relationships we have with each other – between individuals and as communities. To me, that word represents the beginning of the process that led to the formation of the internment camps. The demonisation of the word ‘immigrant’ over generations has devalued countless of human beings, reducing them to a stereotype. In her essay ‘My Name Is My Name’, author and poet Chimene Suleyman talks about the noose we carry around our necks – a noose that represents the lives and traditions of our ancestors. This noose lies around your neck as well as mine – the effects of centuries of colonisation, slavery and war make us bow down. And it almost always has a word associated with it – the N-word, redskin and more in the past – immigrant now.
That day, the minute that word escaped that man’s mouth, that noose tightened around both our necks, leaving a deep scar. It might not have a tangible impact right now – I’m not going to start a revolution against him or Denmark – but, as I (and others across the world who experience this) tell more and more people about what happened, it will deepen from generation to generation. Each year, the noose will tighten, rubbing against the skin and carving it open until one can’t take it anymore.
And to think, it all starts with one word.
Uday Kapur moved from Mumbai, India to Aarhus to pursue his studies in Journalism at Aarhus University. This piece expresses his experiences and opinions on our #EveryDayRacism series.
If you have a story to share with us, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more on our series: Airbnb Horror Story: ‘I THINK I JUST EXPERIENCED RACISM’