I grew up in a multicultural city and many of my friends, as a result, were BIPOC. I was immersed in British culture but also learnt about other cultures growing up. I did not view myself as different or as not belonging. Rather I grew accustomed to belonging to different cultures; one was mainstream and comprised of various cultural backgrounds and the other was specifically for people who identified as Indian.
I grew up in an era where some people were labeled ‘coconut’. This label was used for anyone who looked brown on the outside but was white on the inside. Essentially, these individuals identified more with the Western mainstream culture and less with their own. Some of these individuals struggled with part of their culture and shared experiencing internalised racism.
As a counsellor, I supported clients who grew up wishing they looked different. These clients wanted their skin to be fairer for example. Indian culture, similar to others, deems women who are fair-skinned as more beautiful than someone who has dark skin. While travelling in Vietnam and Cambodia, I noticed women covering up as much as possible on hot sunny days to avoid getting a tan. I also saw advertisements for products that could make your skin lighter. Ironically, in the West, many people want a tan and will pay for a fake spray tan.
I supported clients who wished the food they ate smelled less. These clients were raised eating curries which has a distinct smell. Moreover, some of the spices in these curries such as turmeric, is one that stains. Some of these clients were bullied whilst in school. Others encountered racism as adults. Growing up in England, fish and chips was the nation’s favourite meal but this changed over a decade ago and now chicken tikka masala is. Turmeric is now advertised as a superfood and turmeric tea amongst other beverages can be purchased at coffee shops. Again, I find it a little ironic how both curries and turmeric are so widely accepted in mainstream society.
I supported clients who would rather wear Western clothes than those belonging to their cultural background. Some clients shared being stared at or being laughed at for wearing clothes from their culture. As a result, some stopped wearing these clothes, and those that did continue felt embarrassed and ashamed. I remember watching Bend It Like Beckham and the character Jess playing football in shorts. Her mum commented on how no one could blame her for not trying to encourage her daughter to wear more traditional garments.
Finally, intersectionality and internalised racism is another area in which I support clients. For example, I worked with a BIPOC client who felt ashamed and embarrassed of their gender identity. I worked with a BIPOC client who struggled to share their sexual identity with their immediate family. These clients shared wanting to belong to another culture, a culture that would be more understanding and accepting than their own.