What was it like growing up in Western Sydney?
Well the school I went to was dominated by people from the Indian subcontinent and Asia. The minority was white people, like my grade had one white person. There was a really big Christian group called Soul Purpose, and there were points where it was a bit intense, and a lot of my friends just steered clear of it, but for the most part it was fine.
Was your religious identity developed at home or in school?
At home. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any Muslim friends at school, and I still don’t…my parents like to mention that *laughs*. I definitely think it affected whether I picked up the faith or not.
Yeah, I totally get what you mean, community is an integral part of a religious faith, you need lots of people around you believing in the same ideas and making the same sacrifices. Did the community you did have help you develop any coping mechanisms for dealing with racism?
I was lucky because my school was made up of mostly ethnic minorities and people were respectful of each-others differences. But on the whole, I assume People of Colour develop the coping mechanisms for covert racism from the get-go, moving past coping with daily discrimination I think overt racism should be called out! A lot of my friends have had difficulty negotiating their parents’ expectations of a partner, in that they should be dating people of the same race.
Has that contributed to a sense of tension between your public and private life?
Not really, cause my parents don’t really know, like they know my friends and it’s never been an issue for them.
“People of Colour develop the coping mechanisms for covert racism from the get-go”
Who have been the main female/male role models in your life?
So I was mostly raised by my mum, she always taught me to be confident, and made me feel as if I could achieve anything. It took me a while to realize that my gender was something that would inhibit things in the future.
When was the moment you realized that?
I don’t think it was a specific moment, but learning about all the injustices going on in the world it’s just frustrating to learn (growing up in the first world) that people are suffering because of the way they were born. That’s applicable to all minorities…the sad thing is women are minorities, it’s a pretty even split, so that’s a frustrating thing. But as you grow up you become more aware that you have to work harder (as a woman) to get to where you want to be. But that just makes me wanna do it even more!
Do you think your racial identity also bleeds into that?
Oh definitely! I was discussing this with my friends a couple of months ago, like the different expectations people have of you if you’re a woman of colour versus if you’re White. I had a tutor once who was American and like-a loud white male, he was that kind of guy who felt like he knew everything and ran the world…but if you believe in yourself then great. Anyway, he was asking questions and no one was answering them and the silence just went on to the point where it was getting awkward, so I decided to answer him. And he looked at me and was so shocked that I actually had a voice, that I, as a brown woman could actually have a voice. He just looked at me like ‘how could such a small, brown, person speak? I just thought you’d be so demur and shy!?’. It was just really frustrating because that’s the way a lot of old white men look at me and I feel like I have to go out of my way to prove myself. But at the same time, I do like it a bit cause I can shock people very easily * laughs*.
Do you think you’ve interpolated whiteness by growing up in a Western society?
Yeah, it’s hard in Australia seeing as there isn’t any specific culture, it’s an amalgamation, so with a lot of first gen people its quite hard to find your identity. I do think…my religion forced me, or it felt like it forced me to pick sides. I just didn’t really know which side to pick and wanting to fit in at school was always such a big thing. Unfortunately, I do think I have lost a bit of my Bengali heritage, in terms of the culture not staying with me as much as I’d like it too. I love Bengali food, I eat Bengali food every day and I eat with my hands every day and I’m still going to do that until the day I die.
Would you identify as a feminist?
Definitely, if you stand for equality, you inherently are a feminist, I know people have issues with the terminology which I find frustrating, Even with that question it’s like ‘what else would I be?’, not to knock the question but yeah I don’t see fighting for equality and feminism as mutually exclusive.
Ilias Bakalla is the producer, director and interviewer of Women of color: The Intersectional Experience. He is a young journalist based in Sydney, Australia a lot of his work centers around intersectionality stemming from his formal education in the Sociology of religion, Gender and Cultural studies. He has authored a number of opinion pieces on civil religion and racial identities published in his blog; Fouzi Thinks and in The Artifice. He also writes extensively for the online-based publication; Sydney Scoop about cultural events happening in Sydney.
Louise Dietz-Henderson is the Filmmaker and editor of Women of Colour : The Intersectional Experience. Lou is a film producer, freelance photographer and videographer who studied her bachelor’s degree at the Australian Film Television and Radio School in Sydney, Australia. Lou currently resides in Sydney.