On Representation

Five years ago, my Dad, a lifelong smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer. He ended up having half a lung removed but he survived.

Four years ago, my Dad had a series of strokes. Again, he was hospitalised and, again, we didn’t know when or if he’d be coming home. But he survived and although he’s a lot more frail in his movements now, he’s still kicking and amazingly has no signs of hemiplegia or hemiparesis at all.

So, I hope you understand that I’m not being morbid when I say the following: every Christmas or birthday or Father’s Day, I end up spending ages choosing cards because I don’t know if it’s the last card I’ll be buying him. He could go at any moment, it’s as simple as that.

This Father’s Day just gone, I spent around half an hour trying to find the right card.

And one tiny, small, trivial thing that irks every single time I go through this process is the total lack of any cards that feature non-white people.

Every Dad card is a white Dad, every son on a card is a white son, every happy, hugging Dad and son on a card is, you guessed it, a white son and Dad.

This is what representation is about. According to these figures, around 6% of the population of England are Asian like me (which, in England, means Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi). Yet, I definitely don’t see 6% of cards with Asian families on them.

It’s a sea of white.

I’ve grown up with this. I came over from India when I was three and as long as I can remember, I haven’t been able to find myself in British culture. Whether it’s TV or film or pop music or fucking greeting cards, Asians remain whitewashed out of the UK. We’re here but we’re not here. We’re your taxi drivers or doctors, we’re your accountants or shopkeepers but you won’t see us. We’ll whiten our names in order to achieve success, we’ll assimilate so fucking hard, we’ll out-posh actual white people. Please love us. Please don’t repatriate us like you wanted to do in the ‘70s. We’ll even change how we dress, please don’t vote for the BNP/EDL/UKIP.

To be other, to be a member of a subordinate culture is to be actively othered by society. Whether you’re non-white, non-hetero or simply non-male, it means your opinions and your experience don’t count.

Every time I search for a card for my Dad (or Mum or sister), every time, I’m reminded that I am a foreigner, an alien. Even though I want to say ‘I love you, Dad, you’re the best Dad ever!’ I can’t unless I want to give him a card with a white guy on it.

If you’re white and reading this and it all seems a bit over the top, just try to reverse it. Imagine if every single card you saw in the shops had black or Asian people on them? Wouldn’t you get a little fed up? Particularly if you didn’t live in an all-black or Asian country?

Representation isn’t about tokenism, it’s about accuracy. While I’m looking, I notice there aren’t many cards to husbands from husbands or to wives from wives. Or even girlfriend to girlfriend, boyfriend to boyfriend. Because, of course, gay people simply don’t exist in Britain! WHAT EVEN ARE QUEERS?

I also notice that there aren’t many representations of Mums and Dad’s in wheelchairs or of different body types. You may say that it’s unprofitable for card companies to cater to minorities, I would argue that if there was just one card with a black or disabled person on it, they’d probably sell out of it in a day. I think I’d actually text my non-white friends with a pic of it and say, ‘HEY, CHECK OUT THE CARD WITH A DARKIE ON IT, QUICK.’ Shit, we’d probably stockpile them for future use.

Last week, I looked through all the Father’s Day cards. There were so many I wished I could get, of sons hugging dads, Dad’s lazing with beers in hand but they were all aimed not at me and my family. So, as ever, I ended up getting one with some cute brown bears on it.

At the minute, that’s the closest I get to being represented in this society.