In a world that’s continually on the move, it’s hard to have a fixed notion of one’s roots – but people will insist on inventing them for us. Alongside war and migration, other people’s agendas, political and commercial, intrude upon our personal stories. These same people often sanctify the notions of tribe, roots and ‘home’.
My own story, as the child of Hindu Bengali immigrants, is smeared with blood from my parents’ infancies. The consequences of Partition, the post-Empire carving up of India that cost around 2 million lives, pulses in my head today with doubts about my self-worth. My family tumbled from being powerful enough to negotiate with law-makers to being ridiculed Pakis on the streets of South Croydon. Some of us were destroyed by the change, others clung to our ‘roots’, pruned to fit the occasion.
Stereotypes, whether of the sexually incontinent black man, the untrustworthy Jew, or the murderous Muslim, have been long established to launch crusades, conduct holocausts, develop a slave trade.
But while these particular persecutions were driven by white Europeans, the notion of ‘whiteness’ is overly simplistic – as is the notion of ‘colour’ or even, for those like me, ‘identity’. Other people’s opinions of our race infest us. When we are reviled, we may feel paralysed by shame at belonging to the ‘wrong’ race, religion or sexuality.
We live in a culture of groupthink and public shaming. If there is a misunderstanding over the representation of a group who have been persecuted, self-appointed champions will rush onto Twitter and raise a mob. These champions of minorities can be tyrannical in appropriating gender, race and tribe. Why attempt rapprochement, when one can use outrage to publicize one’s virtue? Under the guise of righteousness, it becomes normal to hand over scrutiny to the mob.
Gandhi’s comment that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” was unpopular with many of his own tribe. He was murdered by a Hindu for being insufficiently Hindu.
In this issue, we hope to free ourselves from some of this noise by gathering a range of viewpoints from artistic and political thinkers. In a year when we’ve published new work by Eley Williams and Wendy Erskine, we continue to feature some of the best rising talent. Kandace Walker, recent winner of the Observer short story competition for BAME writers, presents two new poems on our complex relationship with our ‘roots’. Myriam Francois, broadcaster, film-maker & crusader for re-examining whiteness – and a white Muslim – talks with me about our feelings of belonging. Spell-binding musician, anthropologist and story-teller Matana Roberts talks with our resident DJ Caoimhe Lavelle. And Kate Morrison, historical novelist, dares to imagine a black woman running a printing press in Jacobean London, during a forgotten period of some equality and glory for black artists.
Although roots comfort, they can also throttle. I’m in favour of querying and straying.
Love on ya,
Soma Ghosh, Editor, The Demented Goddess
Main photo: Shiva temple, built by my great-grandfather on our forfeited estate in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) & comprising the forms of mosque, temple, church.