Head in the sand: From culturally aware to culturally ignorant

Pre-pandemic, I would count myself as a politically and culturally aware young person. Someone who had punchy and current opinions on the zeitgeist, was ready to share opinions with people whenever a debate arose, and was always the one explaining the basics of racism to my newly found white friends at university. After all, university is a melting pot and as a British-Asian who grew up in London, it was my duty to bridge the gap right?

Examples of this would be me explaining how racism does in fact exist in the UK, an introduction to white privilege as a concept and how most people undeniably benefit from this, a pill that was particularly hard to swallow for the white men I would speak to. Once I laid the foundations, I could then delve into issues with a more global lens, like how so-called 'third world countries' were created by white European superpowers, primarily the UK, who colonised half of the globe, leaving our lands destroyed after looting, raping, dividing, and conquering. In hindsight, this probably wasn’t the best way to make conversation at pre-drinks but this didn’t dawn on me at the time.

Through these conversations, I was trying to communicate my worldview with people that have lived in blissful ignorance their whole life. They had never engaged in such conversations, and I was ready to prompt and dissect in a way that was non-threatening but still got my point across.

I also assume that as I am Asian, white people would feel safe discussing the basics of race issues with me as I wasn’t black or white, I sat in the invisible 'grey area'.

Often, I would make excuses for people’s ignorance. I thought that because they grew up in the countryside, far from any city or diversity, this meant that by no fault of their own, their view on life was very narrow. And to take it one step further, I thought that I was equipped to be able to translate between these two worlds and create real change on a micro-level. In my mind, it only made sense because who else were they going to hear it from? I was their only non-white friend, so I felt like it was my duty to spell out racism, rinsing and repeating the lessons like some sort of cultural interpreter. And I did see a change; there was a willingness to learn sometimes. Other times, however, it felt like I was back at square one when someone would rap the lyrics to a Wu-tang song - and I mean every single lyric.

Once the pandemic hit, explaining the ABCs of racism, got old; and by old, I mean absolutely exhausting. The global Black Lives Matter movement had erupted, and some people were still not convinced. We were all inside for two years, and in the words of Molly Mae, we all have the same 24 hours – why was it so hard for people to go and educate themselves?! The information was literally spelt out in neon-coloured infographics that were plastered all over Instagram; small digestible animations titled 'the effects of colonisation on India', 'the Windrush generation' and 'understanding white privilege'. The information could not be more easily available.

To be clear, most people were on board at this point, but those who had overcome the colossal uphill battle that was accepting that racism does exist, were still at such an elementary level that they were years behind any conversation that I was having within my own community. There was no room for nuance as they were still learning the alphabet, and my attempt at bridging the gap failed. There was now more distance than ever.

Moreover, this distance was further exaggerated by the loss of human contact and communication throughout the pandemic. We were all away from the community and instead, were interacting through technology and social media, which was its own messy storm of fake-wokeism, cancel-culture and virtue signalling, squashed between the occasional selfie and a gym pic.

Many of the people who previously denied that racism existed, started posting the infamous black box on Instagram in some sort of weak, watered-down, anti-racist statement, that could only be seen as the least effective and pointless piece of activism to have existed – it was embarrassing. Others didn’t post anything at all, which was almost worse because they weren’t even pretending to care about the changing social climate, and it made me question what they were thinking further.

Then I started to question my own motives of why I was posting things and how I was using social media? If I had these conversations on the ground and it didn’t work, what was the point of posting on social media now? What was it achieving? I then thought to myself, "Am I now also virtue signalling?" This went on for some weeks and the cycle of outrage, anger and disbelief continued until I reached a breaking point.

I had spent countless hours in isolation, ruminating over my feelings about the state of the world, and with every new disaster that was coming to light; the rising deaths due to Covid-19, the panic for everyone’s health, the explosion in the conversation about racism and BLM, the Free Palestine Movement, Stop Asian-hate, the country heading into a triple recession. It was December 2020, and I deleted all my social media, stopped talking to my friends, and ended up hating the world. I remember making a tally in my head of all the good and bad things in the world and realising that the world is a very dark place and ultimately, there was no hope. On top of this, Earth was literally on fire and if the ever-polarising left Vs right debate wasn’t going to finish us, then climate change most definitely would.

For the first time in my life, I experienced what I would call a period of depression, and as someone who was previously a serial optimist, my outlook on life was now entrenched with nihilism.

I had seen friends go through depression, and if I am being honest, up until this point I thought I was immune. But during this 3-week period that I can only now see as a mini-existential crisis, I felt no enthusiasm for life or the world. It was sad and scary. I felt like I didn’t know who I was, or what I stood for. I felt like all my opinions were being expressed for other people and I didn’t feel like anything was worth raising my voice for.

So, I buried my head in the sand.

I no longer read the news regarding Covid-19; I didn’t engage with social issues that I previously would have informed myself about; I stopped talking to any and all friends.

After some months I slowly started connecting with friends again, but I didn’t re-join social media for over a year, as I couldn’t take the constant bombardment of catastrophic news and the pressure to perform activism while sitting alone in my bedroom.

Though my existential crisis only lasted three weeks, I now still find myself two years later disconnected and confused. I can no longer keep up with the current affairs, which feel heavier with every distressing article, and do not have the energy to get on board with the newest social issue that people my age are enraged at. After two years, I find myself in a place of ignorance – ignorance is bliss, but instead, I feel numb, clueless, and exhausted.

I know I can’t stay politically unaware forever, but I don’t know where I go from here. What news outlets can I trust? How do I prevent myself from being back in a cycle of outrage, anger, disbelief and then detaching? I’ll be honest, I thought writing this article would provide me with some answers, but I have become so desensitised from the avalanche of news over the past few years, that I still avoid the news today like the plaque. I get my news from a brief look at the Twitter trending world topics page, and swiftly click off before continuing with my never-ending doom scrolling.

I believe that the emotional and unpaid labour that I and many other people of colour took on board to educate our white counterparts throughout life, but particularly through these last two years, has had an undeniable effect on our energy, mental health and view of the world. I now do not bother with talking about social issues, racism, or politics unless it is with a specific group of people.

When opinions that I don’t agree with come up in conversation, I stay silent. I would like to think that is because of growth, but part of me knows that it is because I feel silenced in my voice and no longer have the energy to argue or debate.

I think people naturally gravitate towards who they connect with, and now, I no longer feel the need to unite people that exist in different worlds.

Believe what you want, I can’t hear you - my head is in the sand!