Cousins of the Rainbow


The ethnic make-up of our diverse extended family is fascinating to me. Just as the British library is a mere glimpse into the collection that is our intellectual heritage, the Human Genome Project sequenced base pairs to give us insight into what it means to be a human being:

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was one of the great feats of exploration in history – an inward voyage of discovery rather than an outward exploration of the planet or the cosmos; an international research effort to sequence and map all of the genes – together known as the genome – of members of our species, Homo sapiens.

National Human Genome Research Institute

I love that it is described as ‘an inward journey’, it seems much like this blog. I try and gather evidence of our history anywhere I can, because snippets of articles help me find pieces of our family story, and get me wandering in all sorts of directions. Much like this quote below:

Indians, who began arriving in large numbers in the 1960s, were slower to mix. They are now doing so—but along Jewish, rather than Irish, lines. For them, assimilation follows education: according to research by Raya Muttarak and Anthony Heath, Indians with degrees are far more likely to marry whites. Indians are not so much marrying into the white majority as into its suburban middle class, says Shamit Saggar at the University of Essex.

The Economist on British Ethnic diversity

There is an abruptness to the language, and the scooping, labelled generalisations do nothing for the image of The Economist. Despite this, however, it is one of the only articles I have found that tackles the subject.

I certainly hope I get to write more about it, or, for that matter, read about it.



Words are the Religion

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Your Daddy is dyslexic. His mother and father had both left school by the age of 11, so when he was 14, he had decided that he hated English class. The teacher made him read aloud.

In their home there were tabloid newspapers, and picture books when they had been young. Now, there is an old radio and three televisions. These are the windows into the outside world. They didn’t go to church, and until today never had central heating.

When I met him, in a mosque after walking the Marylebone High Street, the childhood he described was an age away from where we were.

He was only 16 when he began to attend the Sufi circle at his local mosque. This place had provided a balm, a healing for the life he had come from. They chanted ancient words in Arabic, as foreign to him as eating with chopsticks.

I was born, just as he was, a child in a big family calling a council estate my home. The social housing in East London brought together many kinds of people. My English neighbours were alcoholics that had never gotten married, whose children were mistakes. There were petty criminals and scary dog breeders. We, like the other immigrant families, lived among the neglected indigenous population of England.

I was instilled with a deep sense of moral obligation towards God and my family. Our Muslim identity was something we breathed at home, praying together and learning together. Achieving academically was very important.

When we were moved to a better neighborhood, and I attended school in Hertfordshire, that is when I learned what it meant to be different. There was a girl in my class whose father was a Tory MP, another girl whose sister was at Cambridge. Their houses were enormous, with thick carpet and big gardens and lovely bathrooms. I would go home where the 6 of us lived on the first-floor and devour my library books.

The Violent Breakup of the Former Yugoslavia

My sister met her husband whilst they were both students in Wales. He was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina,  a south-eastern country of Europe, where his entire family still resides. You have four cousins who we said goodbye to this weekend, because they are going to live in Bosnia.


This country didn’t exist when I was born, because it formed part of Yugoslavia. The war of 1992 until 1995 created the largest displacement Europe has ever seen:

A 2012 film on the Humanitarian Relief effort by the UNHCR

As well as this, the conflict changed something internationally. Sexual violence had never been considered an international crime, rather it was treated with impunity:

“Recognizing sexual violence as an international crime

For centuries, sexual violence in conflict was tacitly accepted as unavoidable. A 1998 UN report on sexual violence and armed conflict notes that historically, armies considered rape one of the legitimate spoils of war. During World War II, all sides of the conflict were accused of mass rapes, yet neither of the two courts set up by the victorious allied countries to prosecute suspected war crimes — in Tokyo and Nuremberg — recognized the crime of sexual violence.

It was not until 1992, in the face of widespread rapes of women in the former Yugoslavia, that the issue came to the attention of the UN Security Council. On 18 December 1992, the Council declared the “massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women, in particular Muslim women, in Bosnia and Herzegovina” an international crime that must be addressed.

Subsequently, the Statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY, 1993)included rape as a crime against humanity, alongside other crimes such as torture and extermination, when committed in armed conflict and directed against a civilian population. In 2001, the ICTY became the first international court to find an accused person guilty of rape as a crime against humanity. Furthermore, the Court expanded the definition of slavery as a crime against humanity to include sexual slavery. Previously, forced labor was the only type of slavery to be viewed as a crime against humanity.”

The country of Bosnia changed history through the conflict, not only through the world but also in our family. Your uncle, my brother-in-law, who originates from that country, gave a speech on our wedding day in the Shah Jahan Mosque of Woking. Your cousin was my flower girl, and she taught me little phrases in Serbo-Croatian, written in the Cyrillic alphabet.

The days after I gave birth, I wore thick hand-knitted socks that my sister’s parents-in-law send every year. Let us hope we will visit them soon.


I was playing a word association game with your name ‘Jannah’ جنة in the original Arabic). It is the name for the garden of Paradise.

The word-association went like this:

Jannah – garden – trees – belonging – roots – branches – cousins

You have a lovely mix of cousins from the branches of our family tree. Blended into your paternal Anglo-Saxon blood is your half-Arab (Palestinian) cousin, and your half-African (Ghanaian) cousin.

From my Indian side, you have cousins who are half-Slavic (Bosnian).

All of us are a mixture of what we term ‘races’. When W. E. B Dubois wrote ‘The Souls of Black Folk’ and said:

“… the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line”

I am quite certain he anticipated the ‘problem’ families such as ours have been creating over the centuries. I like what he says by highlighting how difficult an experience it is:

“To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.”

However, the fact that a child can have a very different skin tone to her mother is not a problem for critical race theorists, because the idea of race is less to do with skin colour and biology and more to do with creating lines, walls and distinctions:

 “For critical race scholars, racial categories like Black, White, Latino, Asian, Mulatto, Quadroon, etc., are social constructions, produced not by biology but by social relationships, cultural meanings, and institutions like law, politics, religion, and the state. Moreover, critical race theorists also argue that the construct of “race” has been a central aspect of modern social organization and modern forms of knowledge like human biology, medicine, and law.”

Additionally, historical accounts have a lot to do with what we term ‘race’, because racism is ingrained in it. According to the online dictionary, racism is:

“1.1 The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races”

And so this belief is what we find in the narrative of imperialism that became established as the ‘official account’ of human history, according to Edward Said.

Now, our conversations about ‘race’ have to be as self-aware as Abdul R. JanMohamed wants them to be from his observation that the imperialist desire to dominate makes him see ‘confrontation’ between differences of skin colour, language, social customs etc. For a really comprehensive discussion, we have to leave behind our desire to dominate and ‘severely bracket’ our assumptions and ideologies, thereby leaving behind the security that it all provides.

Ah but security is all we ever want, and even I keep digging for roots.

Our Family Story

To my little girl,

I will write our family story, about India and England, about race, class and history, about death and life.

Ours is a story untold, because too often we fall into the marginalised groups, those without a voice, untold because your great-grandmother was illiterate, untold before Gayatri Spivak told us we could speak.

After walking through echoing corridors in universities, handing in essays and presenting theories, I have learnt that a true education teaches you more about yourself then any other subject. And you were my education.