them + you


Went to Oxford with two friends who are Bengali and relatively dark-skinned. Neither of them have been to Oxford before and usually when they do go away, they're with other people who look like them, who are from a similar background.

After we had spent the day together and sat down for a meal, S and T held out their arms and compared their skin tones, wondering who was lighter of the two. They are sisters.

I already knew T felt excluded, an outsider in that environment. She was particularly happy to see names like Mohammed on the various College lists. She was surprised that they even allow Muslims to study at Oxford.

At the exhibition at the Museum of Art, Veil, a white middle-class woman went up to T, who chooses to wear a head scarf, while she was looking at images of Algerian women. These photographs were taken by male soldiers who had forced them to remove their veils. They are clearly angry women. The woman spoke to T about wearing veils and then said that she wished she had brought some dates for her. It was still Ramadan then and dates are the traditional way to break the fast. It was about 7.00 and 3 hours after Iftar.

For me though the experince of seeing that exhibition was also changed simply because S and T were there. Originally when I saw it, I hated the photographs I just mentioned. My feelings were on the side of the photographer and I felt the violation and was angry. They felt like ethnographic photographs - photos of exotic people without a real set of characteristics or identity beyond the henna and clothes. I didn't understand why they were included. But seeing them with S and T, I suddenly saw the anger of the women. Suddenly my emotions were on the side of the photographed, these women, and I felt their violation and anger. And I know the difference was because I was with two practising Muslims.
'Them' had become an 'us'.

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