Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Dancing in the dark of western culture

  • 09 December 2019


Most people reading this are probably fortunate enough to feel part of mainstream Australia by having pronounceable names, white skin and few religious dietary restrictions. By spending your teenage years kissing people of the same or opposite sex, attending parties and avoiding the worst of bullying in the playground. You won't turn on the TV or radio and see or hear stories of people that share your ancestral strangeness committing awful deeds.

Even before 9/11 and 7/7, brown-skinned South Asians who identified as not-as-Christian-as-everyone-else were the subject of vilification. Largely this was for racial reasons. In the UK Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims etc. were collectively identified as 'Paki'. While in Australia, we were called 'curry munchers', 'Abbos', 'wogs' and other terms of endearment.

Majoritarian politicians love to use any opportunity to remind minorities to integrate. Or to assimilate. It's all the same, really. Minority kids by and large resent these calls. Why? Because these kids are almost always desperate to integrate. South Asian kids like myself and British journalist Sarfraz Manzoor are among those wishing to be Australian or British. I wrote about my integration journey in Once Were Radicals. Manzoor's memoir Greetings From Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock 'n' Roll — on which the 2019 film Blinded by the Light has been based — spoke about his experiences as a British growing up in a working class Pakistani family.

An essential part of the self-integration process was living the lyrics. We both took our music seriously. We both regarded the words of songs from our favourite artists as gospel. For Manzoor, it was the morose voice of New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen. For me, it was the boom of North Sea waves emerging from Glasgow band Simple Minds.

Springsteen meant everything to the young high school kid from Luton. It wasn't merely a case of shallow mimicking of dress and hairstyle. Manzoor the young writer was drawing literary inspiration from Springsteen's lyrics, even as Manzoor's father (at least in the film) wanted his son to throw out his literary passions and focus on studying economics.

Manzoor's father had good reasons, having experienced the nasty and often humiliating work of a factory labourer. 'Writing is for English people. You are a Pakistani,' he would lecture his son. The road to integration was paved with pounds and dollars. Too often I was told by my South Asian uncles the same message. 'Stop writing letters to the newspaper. Don't alienate this or that