I’m not usually a person that worries or wonders about what to wear. My joggers and t-shirt are my favourite outfit, and dressing up can sometimes feel like a chore.
However, today I was privileged to be able to attend the Vaisakhi Celebrations at 10 Downing Street. So of course, the concern about what to wear was natural.
The interesting thing I found about the dilemma I faced, was how I was representing my faith, my heritage and my identity. Normally this would constitute that I wear traditional Indian dress of some sort and embrace my identity as a Sikh.
On this occasion that wasn’t the case. The mere suggestion of meeting Parliamentary dignitaries and entering a home of British history appeared to strip me of this layer of identity. It encouraged me to wear something more “ordinary”, “smart” and “presentable” in such company.
Of course, I found a middle ground that was far more conservative (no pun intended), to the expectations of those that I would meet there. It also appeared that almost all the guests were in western attire and therefore my thoughts to dress in this way was amongst the norm. Never-the-less this simple statement, based entirely on appearance, did leave me questioning our perception of what makes a multi-faith and intercultural society.
We have a society where we leave our language at the door to be understood by the other; we leave our cultural practices in our homes, so that we do not offend, disrupt or scare anyone; we keep our beliefs or values quiet for the most part, to avoid conflict and disagreement; and now we also restrict our cultural dress to environments or situations that are created for them to be worn.
Whilst I am completely proud to be a British born Sikh, raised in England, and I would have to attest that English is my primary language; I worry that by splitting our identities in so many ways we are denying part of who we are. I know I did that today in order to feel accepted and included, and this was my personal choice. Yet, I cannot deny that due to the small percentage of people who did wear cultural attire, there must be something inherently ingrained in us to make this distinction.
It may never change, and we may not want it to, but it is something that I am conscious of. Even if I was to wear western clothes for the rest of my life, I would like to know that I made that decision based on my own preference, and not on the judgement I perceive I would get from others – particularly those in positions of power and prestige.