I’m not typically one to gatekeep events, but getting racially abused within the first 30 minutes of attending this year’s Lakemba Ramadan night markets sure will do that to you.
Let me set the scene.
I’ve been going to Lakemba’s Ramadan Nights market for years with my family, and once I became an adult I started bringing my non-Muslim friends with me too.
Introducing them to all these new foods was fun for both of us as we recorded first tastes of cheesy knafeh, sticky jalebi or Kashmiri chai. They get to try amazing food, I get to share silly videos of them on Instagram — a win/win, really.
But for the first time in my life, I’m finding myself resenting how mainstream the markets have become.
Suddenly I wish the markets were a secret. The disrespect Muslims and broader South Asian and Arab communities are experiencing at the hands of white people who are just now discovering us is honestly appalling.
On the second Saturday of Ramadan, I went to Lakemba’s Ramadan Nights with my family.
A twinge of resentment was already growing in me — I’d heard local Muslims lamenting leaving the markets with nothing to eat because the influx of tourists meant the lines were super long.
Those of y’all that wait at the lines have mad patience 😖
Considering this is an event is held by the Muslim community, it felt wrong to see locals driven out. Even then, at that point I figured whatever, it’s not a big deal.
But then it only took half an hour for me to be racially abused by a white stranger.
A woman, who appeared to be possibly drunk, yelled at me to go back to where I came from as she tottered past me on the side walk.
It was so sudden and out of place on the busy, ethnic, Muslim-populated streets of Lakemba that by the time I processed what she said she was long gone. Two Pakistani men in line behind me shook their heads and commented to each other in Urdu that she must be racist, but their lack of shock says wonders in how we are used to being treated.
After sharing my frustrations online, it’s heart-breaking how many people reached out to me with stories of the racism they also witnessed at Lakemba’s Ramadan Nights from white tourists this year.
Now everyyybooody is here. white people are here unchaperoned! buses drop people to the area once known as the badlands derided by tabloids. condos and a woolies metro have popped up.
— Sarah Malik (@sarahbmalik) April 19, 2022
A fellow attendee told me on the same night I was at the markets, she was in line behind a group of white boys at an Afghan stall. While waiting, the boys decided it would be fun to mock the accents of South Asian men conversing in English nearby.
Another person told me that they witnessed a white man making fun of the name of a Pakistani stall to his friends while mocking Pakistani accents.
An IRL friend of mine said she heard white tourists discussing how gross they found some of the more famous cultural dishes. Apparently they couldn’t understand how something as weird (read: unfamiliar) as knafeh could be so popular. I’m sure I don’t need to explain how that feels to ethnic kids who grew up being mocked for the cultural dishes they eat.
During this same night, I overheard white people at the markets complain at the lack of music and how there was “no vibe”. Which might not seem like a big deal to some, but is actually incredibly ignorant. Muslims avoid music during Ramadan because the month is about deviating from material distractions to embrace worship and spirituality. There being no music is integral to it being a Ramadan event.
The audacity to come to an ethnic event and then complain that it doesn’t cater to what *white* people think entertainment should be is frustrating to see.
And then of course, there were all the white people who brought their dogs to the markets, despite how inappropriate it is to bring dogs to any Muslim event. Google exists and I’m tired of the ignorance.
no bc lakemba ramadan markets rn is 90% not muslim ppl and it makes me a bit mad bc these are the same people that have the audacity to be islamophobic anyway enjoy ig
— liha🪐 (@lvndrrhaze) April 18, 2022
For a lot of Sydney-based Muslims, Lakemba is one of the few places we have our guard down because it is so unapologetically Muslim. This is literally the place Pauline Hanson is most threatened by, so you know we feel at home here.
This is also why it’s so unsettling and hurtful to see this pocket of peace become infiltrated with the same racism and micro-aggressions we experience outside of our community.
It is not fair that people harbouring racist attitudes get to exploit our cultures for food, entertainment and clout and at the same time abuse and mock us.
Look, I really don’t mind sharing the Ramadan night markets with white people. It’s fun. We’ve been doing so for years with no dramas, and its been a great way to share the joy of Ramadan and humanise Muslims to people who would probably never interact with us otherwise.
But the rude, inconsiderate and hurtful behaviour I and other Muslims have experienced at the hands of white tourists makes me wonder if maybe sharing our space was a good idea. Please, to any other tourists who would like to enjoy the Ramadan night markets: prove me wrong.