Rukhsana Khan is an award-winning author and storyteller. She was born in Lahore, Pakistan and immigrated to
Canada in 1965 at the age of three. She grew up in a small town in Southern Ontario where her family was the only Pakistani Muslim family, and she used her love of reading to survive. She has ten books published and others under contract. She lives in Toronto with her husband and family. Learn more about Rukhsana at www.rukhsanakhan.com
Briefly describe the impact racism had on you as a young person.
When I was very young the kids in my class would tell me that they were white because they were clean and I was brown because I was dirty. I think their racism left me feeling ‘dirty’ for the longest time.
Basically I found myself under a microscope as a young person. Every mistake I made was magnified, caught, never forgotten, and thrown back in my face by the kids I grew up with. And when I told them I couldn’t eat something because it had ingredients that were forbidden by my beliefs, they would laugh at me and say I was weird. I had to decide whether they were right about that or not. I had to examine my religion and my culture and decide whether all their insults were accurate or whether they were wrong about it. In the end I decided they were wrong and even if I was a lone voice, and the whole world was set against me, I had examined my position and it had merit.
Has your personal experience of racism impacted your professional work as a writer?
Yes! Absolutely! It’s made me question the status quo a lot! I often play the devil’s advocate and especially question things that are entrenched absolutes. It’s forced me to remain the perennial outsider, which is actually not such a bad vantage point if you want to be a writer.
In what way can literature be used to combat the effects of racism and promote tolerance?
When you read a compelling story about someone from a different culture you actually take on the identity of that culture, at least for the time you’re immersed in the story. And consequently you can never look at people from that culture in the same way again. That is the power of literature to reach past racial, religious, and cultural differences and touch the humanity within each of us.