Growing up, I had a pretty diverse friend group. I am Indian, my best friend is Latina and my other best friend is Asian. So, I am used to learning about different cultures, eating unique foods, and learning bits and pieces of different languages. Going into college, I was super excited to meet what would be my college friends and continue to learn about people who came from very different life paths than me.
One day as I was sitting in my friend’s dorm, the topic of diversity within our friend group came up. At that point, one of my guy friends mentioned how he had never been friends or really known any Indian people before coming to college. This took me by surprise. I asked him, “so I am the first Indian person you have ever been friends with?” He replied, slightly embarrassed, with a yes. He went on to say how he didn’t know much about the Indian culture and that he had never even tried South Asian cuisine before. After seeing my reaction, my friend explained how he grew up in a really small town where everyone knew each other and everyone was Caucasian. Where he was from, there wasn’t really an opportunity to meet people who were Indian or Latino or anything other than white for that matter. The limited diversity in his hometown was what motivated him to go outside of his comfort zone and attend a college that is known to be quite diverse and inclusive.
After hearing his story and understanding where he came from, I instantly became fascinated by the concept of being the first person within your race to interact with a particular individual. The idea that the impression that I give him about my culture is what he will use as his baseline knowledge on the culture as a whole is actually quite profound if you think about it. My friend knew nothing about Indian people. To him, people who looked like me or my dad or my brother were the people painted across the news every night characterized as terrorists. Since he had never really known or met any Indian people before, he fell into the trap many people nowadays do and believed the stereotypes perpetuated by the media. The silver lining to this is that in the few months that we were developing our friendship as freshmen in college, I was actually normalizing his perception of brown people without even realizing it. Through multiple conversations on my pride for my culture and my love for samosas, my friend began to realize how wrong of a perception he had. All brown people are not what you see on the news and also not necessarily what you see in Bollywood movies either. Brown people are normal people with normal lives which is something that my friend realized throughout the course of our friendship. This fact is what moved me the most.
One of the most difficult things to do is explain to someone why generalizing and stereotyping is wrong. You can explain to someone all day how all people are unique and different and how you cannot group people of a similar whatever together. However, despite those countless explanations, people still go throughout their everyday lives stereotyping people in their head. The fact that I was able to make my friend realize why his stereotyping was wrong through simply educating him on my culture and what it actually stands for really touched me.
In the world we live in today, people are so quick to judge you once they find out just one thing about who you are. Oh, you’re brown, you must be a terrorist. Oh, you are Christian, you must hate gay people. Oh, you’re an immigrant, you must have come here illegally. The list goes on and on and it is simply a cycle we must break. This can only happen with compassion and education. People will never learn to accept who others truly are if they lack the compassion required to take the time to understand. Further, you cannot always just assume people know about a specific facet of your identity; sometimes you have to teach them. Educating people is the only way for people to learn what is the truth and what are the reasons or justifications on a certain issue that they have just made up in their head.
Therefore, I urge everyone to do their part in helping this cause. Educate the people around you about facets of your identity that they maybe do not know much about. Do so with compassion and with the understanding that some people may walk away still thinking the same way as they did before and others will walk away having learned something new. Even if you effect only one person, you still made a difference. You still made someone realize that all Indian people aren’t bad people. You still made someone try curry for the first time. You still made someone look at you as a friend and not a foe. And honestly, trying to make a difference is all anyone can really ask you to do.