I am Indian, but I when I look in a mirror, I get confused. I am Indian but when I catch my reflection, I expect to see a slender, tall, white girl with subtle, light features. Instead, I see a chubby Indian girl with aggressive eyebrows, bright brown eyes and a sharp nose.
Until very recently, I didn’t understand who I was. My whole family is Indian and everyone in my family, except for me, was born in India. For my whole life, I’ve been proud of my heritage. I’ve always known that I’m Indian.
Growing up, I lived in three areas: Texas, New York and Pennsylvania. In every place, I could probably have counted on one hand the number of students in my class who weren’t white.
In school, I did my assignments to the best of my abilities, I studied as hard as I could, I was involved in extracurricular activities and I did what almost every student was doing. I worked hard in school. Everyone worked hard. But I never felt good enough. No matter how hard I tried, someone else got the opportunities I was working for. I never thought much of it. I suffered through a very serious depression during high school and I always chalked up these “missed opportunities” as not being smart enough, talented enough, pretty enough, fit enough, funny enough. I always blamed and attacked myself even though I knew I was working just as hard as the hardest working students in my class.
I worked hard and I watched as many of my peers (most of them white) had opportunities presented to them. I worked hard and I watched as some of my peers were asked to participate in musical events. Peers who weren’t even in the music program. Peers who I was just as qualified and talented as, if not more so. Peers who were white. Peers who fit the standard of beauty more than I did.
Looks matter. Looks matter and if you say otherwise, you’re lying to yourself.
At the beginning of this year, I started hanging up pictures of me and my friends when I realized that all but two of my very close friends are white. But that is to be expected because I’ve spent the majority of my life so far in a small, upper-middle class, conservative, white town. I grew up thinking that Indian culture was gross and stupid and that I needed to be “American.” After starting college and taking time to reflect on who I truly am, I’ve realized that I have been trying to live as a white woman.
Being treated differently because of my skin color is not a reflection on me or my personality, it is a reflection of the twisted ideas that many of us are raised believing. Being treated differently because of my skin color does not mean that there is something wrong with me, it means there is something wrong with the person treating me as less than them. Being treated differently because of my gender is not a reflection on me or my personality. I may not be the funniest or kindest person, but I am a person, I am a human being.
Regardless of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, political views, socioeconomic status and countless other factors of difference, we should all be treated as human. We should all be treated like we matter, because we do. To make another being feel less valuable than they are is wrong. Growing up in a small, upper-middle class, conservative, white town, I was made to feel like less than my white peers. I didn’t realize it was a matter of race at the time. I thought that I was being treated differently because I was doing something wrong. I was annoying, stupid, ugly or rude. I thought I was the problem, but the problem isn’t me.
Quite a few people in the past few months have told me that I’m too aggressive, too angry.
Maybe instead of telling me that I’m too angry, people should start asking why I’m so angry.
I’m angry because, according to the standard of beauty, I am ugly, fat and overly emotional. I’m angry because every boy that I have liked has said, “You’re not my type” because I am brown, ugly, fat and overly emotional. I’m angry because being brown in a primarily white society means I do not matter. I’m angry because when I’m at work with my white co-workers, none of our customers approach me first. I’m angry because people give my family dirty looks or say horrible things because of the way we look and speak — as if having an Indian accent means that my parents don’t know anything.
I’m angry because I am brown and that means I do not belong. I’m angry because I am a woman and I am seen as less than a man. I’m angry because I am a brown woman and I am seen as less than white women. I am angry because I am a white woman stuck in a brown woman’s body.
What can we do?
This is how our society is and seemingly always has been. How do we fix it?
Should we fix it?
Yes. I’ve decided to write about my experiences and talk about these issues with those around me in order to influence positive change. Having these conversations is incredibly important because we cannot force people to act differently or think differently. What we can do is encourage them to think about these issues and they may make changes at their own will.
Everyone matters. Everyone deserves to live a full life despite how they might differ from white societal norms and the standard of beauty. I hope one day that we all, as a whole, come to understand that everyone deserves love, respect and kindness.