My Experience With Racism
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Politics and Activism

Racism In America Exists, I'm The Little Indian Girl Who Wished For White Skin Just To Fit In

Dear North Shore, this is a story about the time racism in your schools made me want to change my skin color.

Sajel Arya

I am Indian. I am an Indian woman. Now, I say these things with pride... but I wasn't always like this.

I was born and raised on Long Island, New York—not a very diverse place. Before moving to the North Shore of Long Island, my family and I lived in a smaller, less affluent area of the island. Here, I met my best friend and had many Indian neighbors. I never felt an ounce of not belonging there; all the teachers, classmates, and families accepted each other no matter their skin color. We woke up on Saturday mornings and rode our bikes around the block, walked to each others' birthday parties, carpooled to and from school, and had barbecues together. Here, I felt at home. Little did I know, this was all about to change.

Halfway through kindergarten my family moved to a small town called Old Brookville. Though the people were nice to begin with, something was clearly missing. The houses were bigger; camouflaged by big trees and fences - just like the people. I can confidently say I still don't know all my neighbors, and I've lived here for almost fifteen years. No more riding bikes with the other neighborhood kids and randomly knocking on doors to see if they wanted to play. There was no sense of community anymore. I may have only been 5, but I felt alone.

School was where I finally understood what it meant to not belong. Even in elementary school I was hyperaware of myself and my skin color. I remember making sure to get good grades, because according to everyone there, that's what Indians did. I remember consciously stepping away from sports, because Indians aren't coordinated. I may have been in 5th grade, but I knew that none of my friends would want to try my "spicy" food. So I started buying lunch from the school everyday. I never wore shorts because my legs were brown, "the color of poop." Imagine a 3rd grader covering her arms and legs every day of the year in an effort to hide her heritage.

Middle school is tough for everyone, but being the only Indian girl in a school full of white kids posed its own threat.

Even though I had a couple of great friends who I am so grateful for, it was hard for me to relate to everyone. My conservative brown parents didn't let me sleep over at other peoples houses or wear bikinis to pool parties. I couldn't just hang out every day after school, because school was the number one priority and homework was more important than spending time with friends.

They didn't listen to the music I listened to or watch Bollywood movies like I did. And the thing was, most people weren't open to it. They were perfectly content living in their boxed in houses without an ounce of curiosity for the outside world.

Sixth grade was the first time I felt unworthy. There was this group of friends, let's call them the "the cool kids," and I was desperate to get a ticket into their club. The only thing was, there wasn't a single person of color in this group. Why did I want to be friends with them so badly? As you all can guess, I never really joined the group. In 8th grade I got invited to eat lunch with them. That morning was hell. I had to find the perfect outfit for them. I was aware that I was changing myself for them, but if that was the only way I would be noticed by them, it was worth it.

High school was perhaps the peak of the racism. By 9th grade I knew that none of the boys that I liked would want to talk to me because of my brown skin. I guess I was just too different for them. That hurt me a lot. I couldn't comprehend not wanting to be around someone based on their skin color. The pressure to get into a great college built up over time. Indians only go to ivy leagues. My sense of who I was just was nonexistent.

Everyone was out partying and I was struggling with who I was.

In a group full of white kids, I felt too brown. In a group full of Indians, I felt too white. It was like I didn't fit into any category.

I was aware of my skin color every moment of the day, no matter where I was. How come my name was the only one that was mispronounced on the first day of school? How come I was the only one who had to give up any hope of finding a boyfriend because of my skin color? How come I was the only one who had to dowse myself in perfume to mask the smell of the curry powder in my kitchen? Even though I loved that smell so much. It didn't seem fair, yet I kept doing all of these things.

The racism came in the tiniest of acts. A weird look or comment that one would just brush off cut me deeper and deeper every time.

The pressure of dressing rich and acting white finally got to me. Eventually it was all I could think about, compensating with money wasn't working anymore. I remember wanting to physically scrub the brown off my skin—I even tried. Maybe if I was white he would pay attention to me, or my math teacher wouldn't expect so much of me. If I was white life would be easier.

I started doing things to make me seem less Indian. I used filters on my pictures to lighten my skin and died my hair partly blonde to fit in. I realize now how much of a blessing my thick, black hair is, and how beautiful my sun kissed skin is.

It took me going to college and escaping the infamous North Shore bubble to finally realize that being Indian wasn't a curse. I love my culture and my brown skin. I never hide from who I am, and I never will again.

To North Shore,

I sincerely hope you learn to open your eyes.

To my future daughter,

Your brown skin is a symbol of perseverance, power, and beauty. You are worthy.

To my past self,

You are, were, and always will be worthy.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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