What Are You?

Today, I attended the Women of Color Institute conference at my school. While this conference was very inspirational and empowering, I couldn’t help but feel a bit frustrated by my awkward position as biracial. Most of the speakers and attendees were African-American, with a few Latina and Asian-American participants. And then there was me, half Indian and half White. I don’t believe that I was the only biracial or mixed race woman there, but if there were others present, I wasn’t able to distinguish them from the group. Most of time this doesn’t bother me, but I quickly grow silent when the topics such as African-American hair care come up (and it always comes up). I don’t quite fit in.

Most people who are biracial choose to favor one part of their identity over the other in order to participate fully in that race or ethnic culture. I don’t have that ability. Sure, technically I’m Asian-American, but no one thinks of India when someone says “Asia”. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know that India is part of Asia. Even some Asian-American people I have met look confused when I try to identify myself as Asian. Then, when I say I’m Indian, people ask me what tribe I’m in and I have to further clarify my racial identity.

Trying to pass as White was never really an option for me either. Living in the US, it’s easier to identify more with the majority culture, but no one ever looks at me and thinks, “That girl is white.” I’m not white, I’m half white; historically and culturally, there’s a huge difference. I can’t ignore the Indian part of me and I don’t want to. Nor would White people accept me if I tried.

Coming to a predominantly white institution really emphasizes my otherness, so I never felt comfortable hanging out with huge groups of white students. Nor did I feel welcome in the small Black community on campus. Even though I’m a woman of color and feel some affiliation with Black culture, when it comes down to it, I am not Black and I will never know what it’s like to be a Black woman in the US. And while I do look Hispanic, I’m not, so it’s not as though I could insert myself into their organizations or social groups either. In fact, it bothers me when people mislabel me as Hispanic, because it emphasizes the fact that I don’t really look Indian, even though I am.

I know what you’re thinking, “Why aren’t you making friends with the Indian students?” Well, reader, I cannot participate in the Indian culture completely for two reasons: I don’t know Hindi, and I’m a Christian. Knowing the language would open up new opportunities to participate in the shared stories, songs, and traditions of India. Because I have not yet learned the language, participation in these aspects of culture, shallow though they are, is more difficult. I listen to and sing Hindi songs and I watch Hindi films, but my understanding of them will always be through a Western and English filter. Much of Indian culture, values, and traditions also come from a shared participation of Hinduism. I’m not Hindu, so many of those aspects of Indian culture are lost to me. So yes, I am Indian, but only half Indian, and other Indian people tend to ignore me because I cannot participate in their culture fully.

So, where does that leave me? Nowhere and everywhere. I don’t fit into the ineffective and over-simplified categories of race in the US. But, this is what sometimes makes me feel frustrated and sometimes fortunate. I have a double consciousness and I can code switch really well. I know what it is like to be a minority in the US. I also know what it is like to not be a minority in the US. As a racially ambiguous person on the surface, I am faced with discrimination and racism. However, because I am not a part of a historically marginalized group, the stereotype threat I face is not as well-defined as that of African-American or Hispanic people. In other words, people are racist, but they’re not sure what I am, so they can’t make specific negative assumptions about who I am. This is good because it gives me more opportunities to define myself before others try to define me. This is also frustrating on days like today, when I wish I could identify easily with one race or another in order to feel a stronger sense of community and sisterhood. I love being biracial because I am proud of both sides of my racial identity, but if you don’t learn how to navigate around racial barriers and code switch, it is a lonely existence.

Beck

White Girl Black Girl, a poem

I learned today that one of my poems was chosen as a winner of the Human Rights and Social Justice Writing Contest at my school. I am incredibly honored to have won. I almost started crying during my midterm when I found out.

I wrote this poem to make people uncomfortable and get people reflecting on who they are on campus. It’s not supposed to make you feel happy, and its purpose is not to offer solutions, but to bring awareness. It was born in a moment of reflection and frustration, and I hope it creates a moment of reflection for you too.

White Girl

Get out of my way Brown girl
I’m walking here
My North Face jacket and cowgirl boots
won’t stand for your presence
See this Longchamp purse?
It cost more than you spent
on textbooks this semester
And I have it in five colors

Get out of my way Black girl
You don’t belong here
With your Payless shoes
And your sub-par brands
I make sure you know
You can’t match my style
When I stare you down
at the coffee shop

Yeah, keep hiding in your MCC
That’s where we like you
Out of sight, out of mind
Not seen or heard
Not On Our Campus
We own these bricks
And all these societies we join
Ensure we’ll never mix

You wish you were me, you all do
With my straight blonde hair
And my classic blue eyes
My polished ivory skin
and my Vineyard Vines
Don’t even try to compete
You’ll just fail again
like you always do

Get down Black girl
When will you learn?
Your knappy hair and
Your face like mud
Will never outshine me
Why don’t you just give up?
Crawl back to whatever ghetto
you managed to escape from

Don’t worry, I’m not racist
I have that one Brown friend
We haven’t spoken in weeks
But she’s convenient to me
Don’t worry, I’m not ignorant
I’m fully aware of the distance,
Of the disparities between us
And that’s just the way I like it

This campus won’t ever change
Always separated, never equal
Always silenced, never celebrated
There’s no hope rising from these ashes

Every slur that goes unnoticed
Every crime that goes unchallenged
Fuels my fire, My desire
to stay beyond your reach
And leave you in the dust
Cause we both know
you don’t bELONg here

Photo courtesy of Heather Cassano, The Pendulum.

Photo courtesy of Heather Cassano, The Pendulum.

Black Girl

Go ahead, White girl
Walk past me with disdain
Stomping down the bricks
In your brown leather boots
Your nose stuck in the sky
I’m impressed with the number
Of designer purses you have
Tell me, how many will you
Be taking with you when you die?

I don’t have to explain my style to you
I don’t have to defend my face and hair
Against your judgment and your stare
I can express myself with or without
Whatever brands I choose
You can keep your expensive-
Eco-friendly-keeping-up-with-the-Jones-’
mine-is-shinier-than-yours-Porsche
I’ll stick with my simple-broken-in
Gets-me-where-I-need-to-go-sedan

Tell me, did your daddy buy you
A new MacBook Pro
After you told him yours was stolen?
Do you understand what it means to work?
To be in need? To go without?
Your moneyed perception is so blind
To the realities of this world
Your excess is sickening
But your ignorance is just sad

Truth is, I’m a threat to your
Imaginary superiority complex
Because even though I come from the ghetto
And you come from old money
We ended up in the same class
At the same college
And your perfect White world
Is disturbed by my presence

Truth is, you ignore me
Because you can’t come to grips
With the crimes of your ancestors
You come from a history of injustice
I come from a history of resilience
I would never want to be you
You hate me because you hate yourself
You hate me because I remind you
Of your guilt; it’s okay White girl,
Some things you can’t help being born into

Don’t worry, rich girl
One day you’ll learn
That you can’t keep us down
That we’ll never give up
That difference doesn’t mean deficiency
That the world is only turning
A more beautiful shade of brown
With every passing generation

This campus may never change
Always separated, never equal
Always silenced, never celebrated
I’m covered in ashes
Still I rise, filled with hope

Every slur that goes unnoticed
Every crime that goes unchallenged
Fuels my fire, My desire
To remain, to be heard
To change the status quo
Even though, we both know
Minorities don’t bELONg here
Minorities are just allowed here

Beck