ANGREJ CHALE GAYE CRIPPLING INTERNALIZED RACISM CHHOD GAYE
(Title translation: The British Left, Not Without Leaving Behind Crippling Internalized Racism)
Not only as a columnist, but also as a member of the editorial board here at inwords.co.in, I should not be admitting out loud that this article was supposed to be published on the 26th of January, 2017. In my defense, a deadline approaching in 7 days isn’t nearly enough to put my 17 years of existence shaped in the prolonged aftermath of 200 years of British colonization and enforced white supremacy in perspective for you.
Within my first two months of primary schooling in a foreign country, it took two mutters of, “Paki!” and one, “Bloody Indian!” (certainly a noteworthy racial slur coming from a 3rd grader) for 7 year old me to understand that nationalities, could be insults too sometimes. It was all a game of dress up, from then, one that no child should ever have to play. The aaloo ka paratha in my lunch box conveniently became “stuffed fried bread”, my childhood Bollywood crushes were replaced with epitomes of euro-centric beauty standards- white, freckled, blonde, and my birth name Aditi, a reference to a Hindu goddess, became an accented Addie under the supposed pretext of mispronunciation but really, because it made me feel like I belonged. It made me feel white.
Made by Jiyeon Yoo
Nothing quite makes your sense of identity quiver like the overwhelming urge to fit in. I unraveled my identity but got too caught up in the internalized tangles of white supremacy.
That was ten years ago, and a lot has changed since then. Somewhere between moving back to India and being exposed to a global community via the internet in my recent teen years, I started to proudly identify as a woman of color. I became unapologetic enough in my skin to openly rant about Fair and Lovely in exasperation, rolled my eyes at white people who mispronounced Sanskrit words like guru and karma to make them sound like names of tropical illnesses you really don’t want to have and finally developed an appreciation for my ethnicity. With social justice-y rants about racism one click away always on my fingertips, the taste of garam masala on my tongue and wonder in my eyes as the mehendi wala inked my skin, I thought I was the last person in the world then that could be a victim of the notion of white supremacy.
Once I happened to ask one my friends, American might I add, what her favorite things about India were. Her answers seemed to revolve around phrases like, “those henna designs are pretty cool,” and “I love the tan that desi people have!” and the classic, “the food, oh my gawd, is amazing!” While these statements may sound like a broken record to you, to me they were an epiphany. Images of white girls tagging #hennatattoos #sopretty #loveindia on Instagram, yoga and ayurveda tips on trendy hipster blogs and Coldplay’s infamous Hymn For The Weekend video filled my mind. Could it be that my new found acceptance of my own culture stemmed from their appreciation of it? Hundreds of American beauty bloggers reviewing various spray tan brands and pop culture celebrating, in the words of Bryan Adams himself, “Brown skin and cinnamon tans!” Could it be that I was now unapologetic about the color of my skin because in the eyes of West it wasn’t a transgression anymore, it was a trend.
I can distinguish a pattern from coincidences when I see one.
I thought that white supremacy didn’t affect me anymore, but the fact that I had, yet again, founded my acceptance of and identity with my culture on their validation, spoke volumes. I would like to clarify that my love and appreciation for my cultural identity today stands valid no matter what the initial cause. But it would do us good to acknowledge it to understand better what damage the manifestations of systemic prejudice can do. Resenting my culture in my childhood has made me miss out on a lot. I never found interest in learning regional languages because I was so busy perfecting a proper accent, something I deeply regret to this day. Seeking validation in my teens gave me a deformed sense of identity. I felt like a young woman who had fought with her parents to marry her boyfriend, only now they’re getting divorced and she doesn’t know what to call home.
Yes, internalized prejudices exist and for the amount of people they affect we don’t talk about them nearly enough. And that precisely is the intention of my sharing my experiences today, not to drag white people or to blame my own, but just to start a much needed conversation.
I once saw a tweet from a young man saying, “8/10 brown girls who talk about racism use the flower crown Snapchat filter to look white,” and that really is a perfect example of how not to mock and oversimplifiy internalized prejudice. It works in a vicious cyclic process, thriving on ignorance. It took me a while to realize that educating yourself is surely about learning new perspectives, but more importantly it entails unlearning previously acquired prejudices. A task, not Herculean, but certainly gradual and time consuming- something we should all keep in our minds before typing out aggressive sarcastic remarks on a Facebook post with an ignorant opinion. These condescending drags and snarky remarks may make good stories, but never good lessons.
Sometimes I still mistake my correcting faulty English grammar for my good argumentation. Sometimes it still takes me a conscious effort to appreciate beauty in dark skin, simply because I have been conditioned to think otherwise. And sometimes when the overwhelming urge to fit in stealthily slithers its way into my mind with an intent to make my sense of identity tremble with a start, I do not flinch.
I strengthen my defenses.
Aditi Wakhlu, The First Of Her Name, Breaker of Societal Norms, Queen of Sarcasm, Master of Puns, etymology freak, debater, videographer, violinist. This spoken-word-fanatic, who is an unusual combination of a lazy perfectionist, has a wonderfully appeasing sense of aesthetics. Her sense of political correctness and taste in music is in its most literal sense of the term, award-worthy.
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