How Brown should a Brown person be?
May 28, 2015 10:37 AM   Subscribe

 
The example of Jindal is flawed. Jindal seems to disavow his ethnicity because he's a Republican, not because he's an American.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:44 AM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think it matters; Jindal's disavowal is just the logical conclusion of multiracial whiteness. (Pushed to the absurd that-which-does-not-speak-its-name extreme, as so many things are with Republicans.) The point is that disavowal of identity is a necessary part of becoming acceptably mainstream/white. "How much Brownness is enough/too much" is a fascinating and harrowing sociological question and this is a fascinating article.

I like the way the author constructs race; the article has a very flexible metaphoric way of thinking about the intersection of race, class and culture.
posted by easter queen at 10:55 AM on May 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


The example of Jindal is flawed. Jindal seems to disavow his ethnicity because he's a Republican, not because he's an American.
roomthreeseventeen

I think Khan is a little unclear, but he agrees with you. He wrote: "Republican governor Bobby Jindal is a perfect example for many: he has assimilated deeply into White, American, conservative culture".
posted by Sangermaine at 11:04 AM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


The point is that disavowal of identity is a necessary part of becoming acceptably mainstream/white.

Disavowal of a non-European identity. I wish I could find it, but I remember seeing a post on Metafilter that had a map of census data comparing what people put down as their race. There was a lot German American and Irish American and Norwegian American. Just plain 'White' or 'American' was a distinctly rural/Southern thing.

It's only people who have brown skin who have to give up their cultural identity in that version of multiracial whiteness.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:06 AM on May 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yes, of course. It's similar to all sorts of identity disavowal; e.g., the fear that legalizing gay marriage is "straighting" gay culture, the idea that women can compete with men in business if and only if they begin to act like men, etc.
posted by easter queen at 11:11 AM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Jindal seems to disavow his ethnicity because he's a Republican, not because he's an American.

You do realize that thinking people of one ethnicity can only belong to one political party is kind of racist, right? We contain multitudes.
posted by corb at 11:14 AM on May 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


I remember being 12 and staring into a floor-to-ceiling mirror ... This can’t be me, I thought, This must be a dream. In the real world I must be blonde and blue-eyed ...

Much as Cary Grant wished to be Cary Grant, I did the same thing. Sadly, however, I've had to settle for reading on my lunch breaks.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:15 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


He left out the experience that some of have for being mistaken for Latinos and all the good and bad that comes from that. I guess that doesn't happen to South Asians in Canada.
posted by Renoroc at 11:17 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


You do realize that thinking people of one ethnicity can only belong to one political party is kind of racist, right?

I don't see where anyone said that. The suggestion is that one political party has a problem with anyone who's not of one particular ethnicity, which is very different.
posted by Zonker at 11:23 AM on May 28, 2015 [13 favorites]


This is great. Thank you for posting this. The article hits a great many points beyond the initial analysis of race and identity - a "sense of obligation towards knowledge", the incredible radicalness I felt (as a Korean-American) about Harold and Kumar when it was released, etc.

It's only people who have brown skin who have to give up their cultural identity in that version of multiracial whiteness.

I (gently) disagree, and think that's the central questions asked by Khan's essay. It's not that they "have to give up their cultural identity", it's that there's a tension between creating a new cultural identity for yourself, and maintaining a connection to "your origins".

In my experience, the question "What is your race?" is often times answered by those who are White by ancestral lineage based on a country: "My grandparents were from Ireland". I feel like this is often because "My race is White" is not a statement that most White people make about their identity, for a myriad of reasons; one of these being that whiteness is often self-perceived as a somewhat neutral culture, so to think of 'race' is to think of country origin. That is - people may think "Well yes, I'm white, but that's not my 'race'."

I don't think someone calling themselves 'Brown' is a disavowal of cultural identity, but rather the generation of new ones based on 'what you do', not 'where you came from', not your country origin. To what extent is one expected to maintain a linkage to "your origins"? Do I have to know everything about Korea because I'm Korean-American? Can't you just "be who you want to be", enjoying rap and borscht and David Foster Wallace and kimchi alike, knowing nothing about butter chicken -- or is that kind of a White-privilege disavowal of identity? Hence the title "How Brown should a Brown person be?"

"Within this framework, Kumar wasn’t very Brown because he never really discussed his Brownness. The power of Kumar comes from this lack of a statement. While I was struck by the image of a Brown man smoking pot, part of me still felt that something about the character was missing. The opposite representation, like in the film The Namesake, released a few years later and also starring Kal Penn, felt too obvious: too banal in its attempt to answer these questions that followed me. Kumar largely succeeds because he doesn’t indulge in a very White idea of Brownness: curry eating heavily accented mama’s boy. He succeeds by acting out privileges only previously afforded to White boys, but he still wasn’t exactly what I was looking for."

Of course, like Khan mentions in that paragraphs, there are no clear answers; it's all "identity fuzziness".
posted by suedehead at 11:25 AM on May 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


You do realize that thinking people of one ethnicity can only belong to one political party is kind of racist, right? We contain multitudes.

I was only referring to Jindal.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:25 AM on May 28, 2015


Oh, I see. Sorry for the read - it seemed to be saying that Jindal was disavowing his ethnicity/ 'acting white' by being a Republican. It's an accusation I hear a lot and I'm probably oversensitive to it - my apologies, roomthreeseventeen.
posted by corb at 11:26 AM on May 28, 2015


A pity he references Bobby Jindal so early on, since this is an essay about Canada and not about the Republican-Democrat binary (and to Canadians there isn't much difference between either party).
posted by Nevin at 11:31 AM on May 28, 2015


This is an essay about Canada?
posted by griphus at 11:46 AM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


What a great read. I really enjoyed that.

Negotiating the terms of one's otherness has proven to be a life long effort for me. I'm 41 years old and have lived in America all my life, but I'm still trying to figure out my blackness.

Some days I feel like the frickin' Borg, constantly tweaking my configuration to counter every new attack. They don't think I'm cool, increase blackness to 90%...Shopkeeper's giving me the stink-eye, increase upper middle class markers by 35%...new rap song just came out, add it to our biological and lyrical diversity....

I hope I can be like Khan and one day move past this sort of negotiation to claim an existence of my own.

Thanks for the post, the man of twists and turns.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:47 AM on May 28, 2015 [18 favorites]


“You have such a White personality!”
As a punjabi who grew up in Dallas, TX. I know exactly how this feels. I've received similar comments. My friends used the term: Oreo [brown on the outside / white on the in].

I am well versed in my culture, raised as a Hindu, went to temple, hung out with both Indo-Americans and non. But for many of my friends, I was some how not "Indian" enough because I listened to bands like Nirvana or Pearl Jam. I lost a few friendships because some people felt I was "choosing" white people over my own. Not something I made a choice. Your friends are your friends, you tend to hang out with people in similar circles. For me it was: tennis team, orchestra, temple, boyscouts, etc. You like the things you like. Its sad that sometimes people only see things in such binaries and absolutes.

*sighs*
posted by Fizz at 11:48 AM on May 28, 2015 [17 favorites]


I (gently) disagree, and think that's the central questions asked by Khan's essay. It's not that they "have to give up their cultural identity", it's that there's a tension between creating a new cultural identity for yourself, and maintaining a connection to "your origins".

This. The comparison of the the melting pot (USA) versus the cultural mosaic (Canada) might be helpful within this conversation.
posted by Fizz at 12:15 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


this is an essay about Canada

CTRL-F america 27 matches

CTRL-F canada 1 match




In any case, this is a good essay. Thanks for posting it, tmotat!
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:21 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


(and to Canadians there isn't much difference between either party)

That isn't limited to Canadians...
posted by twidget at 12:22 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Should be noted that the idea of the cultural mosaic is not without criticism.
posted by Fizz at 12:24 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


The comparison of the the melting pot (USA) versus the cultural mosaic (Canada) might be helpful within this conversation.

I remember in elementary school in the USA in the 90s, there was definitely an effort to teach the salad bowl metaphor over the melting pot one. I don't know if that was the result of having particularly progressive teachers or a curriculum change, but are kids still being taught the melting pot thing here?
posted by griphus at 12:34 PM on May 28, 2015


In middle school I was called “wigger” by a classmate because of my sweet white Nikes...

I couldn’t escape my brown skin, but at least I could be rich like an Arab.


Maybe a large part of assimilation is about consumption. About participating in consumption and the culture around it.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 12:37 PM on May 28, 2015


The comparison of the the melting pot (USA) versus the cultural mosaic (Canada) might be helpful within this conversation.

I remember in elementary school in the USA in the 90s, there was definitely an effort to teach the salad bowl metaphor over the melting pot one. I don't know if that was the result of having particularly progressive teachers or a curriculum change, but are kids still being taught the melting pot thing here?
posted by griphus at 3:34 PM on May 28 [+] [!]


Also in elementary school in the 90's but in suburbia and melting pot was definitely the metaphor in use.
posted by edbles at 12:38 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


“You have such a White personality!”

I frequently heard versions of this growing up as well (mostly from white people.) As an adult I now understand that what they really meant was, "You don't conform to the ethnic stereotype I have of Indian people." What still confuses me is why do people feel the need to make comments like this in the first place. What do they hope to achieve by telling me that a have a "white" personality? How would they like me to respond?
posted by Slurms MacKenzie at 12:50 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


What do they hope to achieve by telling me that a have a "white" personality? How would they like me to respond?

Also, can we add: "That's a weird name." to that list. I mean, what the fuck does that even mean. It's not "weird", its not "different", it's my fucking name. Ugh, so rage-inducing sometimes. I know its ignorance and often its harmless but it does grate on your nerves.
posted by Fizz at 12:55 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Maybe a large part of assimilation is about consumption. About participating in consumption and the culture around it.

It's most definitely about class.
posted by easter queen at 12:59 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Disavowal of a non-European identity. I wish I could find it, but I remember seeing a post on Metafilter that had a map of census data comparing what people put down as their race. There was a lot German American and Irish American and Norwegian American. Just plain 'White' or 'American' was a distinctly rural/Southern thing.

In my experience, "German American" and "Norwegian American" might as well be shortened to "American," for all the actual meaning the adjectives impart.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 1:00 PM on May 28, 2015


It looks like I'm a bit older than Adnan, so I never had to worry about how the War on Terror affected things growing up but so much of this rang true for me.

In Toronto in the 90s there was no real Indo-Pak culture for us to latch on to so kids had to identify themselves through what was available locally. This pretty much divided into rock or hip hop, or to put it racially black or white. (Yes you could get movies or albums from ethnic stores but it was just so bad. I guess Bollywood has gotten better, or at least more popular, but the music still sucks right?)

There was definitely a sense that being black was more authentic/true to being brown than being white. You could point to Kim Thayil or other brown people in the rock world all you wanted, it was still somehow better to listen to Naughty by Nature or some other hip hop act even though none of them were brown. (When the Apache Indian song came out we all had to like it, and we did)

Mixed into this was the coincidental fact that the kids from families where the parents had graduate/professional degrees tended to be white and the kids from the other families be black.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:01 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was sitting in a generic chain coffee shop in Esquimalt the other day (the chain straddles the line between Starbucks and Tim Horton's) and was served by someone from South Asia. She had a pretty strong accent, which is not unusual at all in the part of Canada.

So I was working away on my computer and the phone rang, and the cashier's coworker, the female version of a hoser basically, must of glanced at the call display.

"Evil? Evil? Who is Evil?"

"That's my husband," said the cashier.

"You gave your husband the codename "Evil"???"

"No, that's his name," said the cashier as she picked up the phone.

The hoser coworker continued to cackle as the cashier talked to her husband.

I felt sort of bad for the cashier for this "microaggression" but when the call ended they both complimented each other on their shoes.
posted by Nevin at 1:02 PM on May 28, 2015


Also, can we add: "That's a weird name." to that list. I mean, what the fuck does that even mean. It's not "weird", its not "different", it's my fucking name.

YES! A thousand times YES! In my case I find "weird name" comments doubly infuriating because A) I'm named after my grandfather, and B) it's not even an "Indian" name - it's French! And it's not even a particularly unusual French name either!

These comments/questions always bristle me because ignoring the micro-aggression level racism, it's just plain rude! However, in my experience, people subconsciously suspend a basic level of politeness when conversing with POC because of our "otherness."
posted by Slurms MacKenzie at 1:07 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


What a fantastic essay. At the time I didn't fully understand why my (brown) spouse loved Harold and Kumar so much... I understood it more as a semi-realistic version of being non-white (and non-black) and going to a high-end university, those scenes at Princeton were cartoon versions of our own experience, but I later realized just what Khan mentions-- Kumar hangs out and smokes weed, and is Indian, but doesn't conform to the Indian stereotype at all. First time we'd seen something like that and it was, as Kahn says, huge.
posted by cell divide at 1:09 PM on May 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


Khan makes a very good point in how model minority was deliberately constructed, as a North American white supremacist tactic, to pit different racial minorities against each other in a hierarchy of stepping stones to gain facets of white privilege. I now realize, that growing up as an East Asian, my parents and peer groups drilled not only anti-black racism into me, but also classism against members of my own race, because they were led to believe that to properly assimilate into our white supremacist culture was to entirely deny that racism existed. So they attributed the inabilities of black people to succeed to their lack of intelligence; their ugliness; their savage nature; their lack of class. Every time a black person walked past us on the street, my mother would grip my hand tighter, hold me to her closer.

Since then, I have been working very hard to overcome this deeply entrenched cultural programming. I did it because I was sick of denying the way racism painted my own experiences. I was sick of denying my own relative and situational privileges over other races. Of denying the racist experiences of other people of color. Of denying my own racism against others. I speak openly and assuredly about racism these days. It is real.

In doing so, I've learned how fragile and cowardly white supremacy is. Racial hierarchies are real, and as human beings so acutely tuned to picking up social signals - constantly assessing our identities, where we stand in relation to other people, to other races - we intuitively understand our place in relation to other races through socialization. And then it is through these understandings that we perpetuate hierarchies, through refusal to confront unconscious biases, through complicity in institutional racism, through excuses and defensiveness and fragility. We hide these realities of oppression under a fragile illusion of a post-racial utopia, as if stating "we are all human" and "I'm not racist" is enough to occlude it - as if stating "this room is clean" is enough to occlude the fact the walls are caked with shit. The parable of the Emperor's New Clothes.

So it is fragile in how the entire system depends on me, as a model minority, not to point that out. So long as I nod alongside the white people in their denial of racism, we can all believe that we are all equal. But the moment I make anyone aware of my race - and the racism and complicity in racism that I carry - that facade is stripped. I have exposed the racial hierarchies that rest in each and every one of our hearts. In doing so, I become less than human - because even though in the hierarchy, I rank higher than black people, I am still below that of the white people who solely hold the position of "human being". So then, being relegated from my tenuous post of "human", I am punished: in board rooms where I point out that every executive is white, I am denied promotions. In social circles where I make people uncomfortable about racist remarks, I am unfriended and excluded. In classrooms where I offer my experiences of racism as counter examples, they are torn to pieces with the cold surgical precision of detached logic. The professor calls me - not them - out of line.

This was what my parents were trying to shelter me from, in teaching me to be racist. This is what they learned they must do to survive.

I will never believe that white people are simply ignorant or misinformed about race. Rather, I think they know just as much about the racist hierarchies we all carry as the rest of us - but they feign ignorance, because that is how white privilege is maintained. I know, because you tried to get me to play by the same rules as you. I know the fiery discomfort of realizing I hold deeply engrained racist sentiments. The feeling of being alone in the room when you break the social contract of not acknowledging racism. The temptation to throw a cloth over it and declare it non-existent, to settle back into comfort. The cognitive contortions that we use to simultaneously use these rules to get ahead while turning a blind eye to them - the long twisting rambling justifications of that it's just chance he's pulled over more than me by the police, I was pulled over once before so it's not racism, I'm sorry that happened to you but it has nothing to deal with me, why should I be accountable for what my ancestors did. I know all the tricks we use to profit from racism, while simultaneously denying it exists.

Sometimes, I am cynical about whether I can ever trust white people to conduct the Sisyphean task of trying to chip away at these beliefs, little by little, day by day, as I have taken upon myself. For myself, I realize part of the reason why I do so is because I personally still suffer from the effects of systematic, institutional, and cultural racism - and that to deny racism is to do a disservice to myself. It is not a purely selfless motive. So I wonder: can a white person really cast off white privilege, when they have, on a personal level, nothing to gain and everything to lose? I don't know - I suppose that's the one place on racism where I can't put myself into the shoes of a white person.
posted by Conspire at 1:27 PM on May 28, 2015 [23 favorites]


It's most definitely about class.

It's definitely about skin color, too, and how we value each other based on looks, but I wonder if there's something about consumption culture that is starting to transcend race, now that globalization means more non-Europeans have the money to join in on it.

Regardless of one's racial identity, there are a whole host of products pushed at you that can make you feel bad in your own skin, if you don't consume them or display your consumption of them. Cosmetics, branded clothing, nice cars, sneaks, whatever. Even if you're of European descent, you are a nobody (e.g., "white trash" and similar terms) if you don't display ownership of these items. Khan's mention of consumer goods and wealth stuck out like obvious sores.

Perhaps displays of wealth are historically associated with Europeans, because of the intertwined rise of European corporations and colonialism from the 1500s and on, and the explosion of consumerism/globalism in the last half-century. Maybe "whiteness" for non-Europeans is not so much assimilation into some vague notion of "European-ess", but being able to flaunt wealth that most people in newly industrialized countries don't yet have, and the resentment or insecurities that this raises in the cultural clash.

Interesting essay; it raised a number of questions for me.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:33 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]



Also, can we add: "That's a weird name." to that list. I mean, what the fuck does that even mean. It's not "weird", its not "different", it's my fucking name.


Yep, nthing this.
posted by sweetkid at 1:44 PM on May 28, 2015


Perhaps displays of wealth are historically associated with Europeans, because of the intertwined rise of European corporations and colonialism from the 1500s and on, and the explosion of consumerism/globalism in the last half-century. Maybe "whiteness" for non-Europeans is not so much assimilation into some vague notion of "European-ess", but being able to flaunt wealth that most people in newly industrialized countries don't yet have, and the resentment or insecurities that this raises in the cultural clash.

That doesn't seem right. Hasn't conspicuous consumption always been a marker of wealth and power everywhere in the world? The powerful, everywhere, always wore better clothes, ate better food, lived in better houses, and had better things, and often prevented the lower classes from having these things by force via things like sumptuary laws.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:04 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I identify in so many ways with so much of this I don't know where to start - from the expectation that I was just supposed to be white or would end up white somehow as a kid, to how "brown" is the correct amount of brown coming from all angles, to the Mindy Kaling thing and what she owes Indian American culture.

I'm just glad so much of this stuff is getting out there really, that we have a few varying perspectives on South Asian identity and some vocabulary and basic ideological platforms for discussing them outside of "black and white" and "rich and poor." It's this huge relief that I can't even fully explain, just being able to talk about this stuff.
posted by sweetkid at 2:15 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


to the Mindy Kaling thing and what she owes Indian American culture.

I don't envy the position that Mindy Kaling is in, that's a lot of pressure and I imagine its frustrating for her to be in that position of being the so called "trail-blazer". To always be judged by the idea of what is the appropriate level of "Indian"-ness or the right amount of "brown".

But I also understand some of the criticism of her show. And I say this as a fan, I've enjoyed it quite a bit but some of the jokes that are written into the show and some of her story-lines are fairly insulting. And its not just her show, think of Raj from Big Bang Theory.

I don't know what the alternative is, except that the more people of colour we see in situations and positions such as hers, the more natural it will seem and more accepted in our culture.
posted by Fizz at 2:50 PM on May 28, 2015


Yea Fizz, I think that's exactly my point. We can have Indian Americans like Mindy and ones like Hari Kondabolu who are talking much more about identity and racial politics & etc. We can even have Jindal, whether or not he counts himself as an Indian American. We can have lots of different views into the culture, what matters to me is that we define it ourselves, not have it defined for us.
posted by sweetkid at 3:17 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


And I say this as a fan, I've enjoyed it quite a bit but some of the jokes that are written into the show and some of her story-lines are fairly insulting.

If so, that's Kaling defining her identity for herself, as sweetkid says. Kaling is a writer and executive producer on the Mindy Project - it's very much her show.

In contrast, Raj in Big Bang Theory (ugh) has no control. He basically just has to read the scripts he's given.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:19 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's this huge relief that I can't even fully explain, just being able to talk about this stuff.

Yes, this. I have virtually no one that I can talk about this stuff with in meatspace.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:21 PM on May 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Agreed, it's nice to be able to articulate these nuances and finer points about our identity in a shared space. Cheers.
posted by Fizz at 4:33 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have a Mexican American friend who lives in Australia, and everyone thinks she's Indian. Meanwhile back in America people think I am Latina - usually Colombian, weirdly specific.
posted by sweetkid at 5:06 PM on May 28, 2015


As a brown person who grew up in Australia - a lot of it rang true while some of it didn't (the option of opting into black culture, for one).

I'm a brown person currently in Australia; I found the same. Although when I was younger, I had many Sri Lankan acquaintances that adopted some of the coding of US black culture - fashion, slang...etc. I would put this down to pop media influence more than anything else.

I'm one of those people who has been handed the "intended as a compliment" remark of "you're so white/you have such a white personality!"...I'd be curious to know how many brown people on Mefi have experienced this (my guess: the majority).

Well, you can chalk me up as one; "You speak English so well". Yes, of course I do, it's my native language.

Admittedly, this stuff happens to me very rarely, and much less that I'm a bit older now. I suppose I don't meet a lot of new people any more, so I am more insulated from the microaggressions than I was when I was younger.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:09 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


sweetkid, Here's a story that might make you groan and grin and shake your head all at once. I now live in Niagara Falls, Ontario Canada (past 14 years). We lived in Dallas, TX for 18 years prior.

Before we moved we put up our house for sale, big sign, fliers, etc. That last summer before we left, I was outside mowing the lawn and this lady pulled up and I didn't hear her. She tapped me on my shoulder and I cut the engine and she asked me with a straight face: "Excuse me? Is your boss home? I'd like to ask him about this house."

*sighs*

I can laugh at it now, but only because its so sad and stupid that it make you smile a bit at the absurdity and ignorance of it all.
posted by Fizz at 5:09 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


There was a lot German American and Irish American and Norwegian American. Just plain 'White' or 'American' was a distinctly rural/Southern thing.

Ah that explains it I guess. I have seen people on here talking about people identifying as [European Country]-American and was confused because I've never really encountered that. I grew up in the South and basically everyone just identified as white. In LA I don't hear it much either, though. I think maybe its a Midwest/Northeast thing? When I think about that I think about places like Boston, New York, Minnesota, etc. (Irish-American, German-American, etc). Never really encountered that kind of identification in my life (and certainly never identified with particular European countries myself).
posted by thefoxgod at 5:10 PM on May 28, 2015


I just had someone ask me if I speak English yesterday before asking me for directions. He was apologetic but in a really "haha I'm an asshole haha" kinda way. I shouted after him "that's really awkward!" I mean, 100% crazy racist assumption, thanks jerk.
posted by sweetkid at 5:13 PM on May 28, 2015


I have so many stories like that lawn-mower one up above. Sometimes I share them with my friends and we all chuckle in this really sad way because its so pervasive and common. It has happened to so many of my friends and family members. We mostly just shrug it off. All you can really do.
posted by Fizz at 5:21 PM on May 28, 2015


I just had someone ask me if I speak English yesterday before asking me for directions.

Ha, directions. I've noticed that older Indian tourists specifically stop me to ask for directions. I don't mind giving directions, but I find it interesting that they are so reluctant to ask anyone else. They just stand around looking confused until someone with a brown face happens to walk by.

I'm not sure whether they are just grasping for something familiar, or whether they are concerned that a white person would reject them or be racist. There was a lot of bad press in India about Australian racism against Indians a few years ago; I wonder if that impression is still lingering.

Notably, they always speak to me in English, even when their English is poor - they never assume I speak Hindi.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:24 PM on May 28, 2015


Notably, they always speak to me in English, even when their English is poor - they never assume I speak Hindi.

This is funny to me. I find that often other Indians who are born in India will ask me where I'm from at school, at work, etc. I'll politely tell them Ontario Canada or Dallas TX and they will respond: "No where are your parents from?" As if my being raised in N. America doesn't count. They need to confirm that I'm from India or Pakistan or South Africa or wherever before they ask me things or speak to me in hindi or punjabi.
posted by Fizz at 5:37 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Everyone asks me for directions. EVERYONE. I just have one of those faces, despite trying to look as annoyed as possible.
posted by sweetkid at 5:38 PM on May 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm half German-American (dad's from the Missouri Rhineland) and Mexican-American (mom's third generation Tejano). I look incredibly white, and my Mexican heritage was usually a punchline for the majority of my life. I didn't really give racial identity much of a thought until I started listening to stories from my abuelo about living in the 1950s, collecting firewood to heat his family's house and using an outhouse. Something about knowing that during the time of Mad Men my relatives were living in these conditions didn't set well with me. Add in GamerGate and Ferguson happening in the same year and it caused a kind of 'social awakening' within me.

So now I'm connecting with my heritage for the first time. It's weird. I have a ton of privilege and I've never faced discrimination directly, but I see what happens to people like my mother. When I was a child, my mother was once pulled over and the officer asked if she had stolen the car and if I was actually her son. I don't know, though. I feel odd identifying as Mexican or brown, because for the majority of my life... I've never lived it.

I have a half-Paki friend and we talk about our identities sometimes. He identifies as brown, but he constantly states that he's afraid he's really a "white trash redneck stuck in the body of a brown person". 'Identity fuzziness'. All around. Thanks America.

Anyone listen to Heems?
posted by aion at 5:46 PM on May 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anyone listen to Heems?

Sometimes.

;-)
posted by Fizz at 5:53 PM on May 28, 2015


I will never believe that white people are simply ignorant or misinformed about race. Rather, I think they know just as much about the racist hierarchies we all carry as the rest of us - but they feign ignorance, because that is how white privilege is maintained.

Yep. Absolutely, Conspire. This cannot be overstated, as far as I concerned, because if it were simple ignorance, surely knowledge would change the situation. But our stories and observations are met by defensiveness and obtuseness, so OF COURSE something deeper is going on, and that is their absolute knowledge that if they concede there's racism, then they have to give up some level of superiority, even if that level is being allowed by richer whites to harm us. Such people will fight tooth and nail to keep their power. It's a pretty big chunk of power, too, considering the fact that if were all ever turned on the Kochs, say, the Kochs would be in for it, and they know it!

Where I came from, we absolutely knew that Indian, Chinese, Japanese and other Asian people were higher than black people in the hierarchy, even as kids. I think the only people treated worse in Milwaukee were Native Americans. I even noticed the hierarchy of white people as a child.

I will say I've gone through the same thing of feeling awful when I found myself loving The Beatles and R.E.M. and Kraftwerk, but not liking Whitney Houston, or loving Monty Python but hating The Jeffersons as a kid. It's something I haven't 100% reconciled, but it's not like I logically decided at age 5 to start bouncing in the car when I heard the radio edit of Autobahn because Ralf and Co. were white. I mean...

I'm still black (well, mixed-race, but in the US that's more or less the same difference). If I'm stopped by a cop, it's not as if my saying, "Hey, how about that Paperback Writer, yah? Awesome song, right?" in my natural "upper Midwestern white" girl voice is going to keep a cop from treating me as he likes. It doesn't stop me from appreciating white artists, but all I can say I'm still the only black person - even in NYC! - who isn't security when I go to a show usually, and I just sort of hold the discomfort. I don't know what else to do with it, even though logically, I know I'm not betraying African-Americans by thinking Kanye is meh and opting for the Animal Collective concert, right?
posted by droplet at 6:28 PM on May 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


For me it was this passage, early on in the piece, that struck a nerve:

Later, she performed a spectacle I’m used to from White people: she asked me if I knew the Urdu word for “mango.” I was used to White people’s casual barrage of basic ethnicity-related questions, but not from a Bengali.

It hits at the thought that there isn't a monolithic 'Indian' identity and that the box marked 'Indian' or 'Indian-American' contains multitudes, which is very dear to my lived experience. I come from one of India's Other Backward Classes which have experienced generations of social/educational disadvantages and cultural marginalization, and I've personally experienced much prejudice growing up, to the extent of my personal prosperity and upward mobility being resented by others at work, college, wherever. So I am naturally driven to suspicion about the narrative of Indian-ness because it is difficult to reconcile that with the marginalization of my ethnic group and others like mine.

I've now been living in the United States for many years and the box labeled 'Indian-American' doesn't sit any more comfortably. Issues like the model-minority trope and the peculiarities of accent, native language and first/last name, that others have brought up in this thread, are merely added on top of all the other issues I've had to deal with back home. Sometimes I feel that my entire existence has been a piece of performance art of subversion and outsider-dom.

I often wish that there could be a radical change in thinking about identities, especially in the context of integration/assimilation. Maybe the only thing that Indian-Americans have in common is exactly just that - Indian Origin, living in the US. By grouping people under a label, any label, and then trying to have a discussion about integration/assimilation into mainstream culture can become very problematic -- both the people thus labelled and 'mainstream culture' are both fluid and nebulous concepts. (In a different context I find this line of thinking to be more pertinent when reading about how some European states frame 'integration' of their native Muslim communities as a public-policy issue.)

Adnan Khan does well by not even prescribing the need for an identity that harmoniously reconciles one's present circumstances with the cultural inheritance. This statement in particular, I found to be a nuanced, considerate conclusion.

An essential idea of identity is that it’s fluid. Its ability to morph, and remain the same, and for these two opposite strands to remain intertwined is what makes a person recognizable.
posted by all the versus at 8:16 PM on May 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wish I could find it, but I remember seeing a post on Metafilter that had a map of census data comparing what people put down as their race. There was a lot German American and Irish American and Norwegian American. Just plain 'White' or 'American' was a distinctly rural/Southern thing.

Not race, ancestry (which is a question that was on the US census for several decades, but not in 2010).

The reason that rural white Southerners were more likely than others to identify as "American" rather than something else is probably because most white Southerners are the descendants of 17th and 18th century British colonists; the immigrant experience is so far beyond living memory that they have no awareness of being anything other than "American". Which isn't the case for someone in New York whose Irish great-grandmother fled the famine, or someone in Minnesota whose Norwegian great-great-grandfather came and homesteaded 160 acres, or someone whose German ancestors came over after the 1848 revolutions and ended up in Texas.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 3:49 PM on May 29, 2015


Why You Can Kiss My Mulatto Ass - “The recent re-emergence of mulatto identity isn’t about race, it’s about actively acknowledging a multiethnic reality in a simplistically racialized world.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:48 PM on June 4, 2015


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