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17 September 2010 @ 01:02 am
Dissimilation  
I started off as one of Elizabeth Moon's ideal minority people, you guys. Since I think most of you had more sense than me, let me lay out what that was like, cause this is what she's demanding other people do so as not to harsh her mellow with our differences; I guess this is what she thinks people like me should just agree to do so she doesn't have to "bend over backwards". This is what she thinks my nephew's life as a brown American should be like.

I started going to a British school (well, British-Dutch expat school) when I was four. I went to three different ones in three different countries from ages 4-16. This covers all of them.

When I was four, my accent was too Indian, too much difference for those poor English kids to have to bend over backwards and put up with, you know? So of course they tormented me -- insulting, hair-pulling, kicking, stealing stuff ...
(Can't blame them! It was my fault for not assimilating, right Ms Moon?)

By the time I was five, I spoke like an English kid around the English kids, and like an Indian kid around my parents. And any time I went anywhere with my parents, or they dropped me off anywhere, I was terrified. The others might hear me sound like a "pakkie" after all. And I grew ashamed of my parents. They didn't sound English. They didn't even try to look English. My mother even wore saris! To assimilate, I had to believe that it didn't matter that my parents are smart, warm-hearted, eloquent, and kind. It only mattered that they are brown.

As we got older the tormenting got cleverer. Some girls pretended to be friends with me, had me come over to their houses, and then spent the whole time making fun of me. They'd have me come to birthday parties, sneer at any present I got them, and "accidentally" leave me out of games. They'd dump sausages or bits of bacon onto my food.

My mother got me to wear salvar kameez to school once. Once was all it took. I came home convinced that the clothes of my culture were (all) backward, ugly, and stupid, and that I was too. I dressed as much like the other kids as I could from then. I loved Indian clothes while we were in India, begged for them, and refused to touch them once we left.

My friends, in this period (maybe just the first 10 years of it) were the people who sometimes did not torment me, who sometimes let me sit with them without wrinkling their noses and edging away and tossing my books around the room, who sometimes called me Shweta rather than Pakkie or Shwetterpants or shitface. This is what Elizabeth Moon's grand idea of assimilation looks like for the other side.

Because I did try to belong. It was painful, sometimes physically dangerous, not to. I made damn sure I did not have opinions that my friends didn't share, clothes they didn't approve, vocabulary they didn't use, tastes they hadn't let me know I was allowed to have. And when I dared to act like a full member of any group I was let into, they'd put me in my place.

[ETA: I have only (relatively) recently started to trust my own choices in clothing, music, and art without needing peer approval to be sure I wasn't transgressing.]

And these are, surely, people who knew they weren't racist. They had an Indian friend! And she had never told them they were being racist, so obviously they had nothing to worry about. I'm sure they had that warm smug fuzzy that makes me so sick when I see it now.

Do you know how hard it is to talk about this? Some of it, I've never said aloud.

This is assimilation: when I was twelve, and moved to a school which had another Indian student in the year (80 students), I did not dare talk to her or even hint that I might want to. When I was thirteen, and someone said something like "You people are all swots aren't you, little robots that calculate all the time", and the whole class laughed, I laughed too. When I was fourteen and hanging out with other Indian kids, I was scared of running into anyone from school. When I was fifteen and taking GCSE music, and had nothing approaching the performance ability the GCSE requres at piano, and my music teacher suggested I use Carnatic music instead (I'd been learning it for six years then). I refused. I worked at the damn piano till I could pass with it. When he asked if I could demo the Carnatic music for him just a little, I was left shaking with the fear of it -- he was asking me to out myself. Someone might hear me. I did classical Indian (Bharatnatyam) dance too, then, entirely by my own choice -- and when I went to performances, I'd lie to my friends about where I was going, never daring to admit I did something so Indian.


I read science fiction (as well as whatever the friend-approved reading was), but that was okay because almost everyone in it was American (and of course by this we mean middle-class academic WASP, IN SPACE).
I read the Earthsea books at home.

When I was sixteen, my best friend, miserable because of a failed maths test (I think), said, "How can you understand this more easily than me? You're just an Indian, and I'm English."

Things got easier as I grew older; the racism grew more subtle. I could go through entire days without my friends reducing me to tears, without having to laugh along with something that was not in the least bit funny to me. I could even, if I did it carefully, watching my tone, making sure that everyone knew in fact it wasn't a big deal or anything, disagree with my friends. I could even, occasionally, change minds. So long as I made it totally clear that I was of course really a "good minority".


And that abject, miserable, ashamed person, with that deeply ingrained insecurity and this rejection of family, is what Elizabeth Moon wants Muslim Americans to be. That person, hurt so badly that even talking about it half a lifetime later brings back shame to the point of nausea, is what she wants others to be so that she isn't inconvenienced.

And that is why I cannot -- no, fuckem, will not quietly and reasonably and submissively explain to privileged jerks ignorant of their privilege exactly how there is privilege they are missing here.

And yep, I've lost friends (or "friends"),or walked away from them, since I decided I couldn't pander to their entitled ignorance,and I needed to stop accepting less than basic respect for personhood (mine and others'). And yep, the number continues to climb. And yep, I think that's an acceptable loss for my existence as a full human being.
 
 
Current Mood: frustratedpained
 
 
 
(Deleted comment)
shweta_narayan: authorpic1shweta_narayan on September 17th, 2010 08:19 am (UTC)
I doubt even elsmi knew, dear. My parents don't, my brother doesn't. That is how silenciing an experience it was.
And... - shweta_narayan on September 17th, 2010 08:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
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Niamh Sageniamh_sage on September 17th, 2010 08:24 am (UTC)
Thank you, Shweta. I too am grateful that you have written this post, that you said it aloud, though it was hard to do so.
shweta_narayan: authorpic1shweta_narayan on September 17th, 2010 08:38 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading it.
And hey I'm not shaking any more... :wry smile:
(no subject) - niamh_sage on September 17th, 2010 08:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
fjmfjm on September 17th, 2010 08:41 am (UTC)
Yep. I was luckier than you because I attended a Jewish school (an unusual one which had 10% Muslim students then, and around 30% now). Then I went to a "secular" secondary school. I lasted three months. The second school was better, but only in comparison. (When you are the only Jewish kid in a school of 1,000 *everyone* knows, forget "honorary white"). But at least I was considered part of a "protected species". My friend Eileen, an Indian Christian in a school with no other Asians but very fixed ideas of what Indians should be like, had a brutal time.





Edited at 2010-09-17 08:42 am (UTC)
shweta_narayan: aieeeeshweta_narayan on September 17th, 2010 08:46 am (UTC)
In some ways being the only one was not as bad for me as being one of two. When I was the only one, the designated scapegoat, It'd get boring after a while and I'd just get the habitual jabs. When they could alternate between us, it never got boring.

And (gods I'm ashamed of this now) when I was one of two, I kept my mouth firmly shut when the other one was being tormented. I knew, even then, that the worst of it was being alone, and that I should say something, but I never dared. It was time when I was not the target, and I took it gladly.
(no subject) - fjm on September 17th, 2010 08:51 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - shweta_narayan on September 17th, 2010 08:53 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - fjm on September 17th, 2010 09:13 am (UTC) (Expand)
don't be ashamed - rosalux on September 18th, 2010 06:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: don't be ashamed - shweta_narayan on September 18th, 2010 06:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - tetsubinatu on September 25th, 2010 11:35 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dejla on September 28th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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shweta_narayan: authorpic1shweta_narayan on September 17th, 2010 09:48 am (UTC)
Thank you for reading it! I've been... resisting talking about this, really, or even acknowledging it to myself. So it needed saying.
(Deleted comment)
shweta_narayan: authorpic1shweta_narayan on September 17th, 2010 09:47 am (UTC)
*offers hugs*

I don't feel particularly brave :)
I get what you mean about it being too close, I think -- it took me a distance of 17 years and a continent to be to talk about it at all, and nearly a decade of not being in touch with any of those people. That, and realizing that I'd been lying to myself for over a day, claiming that of course Moon's post didn't directly affect me.

Of course, it did, and so did the screen of privilege-incomprehension I got from some people when I posted.

The ones who won't listen are not the ones you want to waste your energy on, anyway.

Thank you for saying this; it's something I know is true, but the shadow of that assimilated kid is terrified of the thought and keeps trying to insist that of COURSE I should do what they want.

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(no subject) - arachnejericho.myopenid.com on September 17th, 2010 03:47 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sethg_prime on September 17th, 2010 04:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - redbird on September 17th, 2010 05:10 pm (UTC) (Expand)
The Green Knight: Lightbringergreen_knight on September 17th, 2010 09:33 am (UTC)
Thank you very much for sharing this. I was badly bullied at school, so I have a lot of empathy, but your experience has a lot of layers to it that mine didn't, so, no: I cannot imagine what it must have been like :-(

shweta_narayan: authorpic1shweta_narayan on September 17th, 2010 09:57 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing, too. I think... we can't really know the other's experience, but we certainly have overlap enough for empathy.

And perhaps for another facet to our understanding of our own experiences? I think I first started getting some perspective on what I'd been experiencing after reading a couple YA books that focused on bullying.
(no subject) - wyld_dandelyon on September 20th, 2010 03:37 am (UTC) (Expand)
ex_triciasu on September 17th, 2010 10:17 am (UTC)
Thank you for writing this.

I've been sitting staring at this comment box for a few minutes, trying to think what else to say, and I can't. Just: thank you.
Dr. Kvetchrose_lemberg on September 17th, 2010 10:50 am (UTC)
I am not even supposed to be on LJ, but I just wanted to offer hugs. And to say that I had a very similar experience as the only Jew in a Ukrainian school, complete with beatings and poop smearing (and no, I have not talked about that either). I was othered differently when I moved to Israel at age 14, but at least it wasn't (for the most part) violent.

The so-called "friends" that unfriended you because you somehow failed to maintain their positive face as the all-knowing white (usually male, from observation) people of privilege are not friends at all.

More hugs.
Lenora Roselenora_rose on September 17th, 2010 09:17 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure about this particular brand of racist and othering bullying, but I have to say about bullies in general; women, in my experience, are the more dangerous bullies, because they're the ones who pretend to care between bouts of nastiness, and who will make what seem to be conciliatory gestures, or offer to agree to disagree, which makes them harder to disagree with, and harder to walk away from.
(Deleted comment)
it's a great life, if you don't weaken: hustle mickey worryingmatociquala on September 17th, 2010 11:16 am (UTC)
I've been working on reconstructing some of my own Swedish and Ukrainian heritage, for the same reasons. As the assimilated grandchild of assimilated immigrants... well. I hear you.

(Being a "Polack" (any kind of Slav) was still grounds for mockery when I was a kid. So I just... not the same thing, of course, at all. But I hear you.)
J. T. Gloverjtglover on September 17th, 2010 11:02 am (UTC)
What a brave post! Good on you for the courage to write it, and thereby encouraging others to speak out. Nothing like child trauma to shape/warp one's psyche, but how sad that you had to deal with that horseshit on top of the standard helping.
it's a great life, if you don't weaken: bad girls firefightersmatociquala on September 17th, 2010 11:10 am (UTC)
Thank you for this post, and for your courage in making it.

It helps me understand what one of my dearest friends means in her heart when she talks about the frustrations of being labeled "a model minority."

I think you are fierce and beautiful, FWIW.
Anne: Paris rosetxanne on September 17th, 2010 11:26 am (UTC)
I'm sorry you had to go through that. Thank you for posting.
Mer: bloodhandsstakebait on September 17th, 2010 11:52 am (UTC)
I am so sorry. And I am glad you told the story.
beth_bernobich: balloon heartbeth_bernobich on September 17th, 2010 11:57 am (UTC)
I'm so sorry you were put through all this crap. *offers more hugs*

Edited at 2010-09-17 11:58 am (UTC)
cherie: old typewritten lovenalathilion on September 17th, 2010 11:59 am (UTC)
You are amazing. Thank you for sharing your story.
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Calyx of the Heavensheavenscalyx on September 17th, 2010 02:15 pm (UTC)
I wonder about the same thing in the US school system. My closest female friends were mostly girls of color -- Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian Chinese/Indian -- and I wonder how much horrible, cringeworthy crap came out of my mouth, and how bad I made their experiences in growing up. I can remember just a few things I said, and it makes grownup-me long for a time machine and a slappin' hand. Gah.
(no subject) - kittenscribble on September 17th, 2010 04:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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(no subject) - kittenscribble on September 17th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - heavenscalyx on September 17th, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - benndragon on September 17th, 2010 09:57 pm (UTC) (Expand)
A. A. McNamaraaamcnamara on September 17th, 2010 12:13 pm (UTC)
Like others have said: your courage is awesome, as are you. Thank you.
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Erzebet Bartholderzebet on September 17th, 2010 12:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you Shweta. Your courage shines. As do you.
Sterlingsterling_raptor on September 17th, 2010 12:36 pm (UTC)
This sickened me and broke my heart. I hope that you have been able to find more peace and kindness than you were ever shown. And while I can't say I've walked in your shoes, I had a very painful childhood that is hard to share, too. Thank you for being so brave.
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Naominaomikritzer on September 17th, 2010 12:48 pm (UTC)
Haven't read the other comments and I'm just out of bed so hopefully this will be coherent.

I went to a British school for a year, in 1986, when I was 13; my father was on sabbatical and my family spent a year living in London. I was such a good experience in some ways, and mind-bogglingly horrific in others.

Americans have this image of British schools that comes from American stereotypes of British people and they are always SO SHOCKED to hear that British schools are run on a Lord of the Flies model. This seems to be true at all levels of class (I went to a state comprehensive in inner-city London; my friend Bill went to a much fancier school but had a similar experience).

I'll come back and read comments and tell you my story sometime later today. (It is not as bad as yours and might make you laugh? OK, probably not LAUGH per se but yes, I sure as hell get where you're coming from.)
Naominaomikritzer on September 17th, 2010 12:53 pm (UTC)
(And I apologize for stereotyping both Americans and British schools; mentally add "in my experience" before all the generalizations, please.)
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(no subject) - naomikritzer on September 17th, 2010 01:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - naomikritzer on September 17th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - fjm on September 18th, 2010 03:45 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - naomikritzer on September 18th, 2010 04:10 am (UTC) (Expand)
Becca Stareyesbeccastareyes on September 17th, 2010 01:09 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry. This... well, 'sounds rough' was what comes to mind, but it seems to be entirely the wrong magnitude. 'Sounds like hell' is more appropriate. As a commenter above noted, I was picked on until high school for being a weird little nerd, but not nearly to this magnitude. That and I had the privilege of being able to sink into the crowd if I had to.

But anyone who wants to put kids through hell is low, in my opinion. Kids should be discouraged from being mean little bastards so they don't grow up to be mean big bastards. And it's not the job of the victim to discourage them, since the victim is usually a kid herself and trying to figure out how to get the hell out of the situation.
Sherwood Smithsartorias on September 17th, 2010 01:52 pm (UTC)
Do I have your permission to link to this?
Samantha Hendersonsamhenderson on September 17th, 2010 02:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this.