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17 September 2010 @ 01:02 am
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
No.ressie_noldo on September 23rd, 2010 05:19 am (UTC)
Thank you for writing this; your point is made beautifully and succinctly, and while I am sorry that you had to use your time and energy and relive horrible experiences due to stupid fuckwads on the Internet, it is good to have your story out there.

(This is so reminiscent of my school experience that it is almost painful, down also to hiding Carnatic music because someone might hear me doing something so obviously Ethnic, and switching between an Indian accent and an English accent for home versus school. This is what assimilation does. Screw that noise.)
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on September 23rd, 2010 08:21 pm (UTC)
*offers hugs*

The thing I keep thinking about is, this is what I/we had with lessovert cultural prejudice among adults than Muslim kids in the US are surrounded with now. My heart hurts imagining life for them.
Gaudy Salamandergaudysalamander on September 24th, 2010 12:34 am (UTC)
Oh Shweta. You don't know me from Eve, but I found this following links, and now I'm sitting in tears. This matches my experiences in the US (with the exception that I never spoke Urdu, because my parents were afraid that if they spoke to me in Urdu, I would have an accent and would be marked out for harassment at school).

I want to ask all the commenters who are surprised and shocked what the hell planet they've been on for the last forever. *shakes head*
shweta_narayanshweta_narayan on September 24th, 2010 04:42 am (UTC)
*offers hugs*

A lot of us know, or can recognize, this in one another, I think.

In a nicer multiculturalism story, my brother and one of his friends used to talk -- him in Hindi and her(? Memory fail!) in Urdu -- In the International School in The Hague, so I guess some places manage to bring the non-fail...?
pingback_botpingback_bot on September 24th, 2010 04:06 am (UTC)
No title
User lenora_rose referenced to your post from No title saying: [...] by those vastly [...]
pingback_botpingback_bot on September 24th, 2010 04:18 am (UTC)
assimilation stories
User ressie_noldo referenced to your post from assimilation stories saying: [...] now been disabled. my own brief reading list of responses and reactions includes on Dissimilation [...]
pingback_botpingback_bot on September 24th, 2010 06:00 pm (UTC)
Delicious LiveJournal Links for 9-24-2010
User metafandombot referenced to your post from Delicious LiveJournal Links for 9-24-2010 saying: [...] : Dissimilation [...]
dunmurderindunmurderin on September 25th, 2010 01:19 am (UTC)
Thank you for writing this.
Mryeska_rina on September 25th, 2010 07:20 pm (UTC)
Came here from a meta-community; thanks for writing this up - I'll link to this from my journal.
The Stowaway: Dreamingthe_stowaway on September 25th, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this. I admire your courage.
pingback_botpingback_bot on September 25th, 2010 08:12 pm (UTC)
assimilation: not the answer to the so-called immigration problems.
User eska_rina referenced to your post from assimilation: not the answer to the so-called immigration problems. saying: [...] to make *~those brown people~* assimilate. has made a post about her experience with assimilation [...]
Kristenjuniperphoenix on September 25th, 2010 09:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this courageous post.
ext_267110 on September 25th, 2010 10:13 pm (UTC)
Beautifully spoken. The blight of "we're not racist so we can say/do racist things" - something that began as damn foolishness in childhood and has now these days been totally legitimated as "hipster irony" - exists in even the "most educated" circles. And in slightly different iterations everywhere else.

I don't know you, I was led to this article by a friend of mine on Facebook, but this is incredibly moving. You should be commended for your courage. No one wants to listen to how pain has anything to do with these kinds of discussions, I know that from personal experience in other arenas of public discourse.

Again, bravo. On your ability to eschew those who have held you back, to stand up for your beliefs; to have run that gauntlet and still found the strength left at the end to speak up about this issue. I intend to share your message as my friend did and hope that everyone will hear it.
silverflight8silverflight8 on September 25th, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC)
Here from metafandom.

I'm not sure what I really can say, but there's hugs here if you want them.
Kylenne Aurora Saizer: illidankylenne on September 25th, 2010 11:32 pm (UTC)
Here from metafandom.
I just had to offer some hugs and solidarity because what you described is really similar to what I went through growing up, albeit as a black girl in a majority wealthy WASP private school during the '80s-mid 90's in the States (I describe it as every rich bastard NYC prep school that's ever been on Law & Order). I was that "black friend" that gave cover and never challenged anything and was so ashamed of other black people. I got the "oreo" taunts and was afraid to eat fried chicken around white people until I was in high school because I'd get made fun of. I guess what I'm saying is I completely feel your pain because I've been there and I know how hard the healing process is.

Every time I see other PoC expressing this kind of pain during these racefails, though, I always have to wonder how many more stories white fannish types need to hear before they start developing some empathy. Sometimes I feel like there's this kind of gross voyeurism going on where they love to see us bleed and then it just keeps on going.
shweta_narayan: authorpic1shweta_narayan on September 26th, 2010 02:05 am (UTC)
Re: Here from metafandom.
I guess what I'm saying is I completely feel your pain because I've been there and I know how hard the healing process is.

I'm unsurprised, but still appalled, at how many of us have been there.

Every time I see other PoC expressing this kind of pain during these racefails, though, I always have to wonder how many more stories white fannish types need to hear before they start developing some empathy.

I actually wrote this in part because of someone who was wondering why we POC couldn't just have some empathy for poor poor E. Moon's discomfort. Their response, of course, was to claim I was playing victim :)

Sometimes I feel like there's this kind of gross voyeurism going on where they love to see us bleed and then it just keeps on going.

I suspect there is. I'm going on the assumption that most people-of-privilege just have a lot of layers of denial to work through, and so maybe this time...
But yeah, that's an assumption. I do know it's true in some cases, but I have no idea what the proportions are :(
tetsubinatutetsubinatu on September 25th, 2010 11:50 pm (UTC)
I hadn't heard about what Elizabeth Moon said. I live in Australia, which is another white-dominated culture, though. I am so sorry about your experience growing up. I would hope that things are improving in general - ie: if you look at the overall big picture - but that doesn't help the kids growing up in the areas where ignorance and bigotry still predominate. And bullies will always find a reason to bully.

Somehow that didn't turn out as optimistic as I might have hoped!
shweta_narayan: mangatarshweta_narayan on September 26th, 2010 02:10 am (UTC)
Yeah. Can't really go into schools and FIX IT, myself, so I'm hoping that articulating the problem will help directly in my tiny corner and perhaps indirectly, drop-in-the-ocean style, overall :)
Lotripper: LOTR: Earendilmsilverstar on September 26th, 2010 03:34 am (UTC)
I'm here from metafandom, and with everyone else, hate that you were hurt like that. It doesn't have to be that bad, and I know schools are better in some places.

But mainly, your icon, Bangladesh DuPree!!! My daughter likes her so much, we've been shopping for a red turtleneck and white jacket for Halloween, and intends to explain that she's a Steampunk Pirate!
Krytellakrytella on September 26th, 2010 07:20 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for sharing your painful experiences. I grew up white in the U.S. in a very white city, full of people congratulating themselves on how much they "loved diversity." I'm still coming to understand how false it was. In college I had a Japanese-American boyfriend (second generation), and I never would have expected the criticism, however subtle. I wasn't the nice, modest Asian girl his parents wanted. I had multiple friends ask me if he was less well endowed than average, which I found incredibly offensive. It opened my eyes to the way Asian men are de-sexualized and underrepresented in American culture.

I work in the software industry, and on an average day at work I'll talk to 12 other people, two of whom are white, one of whom is not an immigrant. Your story is making me think. It's making me worry about the experience my coworkers' children will have growing up in a 80% white metropolitan area, even though they're a very economically privileged group of immigrants. It's making me check, and check again, my interactions with and responses to people of races, cultures, lives that are profoundly different from mine. Thank you. Your words have weight.
pingback_botpingback_bot on September 26th, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC)
Regarding Elizabeth Moon, the 'mosque at Ground Zero' crap, and any time 'real Americans' come up
pingback_botpingback_bot on September 26th, 2010 04:01 pm (UTC)
Wiscon & Moon & Muslims, Oh My
User kimberlycreates referenced to your post from Wiscon & Moon & Muslims, Oh My saying: [...] and passionate [...]
Chili the Sheep: made in Colombiachili_das_schaf on September 26th, 2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
Got linked over here from lady_ganesh. That's a very powerful post, thank you for writing it.
Ecchanyukie1013 on September 26th, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
Was linked here by kylenne and I had to link this in turn. This post is amazing beyond words. Thank you.

People think this doesn't happen any more, and it's annoying beyond words that posts like this can possibly just fly over heads.
a_blackpanther: girl powera_blackpanther on September 26th, 2010 06:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this, it is interesting and it helps those of us who try to get over our privilege. I think most of us have experienced so sort of bulling when we were in school, but i was being picked on for only being *slightly* different, it was so much worse for you.

And, i hope you won't find this weird coming from a total stranger but: *hugs*.
Waterfall: Me by waterfall8484waterfall8484 on September 27th, 2010 12:01 am (UTC)
Here from DW Metafandom
You are awesome for posting this!

I experienced some amount of ('normal', non -ism related) bullying in school, and when I try to imagine that experience magnified to this degree... I feel sick.

Yet I am so very glad that you have made your experiences known, as there are many people (like me) from mostly white, western communities that perceive themselves as non-racist, who may have difficulties understanding what it is like to be viewed as 'other' and expected to 'fit in'. Thank you for sharing.

(Yet another stranger offering *hugs*)
Kelriia Frettlarthe__ivorytower on September 30th, 2010 02:42 pm (UTC)
I got linked this through JF sites and...

Oh god, I'm *so sorry*. I can't even begin to describe how sad and horrified I am that you were treated the way you were, and how people continue to act as though it's *your* fault for being different and not theirs for being so utterly petty and racist.

I just...

I'm sorry. I really am.
pingback_botpingback_bot on October 4th, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC)
Some Links - Because I'm Lazy
User julieandrews referenced to your post from Some Links - Because I'm Lazy saying: [...] and the previously-mentioned Shweta's Dissimilation [...]
my tongue freezes.velvet_tipping on October 9th, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC)
i <3 you.