shweta_narayan (shweta_narayan) wrote,

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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.
Tags: elizabeth moon, personal, racism

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