Self Expression Magazine

Backtracking from “Cultured” to “Whitewashed”

By Wheatish @wheatish
Backtracking from “Cultured” to “Whitewashed”

desis getting their eat on (prasad, prasadam, langar, whatevs) after prayers. something comforting about this. nostalgia? little bit. just makes me happy :)

Okay, so this is going to be in line with the flurry of posts on dating/relationships but not strictly because it’s election season and politics will undoubtedly color this post. I’m writing this because when I was growing up and trying to sketch out an identity in middle school and high school, I veered toward my roots. I erred on the side of “fobby” instead of “ABCD”. I identified as Indian because I didn’t feel like I belonged in George Bush’s America. I wasn’t the right kind of Asian to hang out with the more yellow varieties, I was assumed to be too straight-laced and studious to hang out with the cool kids, I was in orchestra instead of band and we all know the band kids just had more fun.

I was happiest at home and enjoyed simple things like homecooked meals, a good book, a good movie, and most of my socializing on weekends was really with brown people. The number of dinner parties decreased as I got older, and so did temple visits, but I looked forward to them when they happened. I thought my culture was cooler than it was portrayed in the media and I took it upon myself to better understand the religion and customs of my parents and ancestors so as to better defend it. Being a language fiend, I dedicated myself to fluency in the mother tongues of my parents. Alas, my Spanish is still better than my Tamil, Telugu, or Kannada. None of that seems to matter anymore. In fact, I will be the first to admit that whatever experiences I have as a Hindu or Indian are, in many ways, that of an outsider. I flocked like some hipster desperate to be a part of any culture/subculture. My understanding of Hinduism screams to some people “BORN IN AMERICA. TRIES TO LEARN RELIGION IN COLLEGE. PRETENDS TO KNOW HINDUISM.”

Backtracking from “Cultured” to “Whitewashed”
And honestly, that’s fair. To some degree. First and foremost I am an American with very liberal leanings. I know that the versions of Indian history I’ve read and “my” influenced analysis of religious texts may not bode well with “real Hindu Indians”. As some guy commented here, perhaps I am more or less a “semi-colonized serf”. I’m not even offended by that. It is what it is. And I don’t have “a people” despite the fact that I once thought I did. There’s no group I really belong in besides “American” and I’m increasingly proud of that. This is my country and I am grateful for everything it’s given me. The motherland has given my parents and ancestors much more over the course of our extended history, but I’m personally too far removed to treat my heritage as some primary source of an identity. No fooling anyone in India about whether I’m American or not. I’m an outsider, I’m a dabbler in things Hindu and Indian. And when people treat me that way, I have no right to be offended. In fact, I need to be more aware of the nature of my Western-and-potentially-even-Orientalist lens, as well as my liberal/hippie-as-f*ck biases. I’m sometimes an asswipe about being insensitive to painful histories that don’t allow people to be merry and love everyone always, because I speak from convenience. I speak from a place untouched by harsher realities. I still personally stand by the idea that resentment for people or populations is a poison that you shouldn’t hold onto, but what do I know about life? No one likes a self-righteous student whose only toils have been in her head. So I apologize for any and every time I’ve come off as presumptuous. I guess I can be a total douche sometimes.

All I can really hope is that one day my children will become good people that respect my heritage and might be inclined to experience some aspects of it because they want to. I mean, shit, it can be colorful and glorious when it wants to be. I want them to try to have a grasp of what moves people to act the way that they do, at the population level as well as personal. I don’t want them to see Hindus as backwards idol-worshipers,  I don’t want them to see India as little more than a poverty-stricken waste land that smells funny. I used to think that marrying based on race and religion could help circumvent the possibility of such offspring, but it doesn’t really. How many Desi kids with Desi parents turn out that way anyhow? Developing critical thinking, empathy, emotional intelligence, and a sense of having a global community is so much more important to me. What good is hive mind and Desi dawats upon dawats (i.e. typical lets-invite-everyone-we-know Desi dinner parties)? What did I ever find appealing about turning into an auntie and hanging out with a slew of brown people in middle age when I don’t really do Desi crews now?

I am (thank God) not in middle school anymore. GUYS TALK TO ME. My options seem to have been growing exponentially since then, actually. It’s no longer a disadvantage to not be blue-eyed and blonde-haired. I once thought that day would never come. Seriously.

Backtracking from “Cultured” to “Whitewashed”

oh hey, we have guidos, too! super!

But to come to the point, I find myself finally open to dating outside of my race. In fact, I almost don’t want to date within my race. At least, I don’t want to date the kind of brown guy that only has brown friends. I know that sounds silly or maybe even awful but I’m a glutton for diversity of thought and people. I also don’t care to get dolled up in Indian clothes any more than I have to because I’m a beanpole and no sari or salwar could flatter my body type. Fact. Also, my dad always thinks looser fit equals better, so my parents end up buying me outfits that make me look like I’m wearing a trash bag. I’m exaggerating, but still, Idonlikeit.

And catty brown girls. Can do without those in life, amirite?

This isn’t really about me becoming less Indian or pretending like being Indian hasn’t majorly shaped my life but instead a stupid realization/desire that I don’t want my race/culture/religion to majorly define me and my future anymore.  Probably should’ve had this realization years ago. But then this blog wouldn’t have happened. What do you guys think? How important is your heritage? If you identify as Hindu do you ascribe to a “all is gravy and Hinduism tells you to do whatever you want” attitude? Please don’t tell people that. Smart people will know better…but there are a lot of ignorant people who will absorb your “expert” opinion. Hinduism as a religion is exasperatingly more complex and its inclusiveness is not to be confused with subjective morality.

I don’t care what people think when they look at me. But, for whatever reason, I do care what people think when they get glimpses of the motherland, its people, and its customs in the media or in conversation and think “ew”.

There’s something uniquely painful to me about the dismissal of an entire population, entire civilizations, entire philosophies…as inferior. India has been home to some of the best, the most beautiful, the brightest and the wisest. There is much to be appreciated, but at the very least not considered “backwards”.

And so I defend. Whether I’m considered (or consider myself) Indian or not is irrelevant. It’s a matter of principle. I can’t live among people who believe that our 200 year old civilization is better than all others. We can look outside of our bubble to improve upon what we have and to identify where others faltered so we can preserve the things worth preserving. And we should. What takes decades to build by the efforts of many is easily destroyed by the will of a few in a matter of minutes. Power and prosperity are more fragile than we imagine and they’re not to be taken for granted.

So for perspective’s sake, I’m grateful for my roots. But while they’ve shaped me, they no longer define me.

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