Dear Bobby bhaiya,
Can I call you that, actually? Or are you going to pretend, like the guys I talk to on the tech support line, that you don’t understand what that word means?
I’m just trying to show you a little izzat. As much as I disagree with you, you are one of the few of the many, many potential Republican candidates for president who isn’t white. You had this to say about heritage and culture.
My dad and mom told my brother and me that we came to America to be Americans — not Indian-Americans. If we wanted to be Indians, we would have stayed in India. It’s not that they are embarrassed to be from India. They love India. But they came to America because they were looking for greater opportunity and freedom. I do not believe in hyphenated Americans.
Aré, bhaiya. I know how you feel, I really do. Once upon a time, I would’ve agreed with you. I thought that acting as if I were just another American (i.e. a white person) would aid in the fight in eradicating racism. I thought that the way to deal with racism was to treat it like a pimple: Ignore and it will go away.
Then, I stopped being 19 years old, and learned that you can’t just wish away the hyphen.
That may have been a bit harsh. I wasn’t sure if you’d want me to give you izzat or not, seeing as you don’t want to acknowledge where you come from, so I figured I’d hedge my bets.
But seriously, I hadn’t any idea I was brown when I was a young and obviously-Muslim-looking young person. I thought that my headscarf was what made people treat me differently, not the color of my skin. I was proven horribly, horribly wrong when I left Islam. People exoticized me when attempting to date or have sex with me, interrogated me about my background and were disdainful of my efforts to be “just” an American, claimed me as their own when they thought my kind of brown was theirs and scolded me if it wasn’t…. the list goes on.
I couldn’t just wish away the hyphen.
People look at me and see the textured but not that textured hair, the brown but not that brown skin, the dark but not that dark eyes, and they see a Hyphen American, and they want to know what precedes it. Saying “I’m just an American” or “I’m from California” in response to inquiries as to my “nationality”, where I am “originally from”, ethnicity, or race doesn’t cut it. People resist, insist on knowing this bit of information that is so obsessively important to them. They want to categorize me in that way no matter how much I don’t want to be boxed up by them.
This is where I understand you. I don’t identify particularly strongly with my heritage. I am far more of a former Muslim than an Indian. These days, I am far more Californian than I am Muslim or Indian. Based on my habits, proclivities, interests, and language, I’d be better served by people accepting that I am from the Internet than attempting to learn anything about me via ethnic category.
But alas, this is the world in which we live. Awful white people will want to know what kind of brown you are so that they can know what racist jokes they think they can get away with around you. Less-awful white people will ask you about your “heritage” so that they can properly respect it based on stereotypes and other shallow forms of understanding. Non-Indian people of color will want to know so that they can know whether or not they should feel ethnic or just general PoC solidarity with you — or if they should fear your racism.
In a world obsessed with our ethnicity, why not own what comes before that hyphen? Even you, Bobby Jindal, used to own the fact that you are an Indian-American, before you fell for the white supremacy that told you that you had to pretend to be white in order to be a real American.
No matter how hard you try, you will never be white. You can acknowledge that you’re a brown dude and that affects you or continue in your dream world where people don’t care about your heritage as long as you pretend you don’t care for it. It will catch up to you, sooner or later, especially if continue to move within the political party you have chosen. That isn’t a threat, that’s just how it is. Shamefully, there are already racist memes of you in your image search results.
And when that realization happens, even those of us who told you so will be sympathetic. We know how it goes.