An amazingly layered and nuanced long-read from Adnan Khan seeks to answer the question “How Brown should a Brown person be?”
His prose strings together the all the stars of racial interactions and microaggressions that form our constellation of racial identity, moving effortlessly from Indian restaurants to Wu-Tang, whiteness and anti-blackness, love songs and Harold and Kumar, the meaning of ABCD and the subtle pain that comes with forging a sense of self. Here’s a short selection:
My parents were eager for us to assimilate and there was no surplus of Indian affectations around the house—Bollywood tapes were played on the DL and we never joined a mosque or came into regular contact with other Muslim Indians. Memories of family were left unopened and ignored. I learned nothing about the cousins, uncles, and aunties who remained on the subcontinent. My mother missed India silently but my father hated the country. She visited her family occasionally, but nearly 14 years passed before my father went. When my mother wanted to send me back for a month in Grade 10, my father asked, “What’s the point?” They grew up as the first generation after Partition, during a time of chaos and uncertainty. He didn’t look back because there was nothing to look at.
My high school, meanwhile, was so multicultural that post-9/11 racism barely made it flinch. One of my oldest friends, Korean, called me a terrorist in my grade nine yearbook, and I still think of him with abiding affection. Another kid who’d casually lob the word at me was so Muslim that his last name was Islam. But I felt there was a deep shame at being Indian, some of which came from my father, who spoke badly of the country whenever he could, and some from the “smelly Indian” legacy that trails us: our body odor, our stinky food, our houses marked by a mash of unknown spices. I tried to pass as Arab. Since I was born in Saudi Arabia, I thought I could latch onto that, even though we were like mercenaries in the country, living in an isolated compound and only there for work opportunities India didn’t have. I couldn’t escape my brown skin, but at least I could be rich like an Arab. The distinction between Arab and Indian was messy, but I didn’t know that—I was only looking for a way out. This fell apart when an Egyptian asked if I could speak Arabic and I replied, no, Urdu. To be Indian meant nothing good. I had picked up enough from stray White culture to understand that the “smelly Indian” stereotype had real world implications and that we were somewhere near the bottom of a structurally explicit hierarchy.
Even though I couldn’t say why I was imagining myself as White, adopting Black culture, pretending to be Arab, I could sense that there wasn’t a clear role for me. Life was cleaved neatly: white identity (Korn), black identity (Ma$e), and brown identity (Amitabh Bachchan movies in the background, the dull dishoom-dishoom sound of our noble protagonist punching out the bad guys). I didn’t fit into any of these, so I borrowed from all. This kaleidoscope identity made it hard for me to locate myself in the world, and I felt for a long time, an ache for definition.
Read the rest, it’s worth the investment.
(via HRD CVR)