Did You Know That I’m Brown…
What makes me different from every other south Asian girl in the world?
No, not South Asian
Is it my glasses, my hair, my hoops
The pieces of myself, my identity, my personality?
The fragments of the whitewashed world I see around me
That I gather in my arms to make the mask that covers
What is my identity, who do you want me to be?
‘Where are you from?’ London
‘No, where are you from originally?’
The island I run from and dodged for years
Disassociate from the sea and palm trees, the culture and family
Because I want my glasses and my hair and my hoops to be enough
I was told to wear skinny jeans not salwar kameez
Enunciate my words, perfect my accent
Eat rice with a fork
Don’t stand in the sun
Maybe then you won’t notice
But it’s not enough
It all just boils down
A few days ago, I was out with some friends and this guy came up to me and said, ‘oh my God I can’t believe you sent him that meme‘. He was looking at me in anticipation, my friends looked confused and I was desperately trying to rake my brain for any memory of sending anything to this strange guy I’d never met before. Amidst the confusion I came to the conclusion that there had to be some mistake, I truly had no idea what was going on. It was at this moment that the guy realised I wasn’t the girl who sent the meme, I just looked exactly like her. I mean we both wore glasses, we both had on hoop earrings, and we were both brown…
As he was trying to explain himself, the people around me all started looking shocked and confused, whereas I still had a pretty neutral face on. And as he kept talking, and stating that where he’s from there ‘aren’t a lot of brown people‘, I still sat there and smiled and said it’s okay, there’s no problem. Because honestly, to me, there was no problem. It was just a simple confusion, and he was a bit more than a bit drunk, so whatever, right?
It was only later when my friends apologised on his behalf and asked me if I was okay after what he said, that I stopped for a minute to acknowledge the wrong in what had just happened. I had been so conditioned to think that there are worse things that could be said to me, about me and more importantly, about my race, that I did not even acknowledge that he was being racist. Although he didn’t call me a ‘paky’ or a ‘terrorist’, he wasn’t exactly subtle in not acknowledging my own individual identity. In his mind, I was just the same as that other Asian girl he met once.
I wrote this poem not out of anger towards him, or with the aim of addressing racism in general. I wrote this poem out of a certain anger at myself. I’m angry that I didn’t notice his racism no matter how subtle or ‘harmless’ it was, and I’m angry that I have probably encountered several racist remarks that I didn’t even think were racist. Furthermore, I’m constantly upset with myself and my own reluctance to accept my culture. As if by assimilating to western ideals, and being born in London I could cancel out the fact that I have a different race and a different background. A beautiful, vibrant background that I should stop taking for granted and trying to run from.
I want to learn to embrace my background, but I want other people to do the same. I want other people to acknowledge countries and races beyond the primary school level of naming a colour. ‘Brown’ is not a race or an identity it is a colour. The colour of someone’s skin is not their primary feature or their defining trait. Please try to remember that, and likewise, I’ll try too.