Too black to be asian, too asian to be black, and too “me” to be accepted with either.
image left: pintrest | image right: @krithikasreddy (model) @encoreankur (photographer)
Note: Unlike being one race, the umbrella of being “bi/multi-racial” is much larger. Though I hope this can ease the aloneness my bi/multi-racial community feels, please understand that each mix—and each experience—is unique and should be treated as such.
I was always three different people, and never all at once. On most days I was Indian, at school I forced myself to act “white”, and in the intervals between I either erased my blackness, or had to remind myself it was there.
It was dope being able to be a part of two cultures, but it sucked that code-switching was practically second nature.
Code-switching (in this context), meant changing the way I approached my cultural identity, depending on what group I was with, in order to blend closely with the people around me.
It wasn’t like I changed my entire personality, it was small things I had done to avoid feeling like an outcast (well, more than I was already). Like being more conscious of how I spoke so I wouldn’t come off as “ghetto”, or how correct pronunciations, that came from my extended desi family, were immediately swapped out at my predominantly white elementary and middle school.
It was no longer Tandoori Chicken (pronounced: Thund-oo-ree, and yes you softly roll the “r”), it was choosing to cringe internally while I went for the butchered, accentless, “tan-door-ee”.
Where most kids in my school embraced their culture, I was constantly hiding and distorting mine. Though code-switching as a whole isn’t foreign to people of color, being exposed to it at this degree—practically since birth—fucked with how I saw myself.
What’s worse? All the racist, colorist, bullshit I stand against now, didn’t feel wrong to me. In fact, it was shit I internalized and wholeheartedly believed.
There was Mom’s side
Never in my life would I want to give up being half Indian, nor do I want it to be swept under the rug. As many bi/multi-racial people know, all of us don’t necessarily look like our mix. In my case, the world just saw me as black. I spent years having to defend my “desi-ness” to others.
I’d constantly deal with comments like:
“You don’t look Asian,” Fuck off, I don’t need to.
“Really? Prove it, say something in Indian,” Indian’s not a language, and I don’t have to prove shit.
“You’re not Indian, you’re just half.” That one…that one stung.
It agitated me when I heard that from my classmates, but it fucking hurt when I heard it from other Indians. This culture that surrounded me all my life, the traditions I’d been a part of, the food, the movies—was I just creating a home, in a place I didn’t belong? I tried arguing against it, but the self-doubt kept coming.
I can understand Hindi—you can’t speak it. You’re not good enough.
O.G Bollywood was my shit—you’re fake, you haven’t watched those films in years.
They say I look like my mom—but you’ll never look like them.
Them, in this case, relating to my family. These doubts and comments didn’t come from thin air, they were said quietly by my aunts and carelessly mentioned by my cousins. I got it from every angle, and it wasn’t until I had grown with who I was, that I finally put my foot down.
Looking back, I realize healing and finding solace in my identity, meant owning up and being proud of all my identity.
Translation: I had to stop rejecting the fact that I was black.
There was Dad’s side
Like I said, being black wasn’t something I was proud of. Ironically, not being proud was also something I wasn’t proud of.
Though I had a shit ton of family on my mom’s side, my dad’s side was just my grandparents and three uncles. I didn’t mind this at all! But because of this I never had as strong a source of representation, especially with women. I loved my grandma, but she was mostly in Haiti throughout my childhood. The only other places I encountered other black people was through the media and school, which still didn’t leave me much to go off.
My elementary and middle school was predominately white, and by the time I graduated 8th grade, I was the only Black, or Indian, girl in my grade. This meant that from the ages of 4 to 13, I was surrounded by people who looked nothing like me.
It didn’t help that I wasn’t popular. It didn’t help being told I couldn’t date anyone because I’m black. It didn’t help that I was actively saying, “I wish I was white.” And it didn’t help when they couldn’t bother giving me a reason to believe differently.
My brown skin. My beautiful, melanated, brown skin was nothing but a hindrance to my younger self.
If we’re struggling for media representation in 2020, imagine how many “role models” I had back in the early 2000s. I’ll tell you. Two. Raven Symone, and Penny from The Proud Family.
Everything in the world was showing me black people didn’t have a place. We weren’t on TV, not many of us were singers, and we sure as hell weren’t in the white house yet. When I turned to my own family, specifically my mom’s side, I wasn’t shocked to feel the sentiment returned.
They may not have ever said anything outwardly negative about my race, but they carry toxic traditions that affected me all the same.
From my grandmother “kindly” telling me to stay out of the sun to avoid “getting dark,” to the mere knowledge that skin bleaching products were constantly advertised on Zee TV (one of the few Indian channels we got in the U.S) why the fuck would I find worth in my blackness?
There’ve been so many nights that I wished I could go back, and tell my younger self she’s perfect as she is.
The child I was couldn’t find acceptance from the world, but the person I am now, knows I don’t fucking need it.
And bitch, there was MY side
There wasn’t space for me as a child, so I carved that shit for myself. The older I got, the more I diversified my world and connected with who I was.
I’m not an Indian woman, nor am I a black girl. I’m fucking both and that makes me unique.
There are days I still struggle, and wonder if I’m enough, but being able to talk to other mixed kids reminds me that I am. And being mixed is fucking dope!
I get to chow down on Haitian patties in a leather jacket and saree, without breaking a sweat.
Fuck one or the other, it’s being versatile royalty for me.
I know I’m still learning, and the internalised racism and colorism from my past are still a process I must unlearn, but I know who I am.
And that’s on period.
Embrace every inch of who you are,