It has been a transformative time for Americans since the protests which resulted due to the murder of George Floyd. In my nearly two decades of living in the US, this is the first time I am seeing conversations on race span across all ages, ethnicities and political affiliations. What a time to be alive! At the same time, as a South Indian Tamil immigrant who is now an American citizen, I am grappling with my identity like never before.
When I immigrated to the US at the age of 21, having been born into an upper caste and from a big city in India, I had never experienced being a minority. My first 6 years in the US were spent in an insulated environment around international or Indian students. I never felt like an outsider any more than anyone else I interacted with, which in itself made me feel at home amongst them. It was when I took my first job, a corporate one, that I was introduced to the concept of being a minority. From my name to my accent to my food choices (I was raised a vegetarian which is not at all unusual in India) to my appearance, everything was noticed and commented on. At first, it made me feel special and noticed in a way unlike anything ever before and I would even accentuate my foreignness to get more attention. Within two years of starting that job, I started dating a white American and was for the very first time exposed to an all American predominantly white friend circle. The exoticization made me more alluring in this entirely social setting and I lapped it all up. As this was happening, I was also making new friends of my own through work and other chance meetings.
What I didn’t realize, or at least actively so, was that the friends I was independently adding to my life were a random mix of ethnicities, nationalities, sexual orientation and gender identity. This, in combination with more time spent around my partner’s family, slowly got me to realize how much of “othering” was happening to me right in front of my eyes and not only was I allowing it but was actually welcoming it, like it was something to feel special about. I started paying attention to white people who hid under humour to speak poorly of anyone who is not both white and American born. This inspired me to read, to educate myself on American history, the kind that is never taught in American schools. If I was to understand what I was experiencing and witnessing, I needed the knowledge of the historical context to accurately fight back. I am a big believer that education is the solution for all societal malaise, but what I was realizing was that certain education isn’t always taught at school. It is the process of actively wanting to learn more about our world and doing the research to ensure the veracity of our sources.
I went from being indifferent to American history and ignorant about microaggressions and subtle racism, to becoming painfully aware of the latter being all around us all the time. It is a burden and an unusual one for someone who had the privilege of never dealing with it until adulthood, but this has only made me a better human and I am grateful for that.