I still feel a little silly when I get to the point in an anti-racism training where I say “I’m a victim of racism.” I think there’s two reasons for this:
1) Most people of color shaped by American society have a pretty big stake in either “I made it on my own merits despite discrimination” or “I haven’t been affected by discrimination.”
2) Look at me. I’m under no illusion that when I get on a plane people get nervous; they don’t. (Unless they’re sitting next to me. But that’s because they’re going to get less armrest space with me than with a supermodel.) These days I don’t even get searched by TSA all that much more frequently than the rest of you. I rarely get “you have almost no accent,” and even when I get “where are you from?” it’s out of curiosity rather than malice.
One of my best friends has recently raised with me his concern that I’m pretending to be something I’m not when I publicly proclaim my identity as a South Asian American*. After all, while I share a lot of the experiences of my darker skinned (and full-blooded) South Asian brothers and sisters and wrestle with the same identity issues of being South Asian and American, the way the world experiences me is as a White person unless they know me or see my name. (You can imagine the conversations I have to have with people when I show up not looking at all how they expected me to.) (more…)