Dear Everyone: My Culture is NOT A Costume

From a recent writing piece of mine that got published in Brown Girl Magazine, I was attacked for my blonde hair. The assumptions of my own South Asian sisters accusing me of trying to be white because to them I didn’t look “brown” enough. With the negativity there were many of you who were supportive, kind and spoke up against those wrongful accusations. How can you throw my experiences, my feelings and my writing away because I do not look brown enough for you? I didn’t always have good skin and blonde hair. Like many girls in the pre-Instagram and iPhone era I went through an awkward ugly duckling stage. Do you want to know the worst part of my experience? I grew up in Richardson, Texas. I was the only South Asian in my entire school. Try explaining being brown, let alone Bengali to people and not only white people but even the Hispanics as to what my ethnicity was if they bothered to ask, which in most cases they didn’t because I was labeled the Indian girl.

Growing up in Richardson was hard but it shaped me into who I am today. In my piece earlier I talked about struggling with my identity like many of us with different ethnicities growing up in the U.S. but it’s even harder when you’re attending a school, let alone living in a city that is not diverse. Some of you may wonder why I didn’t label this “Dear White People” but guess what; it wasn’t a white boy that asked me if Indians were against shaving their body hair but a Hispanic. So this piece isn’t for just the white people but for all the ethnicities that refused to educate themselves on my ethnicity and now walk around wearing bindi’s because it’s all about their third eye.

I’m all about reform and people mending their ways but you can’t tell me its not a bit amusing to see the girl that thought Indian food smelled weird, ranting on social media how her thaali plate is so “cool” as she’s using it as an Insta worthy shot. Too bad my culture wasn’t fun and cool for everyone growing up. My South Asian culture is not a costume for you to wear, try on or even rebrand to whatever label comes to mind. It’s not cool that everyone thought my mom looked strange wearing a salwar kameez but now it’s “boho chic” to wear a salwar kameez so now it’s deemed as “colorful” and so “ethnic”. The same kids that thought my traditional clothing was weird, that my food smelled funny and assumed my culture was barbaric is now walking around wearing bindis, matha pattis (headpieces), sari’s and raving about how their life has changed after throwing some turmeric in their latte.

Please understand there is a line between appreciation and appropriation. I love people embracing and learning about other cultures but don’t put a bindi in the middle of your forehead and then claim to understand the brown culture as a whole. Meditating in Shavasana and attending your local yoga class does not connect you with the experiences that I went through as a South Asian in America. Going to India, throwing colors around during Holi is not the gateway for you to “find yourself.” Don’t ask me if I know the only other brown person you know because this might be alarming but I don’t know every brown person that walks this earth. OMG, I know, shocker! The South Asian culture is not a prop, costume or your ticket to prove that you are cultured. If you are curious then research about it than throwing on traditional garments and attending a festival.

I was extremely lucky to have Elena, my amazing childhood best friend who always accepted who I am. She was European so I was blessed to learn about the Bulgarian culture, as she was always open to learn about the Bengali way of life. I’m sure I survived most of Richardson, if not all if she wasn’t there smiling and always being so loving and kind. I always tell her I know she really loves me because she stuck through my ugly duckling phase.

As for the brown girls who think I am not brown enough well I went through the same experiences you did regardless of what my hair and facial features look like right now. I didn’t even grow up in a diverse community like many of you did. Many times I find myself not fitting in with other brown girls because I am looked at as being “too white.” Isn’t that the funniest thing? I like to think it’s both a blessing and a curse and I’m okay with that.

Love,

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. JR says:

    Your perspective is interesting. I’m a Houston writer myself, as well as a first-generation gay Jamerican (Jamaican-American). I’ve been meaning to try to gather people together with interesting perspectives for think tanks and discussions, but until then allow me just to say “Hey! I’m JR. Nice to meet you!”

    Like

    1. Hi JR,

      Thank you so much for taking time to read my post. That is awesome that you are in Houston! I would absolutely love to be apart of your think tanks. Feel free to email me whenever you have a set gathering: thebengalibelle@gmail.com

      It was wonderful to meet you too!

      Like

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