On Being a PoC, Grieving and Wanting to be an Ally
I've made mistakes, and I'll continue to make mistakes. I still probably haven't even learned all the mistakes I've made, nor their lessons.
I do not have the answers, and I do not know what is always right and what is wrong. Sometimes the lines are so blurry, and there are arguments for both directions, and I find myself caught in the middle, trapped in inaction. I do not know where I fit; this has always been true. I do not know where I belong; this has also always been true. I do not know what to do, and often sought answers from those I value and respect and have also turned to for guidance.
Now, I can't.
So I have to be here for me. I have to answer to me. I have to guide...me.
When stuck in place, the best thing to do is to retrace your steps so you can find out why you're stuck. Perhaps in that exercise, you find a new path, a further step forward - becoming unstuck.
Looking Back to Look Forward
I've relied on anger as a motivator. When I feel any other emotion, I'm paralyzed in confusion and despondent from my lack of movement, prolonging my paralysis, remaining in this cycle.
So, I'm forcing myself to step back, step out, and look within. Find my thoughts again and find me... again. I know I'm a good person with a good heart, but often misunderstood and frankly, just altogether missed. Perhaps that's on me for only showing the emotion when it explodes and not talking about it as it ticks up and gets there.
I've struggled with not always understanding why people don't like me. I know that I shouldn't care about that, but I just don't get it. No one has ever actually taken the time to explain their views and why they feel a certain way. The only conversations have been already from the decision-making place, in which the only choices I have are to defend myself or just to hear it and accept it and move on.
Here's what I can recall, anecdotally and from the rare confrontation:
-Highly emotional - "don't know what you're going to get, am I going to be fine, happy, and complacent, or am I going to be tense, terse, and upset? Volatile emotional states."
- "I can too much."
- Too honest
- Don't just get along
- Strong personality
Perhaps there is more, but I just don't know. The volatility of my emotions often tends to be the primary issue. I'm an easy target because I get riled up, and can easily say the wrong thing. I'm a natural person to blame and will do whatever it takes to make it right, owning all responsibility, absolving anyone else from their contributions, and their part in it.
But here's the thing. All of what I say, the things I yell about, the stuff I side with people about, or the things I stand in the corner about standing firmly in, are often things people wish they could also say, but they're too afraid to speak up and share an opposing view. A #hottake if you will.
Thankfully I've never belonged anywhere, so being in the corner is my usual spot.
It's not that people don't like or agree with what I'm saying, it's my tone, and the way I say it that often is the issue. The points get lost in the expression. So I would ultimately turn to use writing as my medium since my voice was too much to hear.
From Observation to Written Word
I've witnessed what fitting in means, and I even succumbed to it as well, without even realizing it. I dyed my hair, wore blue contacts, and dated only white guys. I tried to belong. I tried to be what everyone else was, tried to fit in. I went so far as to reject a very handsome, kind, funny, tall, and wealthy Sikh guy who would drive my friends around in his convertible and buy me presents and make me laugh because he was brown. And he called me out on it one day, at a bar and people had to pull us apart. I was ashamed because he knew, and I couldn't own it. I was embarrassed because a scene was breaking out in the bar and everyone was looking at us, but mostly, I was hurt, that I wanted more to fit in, even if I hated my surroundings, than to be who I am and with someone who would have made me a wife and mother of three by now. Does that make sense?
It doesn't stop there.
I listened to the music; I never explored on my own to find what I liked, and why. I studied those who were considered cool, popular, and right and tried to emulate in every way I could. I denounced Indian magazines; I even thought the models, actors, and actresses were unattractive. I didn't find Indian men attractive and didn't want to date them, I mean I was barely even friends with them. I didn't want to seem more different. Yet, even as I tried, I was still met with, "you're Indian?! I've never met an Indian person before! Were you born here?"
Or my favorite, "What are you?"
A purple alien from Mars, obviously.
"No, no, I mean, like your background, like your parents."
"You want to know where my parents are from originally? My mom, Africa, and my dad an area that is no longer part of India."
"Africa? You're African?"
And it continues, with varying levels of curious ignorance and strong jaw tightening as I smile through their disrespectful questioning, which stands only to say, "You look different than I; why are you here?"
These types of questions often also occur when I'm just meeting someone for the first time, too. Sometimes they've been asked before even knowing my full name or before sharing other pleasantries like, "I have a cat and a dog, they don't get along, but I'm determined to help them become friends. I've also been getting back into running and have signed up for a few races."
These are the fundamental facts people need to know about me even before they can have a conversation - why my skin looks like it does, and why are my face and its features shaped the way they are. I say it like that because that's how ridiculous it is. That's how inane these questions are, as though to say because of color and shape, we are somehow different, that we somehow have different blood and fewer feelings to crush.
We (society) need to put people in a box, we (society) need to understand where they fit within our understandings, so we know how we want to engage further with them, if at all. But here's the thing, even then, it doesn't work. They don't know where to put me because often in my experience at least, people have told me that I "don't look Indian? I would have thought Mexican or Arab or a mix or something." Again, this is still the first conversation I'm often having with this person. And "this person" could be anyone. Anyone.
It's not just the people you'd expect, even those who are the same as I am - Punjabi Americans/Desi Americans/Indian people.
We all have this fundamental skill - we see someone Asian we know they're Asian immediately by the way they look, we see someone black, we know immediately by the way they look. But you see someone tan or brown, and there is confusion.
The question isn't about how we see someone, and if we recognize their ethnicity or race, it's about why that is a question at all. Why is that pertinent information? Why can't the individual share this when it's germane to the conversation or when they want to know your origins, too, as a way to bond or genuinely learn about another person?
So I've struggled all my life to know where I fit and now, during this valuable moment of developing lasting change for the lives of Black Americans, where the hell do I fit, and how can I be an ally? Perhaps as an Asian already, that's a question that has always lingered. So maybe you too can join me on this journey, exploring how to be an ally while also marginalized - even if it's by your own people. So maybe the better question is, how can I also stand up for others while I still need to stand up for myself?
Also, I want to explore in the general sense that in this space of black and white, where do South Asians fit, and how can we be an ally? How can we atone? How can we learn? For what reparations are we responsible? For what are we also owed?
In the episode "Two Brown Girls Talking about Grief and being a PoC in America," I get into some of this. Through the editing, I realized there is so much more to talk about, so I will be beginning a new podcast, too, that allows me to deviate from grief, only to talk about race in a way that doesn't keep us locked into a theme.
Of course, Citizen: Grief. will continue and I know I have many episodes owed, but I'm just one person and it takes days to edit an episode and it's sometimes so hard, as you know, to do anything, let alone be focused for hours on one thing.
Check out the episode, but read the Episode Details first, as it might explain some of the content better and provide more background before jumping into a conversation with topics that are so new to you.
Thanks for reading and being a part of my healing, growth, and journey.
Your girl on the inside,
Reema, aka Grief and The Modern Girl