Two Brown Girls Talk about Grief and Being a PoC In the U.S.

The episode was different from all others. I was most honest about who I really am to you, but I brought on a friend and laid bare my emotions, thoughts, and feelings with a witness. It was hard, as all learning that changes who you thought you were can be, but this was like grief all over again. Even the new person I've become still has more growing to do, more changing to do, more skin to shed, more guilt to bear.


So far, I've kept many identifying details at bay. I wanted this to be a unifying place where we can all come together for one reason: to be seen, heard, and held by others who have also lost their sibling, which is a veritable desert in the grief community. But I can't keep quiet. None of us can stay silent anymore. We don't want this community to grow, yet we want people to know how we feel and have others around that "get it," a reluctant club with disgruntled members looking for pals in the worst way.

So, I had to share more about myself; perhaps it surprises you to learn I'm not white. I'm not black. But I'm an Indian American woman, a Punjabi, a woman with family spread worldwide and has immigration and refugee stories. That my grief didn't begin with the loss of my brother, it always existed, even in the safe bubble in which I grew up.


As you'll learn in the episode, I grew up in a world knowing I was different for different reasons than my skin color or the shape of my features. I didn't realize that it was also a defining factor until I was around all white people. They saw me as different, exotic, a creature to be studied, questioned, and gazed with wonderment. But they didn't know that I was also doing the same thing to them. They were different from me, and to me, too. Categorizing by sometimes color is a pendulum that swings both ways, and no matter what, someone is cut, sometimes irreparably so.


So this episode explores what it means to be a PoC, namely a person of South Asian or Desi origin and being an American who is eager to be an ally, but also has a lot to unlearn and re-learn. Join me and my friend, Tara Ashraf, who runs a blog called, In Between American, as we explore what it means to be brown/desi/South Asian and American while grieving and wanting to find our place an ally.


You'll also hear in the episode some new vocabulary, I've detailed them below, and even though you may have heard these words a million times, you may not know their actual meanings (don't worry, some of these are also words I re-learned too, which you'll also experience in the episode).


Vocabulary List

  1. Desi - someone who is of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi descent who lives abroad. The definition doesn't include certain parts of India, so not all people from India are Desi. I know, it isn't apparent. For example, South Indian, Tamil, or Sri Lankans, though holistically Indian because their origins are in India, are not Desi and find the term offensive.

  2. PoC- this does mean a person of color; however, the way it's used in the episode, the term PoC does not include black people because that implies the experiences of PoC and Black people are similar and interchangeable, and they are not.

  3. America - Did you know that America is also referring to those in Canda or South America? It is not a term that applies only to the United States. Here is a great article explaining it more.

  4. Dark - This is exclusively speaking to the color of someone's skin being, well, dark. It is a racist term, and its origins, at least in India, are traced back to British colonialism and is a wholly disrespectful term to people from India (and Pakistan) who have more melanin.

  5. Fair - It was also a term dating back to the British colonialism of India, where they declared themselves the superior race for many reasons, including their complexion. Being a fair-skinned Indian person meant you were treated differently (read: better) and is a term rooted in racism.

  6. Colorism - "A practice of discrimination by which those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin. This practice is a product of racism in the United States. It upholds the white standards of beauty and benefits white people in the institutions of oppression (media, medical world, etc.)" This definition was pulled from the NCCJ, read more here.

  7. Foreigner - a person born in or coming from a country other than one's own. This term doesn't refer to someone living or traveling or anything related to the duration of time the person is living, merely stating that someone is from another country. But not all Desis are foreign, see, or immigrants.

  8. Punjabi - An Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic group associated with the Punjab region in South Asia, presently divided between Punjab, India, and Punjab, Pakistan. There are Hindu Punjabis and Sikh Punjabis, and this refers to their religion (which also impacts culture). We are not a minority, in 2017, there were 88M of us and growing. Also, notice that this group, my group, is Indo-Aryan, meaning from Europe. Specifically, "relating to or denoting a people speaking an Indo-European language who invaded northern India in the 2nd millennium BC, displacing the Dravidian and other aboriginal peoples." So, if traced back far enough, this group was originally from Persia, hence the more Anglo appearance from Southern Indians.

  9. Pakistani - People from Pakistan originally, a country that was once a part of India, but was separated with haphazard lines drawn by the British as they were leaving India after nearly 400 years of occupation. Pakistan is the Islamic Republic, and the national language is Urdu, but it is home to multi-ethnic groups that speak a variety of languages.

  10. Partition - As described above, this refers to the horrific tragedies that Indians faced during the British occupation of India and their ultimate departure in 1947. Yes, only 73 years ago. After drawing illogical lines, countries were created based upon religion and race, igniting wars and discontent that exists to this day. Families were torn up, forced to become refugees, and a lot escaped to the United States but then faced racism of a different kind (until 1964 when racism became more insidious in the U.S.). Partition (aka the Brits) is why India and Pakistan are separate countries and fight over Kashmir. You can read more about it here.

  11. Indian- The term "Indian" refers to nationality, rather than a particular ethnicity or language. According to Wikipedia, the Indian nationality consists of dozens of regional ethnolinguistic groups, reflecting the rich and complex history of the country.

  12. Black - a person from the black community, not necessarily someone from African American origins. Black and African American are not interchangeable. This refers only to the color of the skin, b/c regardless of origins, that seems to be all that matters when it comes to vocalized inter-race racism. Here is more information from NABJ: "African, African American, black: Hyphenate when using African American as an adjective. Not all black people are African Americans (if they were born outside of the United States). Let a subject's preference determine which term to use. In a story in which race is relevant, and there is no stated preference for an individual or individuals, use black because it is an accurate description of the race. Be as specific as possible in honoring preferences, as in Haitian American, Jamaican American, or (for a non-U.S. citizen living in the United States) Jamaican living in America. Do not use race in a police description unless the report is highly detailed and gives more than just the person's skin color. In news copy, aim to use black as an adjective, not a noun. Also, when describing a group, use black people instead of just blacks. In headlines, blacks, however, are acceptable."

Additional references and links to information:

  1. Woodburn Hall mural at Indiana University

  2. Civil Rights Act of 1964

Additional learning not noted in the episode

  1. I learned that I made a mistake in the episode and said "blacks" instead of the proper term of "black people," this learning didn't make it into the episode.


Resources for you:

  1. Our next episode - lookout for it on our forthcoming podcast, "This Brown American Life."

  2. InBetweenAmerican blog - https://inbetweenamerican.com/

  3. Instagram accounts to follow:

@SouthAsians4BlackLives

@TheConsciousKid

@InBetweenAmerican

@SouthAsianToday

@SouthAsianNation

@SouthAsianSMH

@Sabina_Writes

@WeAreMalikah

Acknowledgments:

  1. Tara Ashraf, you're a dream of guest and now will be cohost, thank you for taking this leap with me and having the tough conversation. I'm so grateful to share my experience with someone else so that we can learn together! I'm so excited about "This Brown American Life!"

  2. Jody Foege, Neha Kayy, and Delphine Murzello thank you for serving as editors on this and helping me stay honest about what I need to learn and errors I need to correct. This episode wouldn't be possible without your help, knowledge, wokeness, and expertise. Thank you for helping me learn, can't wait to have you on our future podcast!

  3. Me! Way to go on planning, organizing, producing, editing, learning, and sharing this episode. It's a ton of work being a one-woman show, and you're kicking ass :)



©2019 by Grief and The Modern Girl.