Monday, January 29, 2018

My only sin ... is in my skin!

In one of the conversations in the old country, a member of the extended family criticized "those Americans."

I cleared my throat. "Ahem," I started with a smile. "I am an American."

In that context, I as an American was an invisible man!  Yet, I have been put on notice that I am an American and, therefore, will be treated like how Hargobind Khorana was excommunicated.  (At least Khorana won a Nobel Prize!)

Here in the US, my "American" identity is not always self-evident to people.  Because, the default definition of an American is a white.  Everybody else has to identified as not being white but still an American.  A visiting white Australian or a Czech can pass off as "Americans" as long as they don't engage in conversations because, well, because of the white skin, but a brown-skinned American might be stopped in Arizona!

In this NY Times opinion essay, the author writes about her being black and an older white guy asking her:
It’s just that I don’t understand why you would want to call yourself black. Why not just call yourself a human? Now, it is obvious that you are a woman. But do you have to be a black woman? Why can’t you be a human?
She could have written a much more compelling essay  than the one she has written in response to that question.  I am reminded of Ralph Ellision in his Invisible Man:
Whence all this passion toward conformity anyway?—diversity is the word. Let man keep his many parts and you'll have no tyrant states. Why, if they follow this conformity business they'll end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one. Must I strive toward colorlessness? But seriously, and without snobbery, think of what the world would lose if that should happen. 
"they'll end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one." 


2 comments:

Ramesh said...

Interesting perspective. Its certainly true that in India a "brown American" would not be first thought off as American. But I suspect that's just because as a "brown" you are more readily identified with the Indian identity since you are in the midst of a billion of us, have an Indian name , speak an Indian language and don't talk with an American accent.

I think an African American or a Hispanic would be more readily identified as an American. Yes, the African American would first be slotted as an African, but he only has to speak a sentence before he would probably be paced as an American.

Oh yes - diversity is one of the great virtues to go after. May every type of person with every conceivable type of outward appearance, and more importantly, every different view and perspective thrive. The "rainbow nation" both in physical and metaphorical form should be the ideal society on earth. Your country came closest to it but is regressing backwards somewhat. South Africa, which invented the term is trying it but with limited success.

You aren't on notice. You have been "sentenced". Of course you are an American. Isn't that the very theme of your post !!

Sriram Khé said...

Yes, the US is rapidly regressing away from the rainbow nation, thanks to 63 million racist voters who elected a racist. With Obama, we put one step forward, and now we have gone back a gazillion steps :(

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