Being the Only Brown in an Uber White community
No one talks about subtle racism. But it hurts more than in-your-face racism.
To set your expectations straight — this is no movie and so nothing dramatic that unfolded.
There were no racial slurs or even any gross misconduct that I experienced.
But there is another deep-rooted problem I want to discuss — the subtleties of racial discrimination. It isn’t apparent, but it is implicit.
Observing public behaviors in a social setting helps me understand the meaning of race, inclusivity and belongingness. I also understand the significance of the phrase “color of your skin” at a much deeper level.
Here’s what happened.
So, I went to this strength conditioning workout class wherein there were fifteen of us — fourteen whites and one brown — Me.
I entered the studio, and the trainer welcomed me with a big warm smile. I specified it was my first day after a long break and requested him to go light on me. He was considerate and interactive, which made me feel very comfortable.
However, there were around 14 others in the session along with me — they laughed, chatted and had their own way of motivating each other throughout the workout. But they weren’t particularly friendly, welcoming or inclusive towards me.
That 1 hour felt like 10 hours.
I was an outsider. They smirked at me. My smiles were not returned.
I felt like an uninvited guest at a party I paid for.
Now they could be just regulars at the studio and happen to know each other — so you might just shun it more as ‘groupism’ rather than ‘racism’. But I beg to differ. Here’s why.
They fail to acknowledge our presence
There are a few subtle signs in their body language —
- make little to no eye contact,
- maintain a straight face,
- stay out of my way,
- won’t initiate any small talks
All of those non-verbal cues translate something like this
“You aren’t one of us. And probably from a third world country — you might have made it here but don’t you dare think you are one of us.”
It might sound too harsh, but that’s exactly how they made me feel.
I don’t want to be your best friend but at least don’t look away. While you are motivating each other, a simple nod and a simple smile towards me won’t hurt.
They fail to be friendly and courteous.
I tried to engage in small talk. However, just to kill this awkwardness between us, I thought to break the ice, but there was no response.
Now, in all honesty, not everyone was like that there was this one person who asked me if it was my first class towards the end of the class — but that was way too little too late.
And it still doesn’t compensate for this strangeness in the attitude.
They are bitter and full of disdain.
They have this emotionless face that’s almost equivalent to a statue. It’s as if their negative thoughts and feelings towards me are somehow restrained because we still need to live in social harmony as part of a democracy.
Their resentment becomes obvious in their body language at times. In another episode, a volunteer doing a sales promotion gig didn’t dole out any samples to me (for no specific reason) even though I was right in front of them.
Yet another episode reminds me of this salesperson who smirked upon asking her to get a pair of shoes for trial. There are several such smaller instances which can easily be brushed off as just poor service or ineptitude of that specific person.
However, when you observe closely, you find a pattern that depicts narrow mindsets, personal insecurities and societal presumptions about races.
All this made me feel ‘little.’
It is only natural for someone to feel that way.
The self-critical person that I am wonders — “Did I do something to annoy or piss someone or something that didn’t fit their culture or community.”
For a long time, I have never been able to understand this feeling.
But now when I think about it at a deeper level, I understand it isn’t me, it’s them. I am not faced with these challenges at the office, only in a social setting where my work cannot speak for myself, and I am left at the mercy of my physical appearance.
No matter how hard I try to fit in, I will always stand out because of “the colour of my skin.”
But I have stopped feeling bad about it.
As I now understand, it’s not me; it’s them — they perceive us differently.
If they don’t want to acknowledge or welcome differences — that’s on them and not us.
I am a minority, but I refuse to be treated any less.
Unfortunately, most whites have never experienced that — in a predominantly ‘white’ country they are treated equals, and in any non-white sub-continent they are treated with awe and admiration — so this might even come as a surprise to a few. Still, it is important to talk about these subtle behaviours and attitudes as it reflects the far deep-rooted beliefs and values.
Disclaimer-In no way, this article is to point fingers at an entire race or community. I have many white friends, colleagues, neighbours and writers whom I deeply respect and admire.
However, certain elements in every race have a supremacist view of themselves and who think of all other races in poor light — this article is concerning them.
I have also spoken openly about racism that exists in India and how prejudiced Indians are towards Muslims. India recently witnessed the most violent racist attacks on minorities — the Muslim communities, and for the first time several thousand miles away, I could feel their pain as a minority.
While racism shows its ugly head in the most outrageously violent and despicable forms in certain countries, it is still prevalent in its subtle forms in certain other parts. As important it is to raise voice against outright racism, it is also important to acknowledge these rather subtle prejudices that influence our lives every day.