To Every White Person Who Thinks They Know My Cultures Better Than I Do
Passing your ethnic studies course isn't permission to try to school me on my daily realities.
To the Self-Appointed Food Critic Who Built Their Ethnic Culinary Expertise on Frozen Dinners From Trader Joe’s: I love it when you recommend places with names like “Monsoon Temple Diner,” so please continue to do that. Garlic-and-herb-infused naan soaked with butter, as you describe it, is just so inventive. It might take three days to chew it, but according to the wisdom your yoga instructor imparts on you at the end of every session, “Patience is the key to paradise” (copyright Gandhi). Not to mention that this naan is the perfect side dish to chicken tikka masala, which you’ve assured me is excellent through multiple reviews you’ve left on Yelp: “Not too spicy, so it doesn’t mask the flavor. Tastes just like the food I had in my hotel in Goa. Very authentic!!! Gonna bring my Indian friends here. I have so many.”
To the Newly Spiritually Awakened Friend Who Keeps Inviting Themselves to Religious Services With Me: I know, I know, I promised you like a year ago that I would bring you to church so you could hear the music. You just keep mentioning how much you love rhythm and harmonies and clapping on beat. Sure, I’m not religious. But since you’ve elected me as your gateway to gospel, I guess I have no choice but to oblige you. You’re afraid to be the only white person there? Oh, geez. I honestly have no idea how something like that might feel.
To the Holistic Health Expert Who “Introduced” Me to Coconut Oil: When I reminded you that coconut oil had long ago been bestowed upon me by the ancestors and sits happily next to its cocoa butter and Vaseline brethren on my dresser, you immediately took my face in your hands and tutted at me pityingly. In a White Educational Moment, you shared with me the ways I was severely underusing my $10 extra-virgin jar by reserving it for my skin and hair. As it turns out, coconut oil can be also be used as an all-natural clothes detergent! A nasal cleanser! A contraceptive! Sunscreen! And since the cashier at Whole Foods swears by it as a revolutionary household cleaner, so should I.
To the Ohm Goddess Who Continuously Preaches Yoga on Their Instagram Account: Did I mention how much fun I had at the class you brought me to last Thursday? I know you were disappointed that your ashram retreat didn’t live up to your expectations. It’s just really hard to measure up to someone like yogi Sean, who spent six months intensively studying Bikram in Salt Lake City. He’s so spiritual, you can practically see his aura radiating from his blonde dreadlocks. And I’m thankful he told me I’ve been saying "namaste" wrong this entire time. So wise.
To the Blogger Who Just Posted a How-To Guide for Attending Brown-People Weddings: It’s so great that you finally got to attend a real desi wedding, and not just the Bollywood bling–themed wedding your cousin planned through Pinterest. I know you’ve been asking me for years to get married so that you could wear a sparkly sari in my bridal party, but attending a wedding in the motherland, as you’ve started to call it, is so much more authentic. To be perfectly honest, I kind of tuned out when you recapped the wedding, but I did pick up on the following words: colorful, loud, shiny, very long, colorful, exotic, so long, colorful, cultural, I thought there would be more livestock, vibrant, colorful, and can you teach me how to pin my sari? I want to wear it to my roommate’s birthday party?
To the Aspiring Fashionista Who Tried to Introduce Me to “Boxer Braids”: The hottest new hair trend! Edgy! Chic! Kyle Jenner/Miley Cyrus/Kristen Stewart! When I responded to your newfound love of your "haute couture cornrows" by blinking very, very slowly, you went on to teach me that “boxer braids” were just tiny rows of French braids, but so much more versatile. You also voiced frustrations about how, despite all the work, this new hairdo tends to come undone after a day or two. Though I offer my deepest condolences, I’m afraid there’s absolutely nothing I can do to help you there.
To the Teaching Assistant Who Graciously Taught Me How to Pronounce My Name Despite Just Figuring Out How to Say It After a Year of Knowing Me: I’m so glad that upon returning home from your vacation, you made it your personal mission to get me back in touch with my culture. You’re absolutely right, I shouldn’t feel pressured to anglicize my beautiful name just for the sake of everyone around me. The cycle of having to constantly repeat myself, spell it out, repeat it again, then just end up going along with whatever you say the 10th time around is so much less exhausting than just slightly tweaking how I say the first syllable. I appreciate this lesson on preserving the purity of my culture, almost as much as I appreciate you teaching me how to properly eat that dry-ass bread you keep ordering from Monsoon Temple Diner with my hands.
To the Liberal Arts Student Who Interpreted My Ordering Coffee From Starbucks As Complicity in the Cultural Oppression Of Brown Folk: I can’t do anything but nod fervently in agreement when you air your grievances against Starbucks and Oprah for bastardized chai tea lattes in America. Apparently it’s nothing like the milky drink you had abroad, so you hope to teach people about the beauty of authentic chai by opening up your own locally sourced, all-natural, fair-trade, no-bad-vibes-allowed, underground tea “experience” with chai wallahs instead of baristas. Also, for every cup you sell, you will donate 5 cents to a charity that funds people to travel overseas so that they can hand their used sandals to babies in person. #BeTheChange (Copyright Ben Kingsley’s Gandhi.)
To the Music Expert Who Graciously Took It Upon Themselves to Explain Lemonade to Me: You’re right, that’s definitely what Lemonade was about. Mmhmm. So that’s why it was mostly set in New Orleans! Well to be honest, I think — oh, OK. Sure. Yes, she was very beautiful. Yes, she is a queen. And yes, I totally get how you connected her yellow dress to the title of the album! You’re so smart. I agree, it’s very empowering. Ah yeah, yeah, it’s not for you, but you still feel empowered by it. I actually agree with — oh, wait, you have more opinions. Don’t worry, I’m still listening.
To the Wandering Sheep Who Found Themselves Abroad and Wishes They Could’ve Grown Up Somewhere “Interesting” Like I Did: While it’s true that my homeland of backwoods Pennsylvania might just be The Most Interesting Place in the World, I’m proud of you for finding your second home in the rich and tangy subcontinent. Despite your complaints about the smells, noise, diarrhea, and yoga lessons not being in English, through your trip abroad you managed to find peace, enlightenment, and harem pants that you will wear nearly every day for the next two months and then promptly forget about. Of all the things the countries of my ancestors have provided free of cost — spices, math, better ways to wear pajamas — I’m happy you could squeeze one more more thing out of it: you finding yourself.
And to Those Who Think They Know My Cultures Better Than I Do Because I'm Biracial: One Beyoncé album, a Rudyard Kipling book, That One Class at Your Liberal Arts School, a 10-class pack for a Bhangra dance studio — apparently all of those things, or one of those things, makes you more of an expert on my cultures than I will ever be. Through the amalgamations of ways you consume my culture, including “A Friend Who Is Black, Except Actually Black,” or “A Friend Who Is Indian, Except Actually Indian,” you’ve granted yourself an expertise I can never match. But having multiple racial identities, being designated as “half” of something, does not equate to being less or knowing less. Me failing to fit your images of authenticity isn't permission to take or speak on behalf of the things integral to who I am. There are infinite ways to be black and brown. My way might not be the most visible to you, or the most widely spoken of or represented, but I can assure you that it doesn't make my relationship with myself or my identities any less valid or worthy of respecting.