After 9-11, being brown wasn’t always so easy. Right on our welcoming, as-liberal-as-the-midwest-gets campus, an Indian girl (Hindu by virtue of her name and perhaps little else) had her ribcage shattered by a handful of white males. Across the nation and around the world hijabis and sikhnis were assaulted, angering Muslim and Sikh communities alike. Boys and men obviously faced discrimination too, but let’s be real–nothing seems to get people riled up like an insult or assault to “their women”.
In the course of a few years–if not months–awareness of religious and ethnic labels heightened tremendously. Some of my Muslim friends became more keenly aware of their Muslim label, embraced it, let it define them, and took on a “so what if I am Muslim?” attitude. Others found it more fitting to adapt a more internalized, spiritual experience of Islam (i.e. Sufism) that would be less likely to incite fear or hatred and would, perhaps, help repaint the picture of Islam in America.
Many Sikhs and Hindus also addressed their newly imposed identities.
“But we’re not Muslim. We aren’t like them.”
For every one of our people that was attacked we seemed to sow a little extra hatred for those people. Those Muslims and their terrorists. In our defensiveness, we forgot completely about the innocent and joined in the hate speech in hopes that we’d somehow redeem ourselves as the “good” type of brown.
NEWS FLASH: the people who hate blindly will continue to hate blindly and, you, in all your brown glory will continue to be under the scrutiny of the ignorant. Unless you pull a Bobby Jindal and convince everyone you’re actually just a WASP (or WASC, rather).
Remember that when you try to dissociate Sikhism from Islam as though the influence isn’t evident. Remember that when you try to victimize yourself as the Hindu who knows all about Muslim tyranny. You are neither saving your people nor fighting ignorance, you are merely feeding it and you will continue to get shit from the ignorant.
I find it extremely nauseating and sad that my parents find the religious views of their desi friends irrelevant yet somehow people of my generation define themselves and their friend circles by religious labels that range from superficial to spiritual. You can band together by religious labels and find that your values are as dissimilar as they come. But we like to pretend that that’s not true. I guess this makes me sad because I was always vying for a desi friend that I could relate to, as I was growing up, and I couldn’t get so picky as to weed out desis based on religious labels. Looking back, I think I’ll take that as my good fortune.