CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSETED BROWN WOMAN

True confession: I am a brown woman trapped in a white feminist’s identity.  As if that’s not enough to make you want to overdose on the Indigo Girls and Lena Dunham, I didn’t realize it until November 9, 2016, at the ripe middle age of 42.  Before then, I fancied myself a radical feminist, one who just happened to:

  1.  attend private school K-12;
  2. join a sorority at the University of Virginia;
  3. work at a white shoe law firm on Wall Street;
  4. move to Greenwich, CT before
  5. moving to even whiter Denver, and the kicker–
  6. – to a neighborhood called “Country Club”.

I’ve lived the glorious life of a white woman — a liberal, feminist white woman — my whole life, having casually discarded of unsavory reminders along the way.

Saira young
Younger days when I just blended in.

There was a time a guy named Peyton called me a nigger in high school.  I merely straightened my Laura Ashley dress, and proceeded onto my student government meeting, one of many I chaired as President.

The time I got nixed from Kappa Kappa Gamma after round one, being told with a wink and a nod that I wasn’t “Kappa material.”  I merely straightened my Laura Ashley dress and continued to pound Rugby Road at the University of Virginia until I landed myself a role at another sorority.

The time, after my first novel was published, that a Philadelphia blogger drew a caricature of me as a Hindu god.  There was no reference to Hinduism in my book, btw.  I made a joke about it and moved on.

But then Donald Trump stole the election.  In the days after November 8, 2016, it became impossible for me to move on from the raw facts.  I was a woman.  I was brown.  I was a brown woman.  As my group of white female friends made casual “grab them by the pussy jokes” over lattes at Starbucks, I hid under the covers, shivering, sweating, unable to even take my children to school.  They’d voted for Clinton too.  They thought I was overreacting, some calling my reaction to the election “catastrophizing.”  For me, it was the opposite.  It was the first time I’d looked myself in the mirror.  Brown warts, and all.  It required close attention to the facts.

They are as follows:

  • Two days after November 8, my deceased Indian mother, the woman who gave veterans rectal exams for 34 years at the Veteran’s Administration, became the subject of racist jokes on Facebook.  It wasn’t something I was able to joke about and move on.
  • Three days after November 8, my husband, brown and Ivy League educated, was chased down a street in New Orleans by a homeless man screaming “Arab.”  It wasn’t a compliment.  It wasn’t something I was able to joke about and move on. 
  • Four days after November 8, a close family friend’s nephew in DC, all of 12-years-old, was accosted by a drunk white frat guy for being brown.  It was caught on video.  My husband couldn’t even watch.  It wasn’t something I was able to joke about and move on.
  • The following day, my eight-year-old daughter, having overheard our discussions about the above asked: “Will Daddy be killed for being black”? There was nothing to joke about there.

My friends, just about all of them white, had largely muted responses.  “That sucks” from one regarding the Arab slur and “Can’t you just relax and not be so serious one night here Saira,” from another regarding the racial slur against my dead mother.

Their apathy stung more than the underlying assault, but then I got it.

They’d never seen me as brown because I had never seen myself as such.  They’d lumped me in with their own whiteness.  Who could blame them?  I’d never minded being the only brown person at a party, on a panel, in an office, at a school event — really ANYWHERE.  Maybe I even relished the tokenism, which was weirdly flattering.  Hey look, the world hates brown people and women but here I am, drinking Sauvignon Blanc with a bunch of successful white people who think my jokes are funny and dig my moonwalk (which is, by the way, pretty rad).

So here’s the honest truth — I’m now seeing and accepting myself for who I am, while trying to diminish the self-loathing I have for having denied it all these years.

Where to go from here?  I’ve brought this up with various circles of white friends and colleagues and the reaction has been mixed.  It makes a lot of white women uncomfortable, but there are just as many who want to listen and understand.  I firmly believe that women of color and white women have to come together for feminism, however you define it, to succeed.

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. Congrats on waking up, aka “being woke” my beautiful brown Indian sister, and freeing yourself or being rejected from the illusion of unity and prestige, called assimilation into whiteness, which is the prize that many covet when they come to America. You will find solace by starting conversations and relationships with those around you, in your early years, who were there, whom considered you an ally, until they saw that you were lost in the pursuit of fitting in, wearing your armor of your “Laura Ashley” 👗 dress. You can also find solace slowly by starting to go to social spaces in your area where Black and Brown people frequent and receive camaraderie and unity, discuss this with your faith group and leadership, and add a tag on your blog post to include “Brown Culture” to fully embrace it.

    I will stick around to deal with the trolls, because they will come. All love.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! Please know this. There are a lot of people (white people like myself) who are horrified by this new “government”. I was a lot like you, I thought we were past all the racist crap after Obama was elected. I was proud to be an American and was super proud to have voted for him – both times.

    I don’t want to live in a racist, fascist America. I am so deeply ashamed at what is happening. Trump is unfortunately a symptom of the underlying ugliness that has too long existed.

    Those of us who feel like people are people regardless of race, color, sex, or whatever else all need to ban together and speak out loudly to let everyone know that we will not tolerate the hatred.

    You have my support, and I really like your posts. They are thought provoking and you have a beautiful way of putting your reader in your shoes. Thanks again for the great story, and please know that not all whites are evil.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s