Forty-Something Years in Ninaland


And the Award for Whitest Person in America Goes to:

© Erik Lam | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Erik Lam | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Is it just the Oscars that are so white? Or are there are a lot of places in America that are so white? I grew up my first 12 years in a white town. I was the only person of color in my class in Elementary School and many people did not know how to deal with me being different. I did not know how to deal with it.

We did a project in school where we logged all the food we ate, to see if we were getting enough nutritional value. I was too embarrassed that I was eating Indian food every night so I made up things to put in the log. Things I though white people ate like steak and mash potatoes.

Were the white kids racist towards me? As Chris Rock so eloquently put it on Sunday night, they weren’t burn me on a cross racist. They were more like sorority racist. It’s like,”We like you Nina, but you’re not a Kappa.” Later on in college I never tried out to be in a sorority because I honestly felt like I wasn’t sorority material. I didn’t realize until later that it was a blessing that I wasn’t sorority sister snobby.

Looking, feeling and being different than everyone around you is weird, at best. I always thought I was weird. Actually the notion of being ‘weird’ stayed with me until very recently. I told a white friend of mine from High School that I was weird, and she said “No you’re not.” I was surprised, she knows me very well. She said I was confusing ‘unique’ with ‘weird.’

Why did I spend decades thinking I was weird? Maybe because it’s weird to smell like curry and have kids laugh at you. It’s weird to have them chase you around calling you ‘Stinky Nina’. I was generally bullied by white boys.

It’s hard. I’m not very dark skinned, so maybe it was easier for me to ‘blend’ in better. I don’t want to blend in anymore. I like that I stand out. I stand out in both realms. In white America I’m a person of color. In Indian America I’m an anomaly because I am a writer and not a doctor or engineer.

I play up being Indian sometimes with white people at parties etc. I will do my mom’s Indian accent and I always get the crowd roaring with laughter. I’m hoping they are laughing with me and not at me. The fact that I moved back home at the age of forty is something that is not strange for an unmarried Indian woman to do in Indian culture. However, in American culture you might be considered a tool. I don’t know how to explain my living situation to a lot of people who are not Indian. Sometimes I just don’t know how to explain myself period.

On the other hand I like being unique. I like the power it gives me as an individual.  However, there are certain white people that make me feel ‘darker skinned’ when I am around them. I can smell their attitude towards me because I’m different. Then there are white people that make me feel that I am neither different, nor the same. They make me feel human.

I’m going to be honest, out of all the white people I work with and know personally, some of them make me feel like I’m not cool enough, good enough…Maybe that’s my own shit, or maybe they are partially to blame. Even a guy I was dating who was white wasn’t interested at all in my culture, I mean honestly he was just so damn white.

What does it mean to be ‘so white’? I guess it means to me to not be aware that there are other worlds out there, other cultures, other ways of thinking and being. I understand not everyone is going to be amazed by my Indian culture and I don’t need them to be. I just need them to see me as a person, a real person first, a person of Indian origin second. Just notice and appreciate all of me.

See white people look at it this way: I know about your culture, I eat your food, I watch your T.V. and I know every pop song you like. I just want you to acknowledge even though sometimes I eat different foods, watch Indian T.V. and sing Indian songs…I’m still cool. We can still hang. We can still shoot the shit.

We have a lot in common. I have a white friend who claims that I’m whiter than her. It’s possible since I honestly listen to white light F.M. I’m not even sure what else really makes me white except that I specialize in the English Language. I also teach white kids about white stuff in a primarily white college.

I taught in the inner city in secondary schools. Honestly the reason I quit that was because it was too hard for me to handle. There was a lot diversity in those schools, and there was socio-economic hardship. Am I too white for all that?

No. I just wasn’t getting through to them. I couldn’t find a way to discipline them. I’m not a hard ass. I’m a lot softer and I need peace. It just didn’t fit with who I am.

So who am I if I can’t work with students who are challenged economically, socially and racially? I do want to work in diverse areas, just not with young kids. And I realized it’s not because I’m racist or elitist. I just like working with adults. I don’t know how to work with kids very well.

The point is that maybe there is no such thing as being ‘too white’ or ‘too black’ or ‘too Indian.’ Maybe we are all just caught up in our own cultures. It’s true I grew up in white America, that’s probably why I prefer teaching in white America. I don’t know if that is a bad thing, it might just be a thing.

Even as minorities, Indian people are financially and educationally privileged. But I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m OK with the way things are. I might have a lot of privilege but the one thing I do not have is white privilege. Sometimes I look at my students and feel oddly uncomfortable that I’m in a room with 25 white people and again here I am, the only minority. There are a couple minorities in my classes, but not too many.

Do I feel inferior to these white people that I’m teaching? I hope not. God I hope not. I feel something odd sometimes, like I’m different, because I am. I need to really realize that white is not better, its just different. We all need to realize that.

Being white is also not a crime either. I’m not accusing anyone of anything. If anything I’m accusing myself of having a racial inferiority complex that has roots that are thousands of years old. No white person, I’m not blaming you personally for the fact that white people used to rule India. Maybe I grew up with a notion that I have to impress white folks. My parents taught me I have to be better than them to be considered equal.

But it turns out I’m not better, I’m not worse, I’m just me. Equality is not about measuring things into equal parts. It’s not an equation that anyone of us can solve. Equality is really acceptance, and part of that is acceptance of oneself. I like being considered ‘exotic’ sometimes or ‘special.’ Maybe I like the attention. But in the end I just want to be considered.


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 March 1st, 2016  
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