My “DMV Masala“-post– which was about my interaction with an African-American cab driver who was interested in my ethnicity because her own niece was half-Indian– inspired four of you to comment! That’s no small feat here at DCentric, where I’m more likely to hear crickets than reader reactions– I kid, I kid. I hear silence, not bugs. Anyway, one comment from American RogueDC deserved to be highlighted:
I remember very well having my heart broken by a co-worker (an Indian woman) whom I thought was a friend. We had worked together for more than ten years. One day, while viewing some photographs she was sharing of her female relatives taken during her baby-shower (I in fact had just given her my gift for the baby), I said, “You should introduce me to some of your nieces.” Her reply was simple, “You are too dark!” Until that moment, my being an African-American man who is only slightly darker in skin tone than her had never “seemed” to be a problem.
How painful, to be so crudely and immediately rejected by a long-time friend. The first thing I wondered was whether the woman was first- or second-generation.
My parents are immigrants; they are first-gen. I was born and raised here, so I’m “second”. Of course, this can get even more complicated, because there are people who were born abroad, who come here as children and are sometimes referred to as “1.5″s, but upon reflection, all of that is irrelevant. When you work with someone for ten years, there are better, gentler ways to let them down– and yet part of me wonders if that was exactly what this woman was trying to do.
Perhaps to her, “You are too dark!” was preferable to the bluntly honest and self-aware “my people are often quite racist, especially to Black people and Muslims”. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. Having said that, I did help create a vibrant, international community for the South Asian diaspora which is six-years old; my experiences there have taught me a lot about my Indian-from-India/Desi/Brown/South Asian/Dot-not-feather peers– and I don’t think anyone would say that I am wrong if I pointed out that too many of us have a terrible relationship with the concept of Blackness, whether that refers to skin color or an entire community.
Of course, some of us have a Black friend or two but those pals are the exception(al)s which prove the rule. I know many people with “Black friends” who still say or think problematic things about “Black people”, while congratulating themselves on not being racist. And people from the subcontinent don’t have a monopoly on such issues, either; I recently had a great conversation with an Ethiopian woman who described how her people were shocked when they discovered that she lived with a Black roommate. “Ethiopians don’t usually consider themselves to be Black…if that makes sense,” she explained. Oh, it makes perfect sense. I know an embarrassing number of South Asian people who are darker than Tayshaun Prince or Vanessa Williams, but see themselves as superior to or consummately different from them– just because the latter are Black. For that, I’m sorry and sad, but not surprised.