Trying Out Brown Boots: Race And The Self

Posted on March 31, 2011

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Race is an issue I find very difficult to engage with. When I think of the word ‘brown’ and all that it denotes with respect to race, I have hesitations about identifying with it. I have difficulty believing it is relevant to me even though I know for a fact that it is.

Heres the thing: I don’t see race. I know it’s a landmine of a statement to make. A hugely problematic one at that. But let me explain, when it comes to me – I don’t see race.

When I look into the mirror, I don’t see the ‘brown’ anywhere in me. I am aware of the colour of my skin and I know that it’s not white. But I don’t see what I am supposed to see that makes me comfortable with ‘brown’ or ‘woman of colour’.

Of colour- what does it mean to be of colour? Am I ‘brown’ because my racial identity is associated with being non-white? Does ‘brown’ – that one word, adequately explain my non-whiteness?

On me, ‘brown’ feels like a weightless identity, like adding it or subtracting it will not change anything about me.

But I often pause and think, am I supposed to feel it’s important because that is what is expected of me? Am I looking too inwards by dismissing that part of me. Is it all simply privilege. Yes definetly- never having had racism directed towards me allows me to ward race off like it didn’t matter. But it’s a little more than that…

Because when I look into the mirror of other things I see the unmistakable signs of my class, my caste- the Tam-Brahmness that I know will never leave me no matter how much I try to unpack my upper-caste privilege.

I live that reality everyday, it gets reflected in every choice I make, in the food I eat, the way I eat it, the gods I am supposed to worship, the gods I am not supposed to, the temples I go to, the treatment I’ll get from a priest.

Because when an archaka handing prasad to devotees looks at my face and gives me a ladoo packet in addition to the prasad, but doesn’t give it to the person behind me- its not the ‘brown’ he’s seeing

Its something else altogether….

Yes, I know those identities are not to be convoluted…and yet one of them feels a lot more real to me than the other. I know all that changes when I go abroad soon. I know that suddenly, everything else will fade and somehow ‘brown’ will come to the forefront. Will I embrace it then? The ‘brown’ in me. Who knows. For now, I see the tone of my skin for what it is- the tone of my skin.

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