I’m tired of explaining the difference between ethnicity and nationality.
When you make a remark, an ignorant comment about race, you are insulting the existence of a culture. You are insulting the presence of a people that live the same lives that you do.
Once I was in a club talking to a guy I thought was cute. I can’t remember how the conversation headed in this direction, but what stayed with me was the comfortable way he spoke when he told me that my English was “really good for a foreigner.”
I laughed, because surely he was joking. He went on to tell me how posh I sounded.
I joked, “thank you, I’ve only lived in England my whole life.”
I think he was too drunk to catch the sarcasm. Part of me wanted to tell him that my mum was born in India and probably spoke better English than the both of us combined. I didn’t want to let it bother me as much as it did. It was silly, and I didn’t want to seem petty about it—everyone was having a good time.
But it stuck with me. Safe to say I didn’t find him as cute anymore.
Being a person of colour trains you to notice the hesitancy when people talk to you. You are able to recognise the side glance or weary looks you are given.
The question you hate to ask yourself, but there it is lingering in the back of your head, is this because I’m brown, is this what is happening right now?
I always assume there’s another reason. Perhaps it’s because I look younger than my real age, since I am quite short.
But then there are the few times I’m shocked. I’m so shocked I laugh because I shouldn’t be shocked at all. It’s actually quite hilarious when someone calls you exotic when you’re standing in the queue for the toilet.
“Where are you from?”
“No, I mean originally.”
And I bite my tongue, because I want to ask why they didn’t ask my best friend the same question just because she appears Caucasian.
“I’m originally from West London.”
Now, if you want to know my ethnicity then I’d be happy to tell you that I’m British Indian. But I’m kind of getting sick of being asked about my race as soon as I meet someone.
I’m proud as hell about it, but I don’t want to be quizzed about India in a club when I’m slightly drunk and my favourite song is playing; because chances are I’ll know the same amount as you.
We are the same, but you created a divide between us when you made an assumption about me, because of the colour of my skin.
What’s even worse is when a friend has to point out to you when someone has been racist. Because, like a pillow, we’re so used to being prodded and squashed that some of the comments just fly past us without realisation.
The utmost mortifying experience is when you experience racism from your own race. When two older ladies at the convenience store talk about you in your mother tongue, thinking you cannot understand them. Because I don’t have the same facial features, or am not the exact same shade of brown.
Am I doomed to play the foreigner in both countries I call home?
If I am a foreigner in India and an Indian in England, where do I really belong?
I’m tired of explaining my heritage the first second I meet a guy. I’m tired of the lack of education; and the embarrassment of having to explain the difference between ethnicity and nationality to someone who should know better.
To the boy that told me he didn’t vote for UKIP while I was dancing to Beyoncé at my Summer Ball—thank you, neither did I.
Ask me about my hobbies, my studies, or my favourite cuisines; I don’t need to be a witness to your overcompensation.
I promise you my passport is the same shade of burgundy as yours. My London accent is as effortless as the way you casually let those hurtful words slip.
To all of you that have had to correct someone when they misspoke. When you have had to grit your teeth and pretend like you didn’t hear what they just said. When you share a story with a friend and they have exclaimed: that happened to you too?
Let’s try to stop it from happening to her and him and you and I, again.