Self-acceptance: What I have learned at 14.
Systematic and casual racism has been embedded and normalized in many parts of our society for centuries. The recent events in our world have highlighted this fact and allowed men, women, and children of all races, shapes, sizes, and sexual orientations to come together in unity to fight injustice. I’ve never seen something more empowering in my 14 years of life and I feel obligated to learn and educate myself more about the Black Lives Matter movement. While this movement for change continues, it’s very important for us to recognize that these battles are not new and that the fight that is being fought today is the same one that was being fought yesterday and the day before.
As a minority teenager who is Indian-American, I can find some understanding of this movement in the fact that BIPOC rights were not just handed to us, but instead, had to be earned. I can tell you that the small battles that a minority child faces with race and self acceptance can be hard and upsetting. When you hear at school about brave and courageous white heroes and then listen to stories about your race/ethnicity being oppressed and abused, that can be damaging to one’s personal image. When you learn about one culture and religion and see yours getting made fun of and laughed at, that can be significant to how one carries themself. It’s hard to be proud of who you are in a society that will degrade your success and emphasize your downfalls.
I’m an Indian-American 14-year-old girl who still struggles internally to accept herself to this day. In preschool, I was very open about my culture and background. I remember coming to school with a sari dress and teaching everyone about my religion and who I was. I always loved going to the temple and got excited for Diwali. I was totally engaged in every part of myself. This is because of how much my life was surrounded by only Indian representation. I never knew anything else. I’m not sure how fast that changed, but I remember getting my first phone and seeing pretty European girls on social media, listening to lessons at school and never hearing anything about my minority, and people thinking I was weird for how proud I was of my background.
Soon enough, I never wore Indian clothes, lost my Indian accent, forgot how to say most of my prayers, and started getting as weirded out by my culture just as those kids who made fun of me would. I remember wanting to take an Ancestry or 23andMe quiz to see if I was any other race rather than Indian-American because I wanted to be from France or Italy like my white friends. While I laugh about it now because there’s no way my 100% Indian ancestors suddenly took a detour to Europe while they were fighting for their freedom, it was a sad time for me back then. I realized that I had lost a part of my identity in 7th grade when I saw people gravitating towards people who looked more like them because of how they could relate to one another. I realized that I felt like I had no one and didn’t really want to have anyone to bond with because I felt that strong of a disconnect from my culture. The thing that has helped me and will continue to help me see myself in a better light is recognizing how proud my family is of who we are. They always remind me that I’m their “Indian Princess” and that I have so much to love about who I am. They remind me that to navigate your life, the best person you can get to know is yourself.
I wouldn’t want this same pattern of what happened to me to be the same case for another kid. Some things I wish were different were what society pushes to be in the media. We as a community need to do better in shedding a light on the beauty of people who look a little different. We as an education system need to do better in telling stories of the great heroes of every race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. I want to hear stories about my brave Indian ancestors instead of just how they were colonized. I want to hear about the beauty of Asian culture, the amazing success stories of Hispanic-Americans, and the Native Americans who first settled in this country. I want to hear about Pacific Islander representation and stories about Black excellence. I want to be more religiously and culturally aware as well. I hope that every minority and non minority child knows that our differences are best celebrated rather than pushed aside. This is something I hope to be more aware of in the future as well.