So recently, I’ve been really inspired by the Hari Kondabolu tag on Tumblr. A lot of people are reblogging his stand-up, things he says, etc. etc. One of those things that I can personally relate to (a lot) is this quote:
Because in America I’m not always an American. When people come up to me they usually say ‘hey man, where are you from?’ And I tell them, I’m from New York City. And then they’re like ‘no, I mean, where are you really from?’ Which of course is code for ‘no, I mean, why aren’t you white?’.
This happens, literally, all the time, with any person of color who doesn’t seem to have the accent they should (i.e. non-‘American’).
So anyway- I’ve been thinking about the awesome quote above and I decided, ‘You know what, I’m going to do that. When people ask me where I’m from, I’m going to tell them ‘from here’ and be firm about it. Which is not a lie at all. I too, was born in New York, and I lived here in the States for ten years before moving to Pakistan for another ten. So naturally, I have an ‘American’ accent because I am American and I grew up in America. Long story short, I decided to slip into my Hari Kondabolu-esque self, permanently.
Today was the first day of testing this ‘new’ me out.
I walk into a Dunkin’ Donuts for my late Friday night coffee so I can continue studying (quite the opposite of what people normally do, I know) and the guy behind the counter is very clearly Arab. He’s got everything down pat, the hair, the accent, the build, the name. And I’m naturally very friendly to him, because its 1am and thats around the time when I am my most cordial. I order my coffee+goodies, and as it usually happens, we start talking. What do you think is the first question he asks? Yup.
Q. So….where are you from?
A-ha! The question I’ve been waiting for ever since I changed my answer to it for good. I smile, quietly proud and reply ‘I’m from here’.
'Are you sure?' He is frowning.
'Yes! I was born in New York City. I'm American'. I continue smiling.
'Hmm. Well. You don't look American'.
'…What do you mean?'. My smile is faltering.
'Well, you just don't look that white. I mean, you're fair, but not white.'
I laugh uncomfortably. That’s the end of the conversation, for sure. I get it, I guess. I mean, I should have seen it coming. This whole new ‘change my answer for good’ is not going to be easy. Getting people (inside and outside) the USA used to the idea that there is more to being American than being white is going to be tough. But there’s a lot of evidence, via research and proof that it might not take as long as we think. WHICH IS GREAT! I am so very excited for lots and lots of multicultural babies being born. But for now, it’s a struggle. It’s just like this (incredible) lady said:
In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.
TONI MORRISON, The Guardian, Jan. 29, 1992
Looking forward to changing that.