Stop calling me a coconut

We all have certain images that come into our head when we think of a concept. For some people, balloons pop into their head when they think of birthdays, for others picture books when they think of libraries. But what picture comes to mind when you think of the word “Indian”?

I never really had to think about the meaning of the word. I knew being Indian was a part of me, but I didn’t have a preconception of how one was supposed to look or act. For most of my life, I always just did what I liked– I watched Disney Channel when I was seven, I was obsessed with One Direction when I was 12, but I also liked to dress up in Indian clothes and go to Indian weddings.

I never thought of myself as too white for my culture. It did not occur to me that my likes or dislikes were confined to my ethnicity. Growing up, my Indian culture was always mixed with western culture, but I never felt embarrassed of who I was.

It was not until  middle school when a girl told me, “You are a white girl stuck inside of a  brown girl’s body.” I looked at her puzzled; her voice was almost implying that her remark should be taken as a compliment. I remember thinking to myself, ‘how can a person who doesn’t know my culture judge how Indian I am?’

From then on out, the color of my skin seemed to stand out more, my curly hair started to appear unruly to me, and I became consciously aware of how I acted. The girl from middle school was able to make me feel different, embarrassed, of who I was. By labeling me as a white girl, she made me feel like my culture was not something that I should be proud of.

The more I tried to suppress her words, the more the issue seemed to resurface. I have been called a coconut– someone who is white on the inside and brown on the outside– many times. I never know what people refer to when they say this. But each time a person has called me this, they have not mentioned what about me makes me so “white.” Is it because I like to keep up with trends, or that I like to go shopping? Or is it the fact that I like English instead of math? If you have not noticed already, these are normal attributes a person can have, so stop labeling them “white” attributes.

Before you tell someone that they are too “white” for their culture, think a little harder about the meaning of your words. You are implying that certain characteristics are inherent to people of certain skin colors.

The sad truth is that when people picture an Indian, they seem to have stereotypical ideas of what an Indian is supposed to act and look like. I should not have to prove my ethnicity to anyone, and it’s a shame that I have to explain why.

1 Comment

  1. Rima

    November 16, 2018 at 6:15 am

    I really needed to read this as my own cousin said I was a bit coconut because of listening to “white” music and reteaching myself punjabi (as I was aware of losing my fluency) after years of learning Spanish for my year abroad during uni! Thanks x

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