Being “Brown” in America

I wrote this because I’ve been feeling so many emotions with the current events going on in our country. And writing is my outlet. And I am scared to share these thoughts. But I hope it sheds some light to someone else on being a person of color in America and how small interactions can be hurtful.

Being “Brown” in America

Being an excited eight year old starting at a new elementary school
To only be greeted by a new classmate
Saying that her parents said not to speak to you
Because you are dark
And not telling anyone
Because you don’t understand what you did wrong
But later not feeling surprised when a brown kid was murdered in this same town
The day after Trump was elected

Being a human having a stressful day
And then getting into an Uber
To have the driver exclaim,
“Oh, you’re Indian. We are listening to Indian music then.”
To which I respond,
“I don’t enjoy this music.”
To which he says,
“Well you’re Indian and you should so we are listening to it.”

Being an adult and having the color of your skin fetishized
So that boys are asking if they can “ride your magic carpet”
Or calling you Jasmine
Or saying they have always wanted to date an “exotic chick”
And feeling anger that you are not even sure how to process

Meeting a boyfriend’s parent for the first time
And being greeted in an Indian accent
And feeling so taken aback that you laugh
Even though every bit of you
Feels at odds

Meeting a friend’s parents who are Indian immigrants
And they keep asking why I cannot speak any Indian languages
And bluntly then saying my parents failed
And having most other Indian Americans I meet
Repeat the same harsh declaration
Until I feel neither dutiful enough to be considered Indian
Nor white enough to blend into America

Being asked constantly “where are you from?”
And having them not be satisfied with you stating your hometown
Or your current city of residence
Being pressed
Being grilled
By complete strangers
Until you comply with sharing your ethnic origins
And feeling like your white friend standing next to you
Never gets asked these same questions

Being at a music festival
To be stopped by a stranger
Who begins to make kind small talk
To then just loudly declare
“The people from your country are just so beautiful.”
And to abruptly walk away laughing.

But my country is America, isn’t it?
I was born here.

Writing these words
And feeling like I shouldn’t
Because so many people before
Have told me to just get over it
And that my dissent
Is negative

2 thoughts on “Being “Brown” in America”

  1. Thank you for sharing Parmita. I’m sorry for your negative experiences but your sharing of your experiences will help me be more thoughtful in my interactions with others. I had an interesting interaction with two gentlemen the other day while backpacking. I asked them where they were coming from, meaning where did the hike from that day, a common question while backpacking but they interpreted as where are you from and answered Orange County and we’re Persian. I had no real interest in their ethnicity and that is not a question I would ask unless I knew someone on a more personal level and we were discussing family background or history but obviously it was a question the were used to fielding.

    Wishing you the best,
    Keith Whelan


  2. Thank you for sharing your feelings, thoughts, and concerns. You are not alone in this. There used to be a term for people who can belong everywhere by virtue of their having their feet in so many doors and choose to do so: cosmopolitan. There is a hamlet in Washington State called Cosmopolis: I have been tempted to say that is where I am from…..


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