“Moose, you’re racially ambiguous”
Date of Panel: 5/2/23
As far as I can remember, I’ve seen “being “racial ambiguous” an asset. Being able to morph in and out of cultures.
However, being “racially ambiguous” has its pros and cons. It’s a double-edged sword that can cut both ways. On one hand, you can blend in and out of cultures with ease, creating a sense of harmony wherever you go. Like a good tracker, leaving no trail behind.
On the other hand, you can be the subject of stereotypes, assumptions, and misunderstandings.
Some assume that I’m Indian because of my skin tone, while others think I’m Hispanic or Black.
- “See us light-skinned brothas gotta stick together.”
- “Your Indian- you can take care of my IT problems, right!”
- “You Hispanic?”
- “A lot of Indians are either doctors or businessmen”
- “You get it—you’re black.”
While these assumptions can be frustrating, I’ve learned to approach them with grace and humor; light-hearted moments, where a person is genuinely attempting a connection.
It’s a way of meeting them where they are.
On uncharted terrain, cultural “backroads.”
Sometimes, however, you meet someone where they are so many times, you can lose sight of where you are and where you stand in the world.
I think it’s simply easier to ask then assume.
Just ask me:
“Hey where are your parents from?”
“What culture or cultures did you grow up in?”
I’m jubilant to share. It’s part of my duty in this human experience! To ask you about your human experience and share mine.
To share our humanity together.
Rediscovering the Paved Road To Me.
A lot of the times, Meeting someone where they are, you are on the fringes of the jungle.
In uncharted territory—guiding someone back to a place you call home.
Reading Wajahat’s book, Go Back To Where You Came From, I found solace. A paved road back to my Bengali identity.
The paved, obvious road of my cultural experiences.
For 12 Weeks, a co-facilitator and I, brought the joy of the book across the SOE campus.
It was as if I was walkthrough through an old mansion. Dust-laden dark walnut doors and opening the second entrance to the room.
The primary entrance, I slip into and “code switch” whenever I’m with my nuclear family or extended family is in town.
All the work culminated in a panel where Wajahat came to campus and spoke.
Leaving the panel, it was the first time someone had outwardly acknowledge my and collectively (our) ability to “code switch.” Highlighting the flexibility and strength one displays hopping across different cultures.
1 Key Takeaway from the Panel
1. Create Portals. Wajahat has thousands of tiny threads that you can pull on to open a portal into a new world. Each providing a shared experience:
- “Wearing husky pants.”
- “seeing my name ‘Mustafa’ in the book.”
- Assimilating into cultures through sports.
- A shared love of chai.”
I left the panel mentally exclaiming: “Hey I should thoughtful create ways others can access my culture.”
I.e. Create conversation pieces.
I thought the moderator, Raina, did a wonderful job of asking questions!
Question: “I’d like to ask you specifically if there was anything you read in the book that surprised you?”
Micro: “Mustafa.”—Seeing my name in a book. That was jarring. I’m 30 now—never have I read my own name in a “western book.” (Yearbooks don’t count.) I found that stark. A moment of representation.
Macro: “You aren’t writing your story, your story will always be written for you. If you are telling your story, your story will always be told to you.”
You must practice sharing your voice. Or else others are going to overrun it.
Q: if you have both sons and daughters, are you raising them with different expectations?
Different & Same.
I am raising them with different expectations. There’s a lot more social mobility now.
Thinking deeply about a way of them being rooted in a social form of consciousness is difficult.
To pull from philosophy.
There are variables that change: The times, the technology, and traditions.
But the most challenging part is thinking about how do I raise my children with that sense of 1) hope and 2) courage.
The same courage our parents exhibited.
The bastion of light, the glimmer to say we are willing to come to a new world because of hope and pave our way for another generation.
That expectation of exploring new worlds.
Maybe that’s why I find being racial ambiguous so interesting: We can rediscover the paved road to ourselves and share our humanity together. Let’s embrace our differences and celebrate our shared experiences.