externalising the internal – part one
At the age of ten there was one thing I hated deeply about myself. This was long before body angst became a feature of my life and I had already come to accept my bookish nerdiness. What I hated about myself was my name. It was (and still is) long and ungainly, an immediate signifier of my foreigness in a place where while there were lots of brown people – there were none quite like me. I dreaded the sudden pause as a new or relief teacher went down the roll and hit my name – unsure how to tackle its nine letters. I hated the endless mispronounciations and subtle mockery. I swore to myself the minute I turned 18 I would get it legally changed to something easier, something less odd. Something better.
A lot of time has passed at a lot about me has changed. I no longer hate my name. It is a good hindu name that has an interesting meaning and a good story behind it, but I have never ever forgotten the pain and humiliation it caused me for a good chunk of my life. This experience to me is representative of the incredibly subtle nature of oppression. I did not mind my brown skin or my black hair (mostly) but what I did mind is the part of me that made life a tiny bit more difficult for others – the part of me that caused them to pause in fear of making a fool of themselves. I was not just ashamed of my name because it was a marker of difference (I had many others). What consumed me was guilt that others had to struggle to pronounce it. As a “good immigrant” it was my job to make my difference as palatable to those around me as possible.
This I believe is one of the driving forces of the assimilationist model of multicultural societies. Incorporating and accomodating difference makes life difficult for the “regular” folk. It means they have to think about whether their actions offend or harm someone else, they have more opoprtunities for embarassment when they do not know how to say or do the right thing. They feel like this shouldn’t have to happen in what is THEIR PLACE anyway. We as immigrants absorb this idea. We have come to THEIR PLACE we must never do anything that makes them uncomfortable. It is part of the price we pay.