Op-eds

Chokshi ’18: To fellow Indian Americans trying to assimilate

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Friday, October 16, 2015

Updated Oct. 16, 2015 at 1:45 p.m.

I write this for you and only you. Others will watch. I cannot help that.

When I read Daniella Dichter ’17 and Rohan Gulati’s ’17 white supremacist op-ed “Some speech hurts — and that’s okay,” and when I recognized the Indianness of Gulati’s name, I went into a rage I only enter when I am infuriated by our own people. I wrote and escaped to an open-air balcony, to breathe, to scratch paint onto my canvas. Now I’m in my bed, writing this, knowing it will only further garner an audience for this newspaper’s tyranny. So I speak only to you. Don’t get me wrong: I do not come from love.

Fellow Indian Americans, I will not list the ways in which Whiteness failed us. An analysis of the history of anti-Indian racism never did much to convert those of us who seek to assimilate. Nor will it serve any purpose. Deep down, we know our truth. I urge us to understand it, why it exists and what it’s done to us.

I do not necessarily want to stop our assimilation, for our safety is of concern and Indian culture has failed too many of us. Assimilation for freedom and assimilation for power are different but overlap enormously. When I say “assimilation,” I talk only about assimilation for power and all it encompasses — an assimilation we all do. I have seen and experienced white rejection, eyes that no longer see me as attractive for my skin’s beauty as I let it get darker, voices that grow enraged as I speak louder. So I rush back into assimilation. It is too desperate celebrating myself alone. To be loved by the powerful, by the European Beautiful, is to transcend into bliss and escape the burden of my dark body.

I want to say to us: “Succumb!” We desire freedom from our brownness, or if we don’t hate our skin, we somehow believe Whiteness loves it. But in assimilation, we are violent. To succumb is to hurt ourselves and brutalize even further those deemed lower than us.

There will always be some of us who advocate for Whiteness. It’s a comforting but misguided manifestation of the truth: that our racialization was a mistake, that we Indians are not linked by any thread other than the one in the mind of Whiteness. We are Gujarati, Punjabi, Malayali and split even further within these groups and not even these labels either.

But we who advocate for Whiteness will be picked up by White Power, and we assimilators will represent “Indians.” We will be applauded for our self-immolation, for our voluntary entrance into a pyre in which we enter as brown, hope to come out as white and forget that fire does not work in reverse. Our burnt bodies will step out of the flames into cheers from Whiteness, and we will smile and cry because finally we think we are being seen as white, as blank. But Whiteness applauds only because a brown person has chosen the side of Whiteness; the brownness we sought to escape has now become our inescapable essence. Do you believe that the Dichter and Gulati op-ed would have been published if two white people had written it? They hold our skin hostage. Our shame is their trophy, their prized weapon. This newspaper, Professors Ross Cheit, David Josephson, Glenn Loury, Kenneth Miller ’70 P’02 and Luther Spoehr, President Christina Paxson P’19 and other arrogantly undereducated people and institutions will applaud brownness for coming to their rescue.

And when Whiteness applauds, they will shower us with money. We will forget that many of us are children of immigrants, that a large number of our immigrants are India’s educated seeking better lives outside of India. Many of the rest are family or spouses of the educated who attained citizenship in collateral. Whiteness told us we achieved prosperity through America’s actions alone and neglected to mention our parents were primed in India, failed by India and milked in the United States. They were chosen not by accident but for their economic potential (a promise they kept). For this citizenship we must be grateful; it is a fact that most of us who experienced economic advancement would not have had prosperity in India. But do not let Whiteness convince us we have done this through their help alone, that this economic potential applies to all deemed “Asian” or that other racial minorities can do the same. Do not let Whiteness plant arrogance inside our minds and turn us into weapons. Whiteness does not care for us. Do not befriend it, for it will slit our throats as we sleep.

If you have engaged with the pyre, know that I have too. I continue to, in small but meaningful ways, from my clothes to my language to my complicity, and I cannot stop us, for no true thread connects us.

But those of us who assimilate for power will be proclaimed truly “Indian,” a brand we are forced to adopt. Whiteness has the ability to have other hands deal its racism and the power to uplift the assimilators’ non-white labels. Though we may reject “Indian” — for we are Kannada, Rajasthani, Marathi and split even further and not even these labels either — Whiteness forces it upon us. We have it, so we must pivot. Accept it temporarily, and throw it back. Use our Indian to deconstruct Whiteness’s Indian.

I know how frustrating this is since white people never have to call out their own. They are individuals. We are monolithic. Yet for our safety, we must call out our own. We must do this personally, for what we call “institutional racism” is not a building, not University Hall. It is people, us, individuals who enact oppression upon other individuals — individuals whom we must personally address. We must grab ourselves and then grab others labeled as Indian by their ears — for they are part of us — and say, “No more.” Say it to ourselves loudly. No more assimilation, for it is our suicide. No more assimilation, for it is their (Native, Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Southeast Asian and more) genocide.

Sohum Chokshi ’18 is double concentrating in environmental studies and visual art. He can be reached at sohum_chokshi@brown.edu.

  • sigh

    Free expression is now white supremacy. And I thought we’d hit the bottom.

  • Nonsense

    The fact that your immediate reaction to an article about free expression is that it is white supremacist proves that the side of the aisle that is still calling for suppression of speech has lost all philosophical sense and logic. You have not been able to identify any actual violence that words printed in a newspaper by ONE author have done and so you resort to inflammatory and untrue conflations of words and meanings.Uncomfortable is not the same as unsafe. Disagreeing is not the same as violence.Free expression is not the same as white supremacy. On another note….this article is extremely flowery and poorly written….I appreciate the point you are trying to make…no one disagrees that Native Americans have been treated terribly and continue to face certain levels of prejudices that white students can’t understand…but if your plan to combat this is through the suppression of people’s ability to disagree with you…not only are you hurting your own cause but you are violating a key principle of a university that is unacceptable. FREE EXPRESSION IS NOT WHITE SUPREMACY. YOU CANT JUST CHOOSE THE WORD THAT SOUNDS THE MOST SCARY TO MAKE YOUR POINT. THIS IS SO FRUSTRATING. HOW IS THIS MY SCHOOL. THE ONLY WAY YOU WERE EVEN ABLE TO HAVE THIS ARTICLE PUBLISHED WAS BECAUSE OF FREE SPEECH. MUCH OF THE REASON PEOPLE WERE ABLE TO GATHER AND PROTEST IN THE 60’S CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT WAS FREE SPEECH. THIS IS HOW WOMEN GOT THE VOTE. THIS IS HOW STUDENTS PROTESTED AN UNJUST WAR. HOW IS THIS SO DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND

  • Stop your garbage

    Your op-ed is predicated upon the association of free speech with whiteness, which is historically inaccurate and thus logically false. I can’t begin to count the number of times free speech has been used to free ethnic and cultural groups from their oppressors, and I shouldn’t have to, as I can assume you’ve covered this history in at least one course at Brown (though you seem disturbingly narrow-minded). You attempt to “reason” with the author Gulati; you implore her to resist assimilation and not succumb to “white ideals” like free speech. It is quite frankly offensive and erasing (and for once, the word “erasure” is actually being use properly). To insist that she relinquish her belief – a well-reasoned one, mind you – because it does not comprise your Indian standard of ethics is to obstruct her right to individuality, and to a desire to think and be her own person. In fighting against “erasure” (which is really not erasure at all since another’s shared opinions have no capacity to erase your identity on this campus), you have effectively aimed to erase the personhood of another. It is a counter-intuitive and blatantly offensive effort that essentially aims to group all Indians within a singular shared belief. Garbage.

  • kazeegeyser

    I didn’t agree with a lot of Dichter and Gulati’s column but it seems extreme to label it as”white supremacist”.

    I had thought that the outrage over Meier’s articles would be that the BDH opinions editors are choosing to publish controversial columns for the sake of controversy (and in Meier’s case, the article should not have been published because it was not only racist, but factually incorrect and misleading). However, since the discussion has instead been over “free expression”, they are continuing to publish controversy for the sake of controversy.

  • V.

    To call Ditcher and Gulati’s article “white supremacist” is absurd, the piece is about free expression and only brings up race because that is what brought on this free speech debate. At no point do they disparage any group, nor do they ever even take sides regarding Maier’s articles.

    To call Cheit, Miller, Paxson, etc. “uneducated” is equally ridiculous. You may disagree with their views. You may claim that they do not have the necessary experiences to empathize with you. But six Ivy League professors, six Ph.D.’s, well, it would be hard to find six people more educated than they.

    This kind of extreme hyperbole (from both sides to some extent) is why we’re having such a hard time as a campus in dealing with these issues. Disregarding anyone who disagrees with you in the mildest way as some white-power-preaching moron is not the route to any sort of enlightening debate.

    • Jo

      Having a degree is not a sign of intelligence or knowledge. Being a professor or administrator does not mean that you’re not ignorant. People are not hired just for not knowing how to use photoshop whereas those who are sexist, homophobic, and racist still get hired as professors and administrators.

  • chumbak’s twin

    free speech argument aside, i am so sick of non-resident indians making inane claims about what it means to be indian. as an actual indian, it’s quite sad to see your notions of identity to be so obviously orientalist in thinking that india is still some distant, uncivilized place with no hope for prosperity or happiness. not all of us long to be white—far from it. your misplaced sense of gratitude to the bullshit american dream is your fatal flaw, and it will prevent you and all those you speak on behalf of from ever understanding what it actually means to be indian. you might want to command+f replace everything that says “indian” to “indian american” because those of us who are actually from the subcontinent are getting quite tired of having to listen to such pedantic and ill-informed arguments about #neocolonialism
    P.S. well done on the poetic invocation of sati, were you proud of that one?

  • Nonsense

    “I went into a rage I only enter when I am infuriated by our own people. I wrote and escaped to an open-air balcony, to breathe, to scratch paint onto my canvas”…………you are a very special snowflake. Paint your feelings away little snowflake. If the world gets too sad and uncomfortable….just paint reality away….that is what an adult does.

  • rogerclegg

    Re assimilation: Each of us can be proud of his or her ethnic heritage, but we do have to hold some things in common for our multiracial, multiethnic society to work. Here’s
    my top-ten list of what we should expect from those who want to become
    Americans (and those who are already Americans, for that matter). The list was
    first published in a National Review Online column
    [link: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/378393/e-pluribus-unum-roger-clegg ],
    and it is fleshed out in Congressional testimony [link: http://www.aila.org/content/fileviewer.aspx?docid=23115&linkid=164788 ]:

    1. Don’t disparage anyone else’s race or ethnicity.

    2. Respect women.

    3. Learn to speak English.

    4. Be polite.

    5. Don’t break the law.

    6. Don’t have children out of wedlock.

    7. Don’t demand anything because of your race or ethnicity.

    8. Don’t view working and studying hard as “acting white.”

    9. Don’t hold historical grudges.

    10. Be proud of being an American.

  • malcolm

    “This newspaper, Professors Ross Cheit, David Josephson, Glenn Loury, Kenneth Miller ’70 P’02 and Luther Spoehr, President Christina Paxson P’19 and other arrogantly undereducated people and institutions will applaud brownness for coming to their rescue”

    You realize Glenn Loury was the first black tenured Econ professor at Harvard?