#AtoZChallenge Day 3: Cultural Identities

C is for Cultural Identities.

C

I was once on a six hour road trip with just me and my dad. To pass the time, we came up with a little game. What are the best and worst parts about your different cultural identities?

Here is what I came up with.

Muslim

Best Part: I have a guidebook, and a Being always looking out for me. I don’t have to wonder about my purpose or why things are the way that they are because God is taking care of that, which is so reassuring.

Worst Part: Because this religion is a way of life, with self-improvement always on the mind, there isn’t really any room to plateau or take a break. I have to constantly watch myself and make sure I’m making use of each moment, which is tiring and does make me a little superficially envious at times of those who don’t follow a religion.

American

Best Part: The shared culture. Thanksgiving dinners. The universal smell of barebeques on Memorial Day and the 4th of July. The holiday season that I look forward to even when I don’t actually celebrate any of those holidays.

Worst Part: That we are all slaves to money and capitalism. Everything, everything, is driven by money in this country.

Muslim-American

Best Part: I have the freedom to take control of how I learn about and interpret my religion. Because I don’t live in a theocracy, where the practice of Islam is governed by those in power, I have the freedom to learn and use my intellect to be critical of my sources and strive to find the most appropriate way of implementing the words of God in my own life.

Worst Part: My government is on a mission to paint the narrative of Islam as having some violent agenda.  I’m caught in the middle of pledging allegiance to this country and sitting by while it defames my very way of life.

Indian

Best Part: From the food to the clothes to the weddings, we just do it better.  Food has more taste, clothes are more festive, and weddings are just so much more fun than American weddings.

Worst Part: The colorism and racism is so painfully strong in this culture, which makes no sense when you consider the bigger picture.

Indian-American

Best Part: I get to enjoy the benefits of being American while having a lot of accessibility to very Indian things, like food or Mehndi or other Indian people.

Worst Part: Growing up and feeling left out of a lot of “American” experiences because our family is too conservative. Sleepovers. Going out with friends. Not having to report back to your parents on the hour every hour.

Indian-Muslim

Best part: Within Muslims in the Midwest, I’m part of the cultural majority, which is a pretty comfortable place to be. The majority of our community looks like me.

Worst part: Indians are so attached to their cultural practices, and that can get tricky when your culture has very strong ties to Hinduism.  There are so many practices that Indian Muslims have to unlearn because they don’t coexist well with Islam.

White

Best Part: Feeling connected to the racial majority in this country. I feel comfortable around White people because they too are my people.

Worst Part: Carrying the baggage of all of the truly terrible things that White people have done to non-White people throughout the centuries.

White-American

Best Part: I can claim roots in this country farther back than most non-White Americans I have encountered, which for some reason appears to be an advantage in terms of how legitimately “American” people consider you.

Worst Part: The overwhelming guilt and disgust at the name White Americans are making for themselves right now.  I have never wanted to distance myself more from this title than I have in the past year.

White-Muslim

Best Part: People, both Muslim and non-Muslim, seem to take you more seriously as a spokesperson for Muslims if you’re White.

Worst Part: Feeling invisible in the sense that Muslims often use “White” as a synonym for “Non-Muslim.”

Mixed-Race

Best Part: I get to experience the goodness of two cultures and attempt to shed the badness from each culture.  I love experiencing Indian culture in terms of the food, dress, language and social fun, while being able to replace the patriarchal culture with the White culture of female independence.

Worst Part: I. Don’t. Know. What. The. Heck. To. Call. Myself.

Mixed-American

Best Part: I am able to feel connected to both the cultural majority and minority of this country and relate to both experiences.

Worst Part: Feeling invisible in any of the discussions on race and culture.

Mixed-Muslim

Best Part: I think it is easier for me and my family to separate what is cultural from what is religious compared to other Muslim families who come from only one ethnic background.

Worst Part: There are very few people who understand why I live my life the way that I do, because in one way or another I separate myself from each culture due to my inclusion in the other culture.


*Note: I wrote the majority of this post about a year ago.

**I know, A to Z is over, but I still want to post the topics I missed over the course of the next few weeks.

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#AtoZChallenge Day 13: Media Representation

M is for Media Representation

M

I don’t understand the whole fixation on media representation.

Take me: Muslim Hijabi girl. Actually, forget the hijab. How about just Muslim girl? Of all of the groups out there who are upset about not being represented enough, I’m probably represented even less.

There isn’t Muslim representation anywhere in mainstream media unless you count the villains in some action movies or Sayid from Lost who didn’t even know how to pray – both of which aren’t really Muslim characters. *side-eye*

The point is that I’ve never seen anything in mainstream media representing a Muslim female, but I don’t have to. Do I rely on movies made across the country for my own inclusion or validation? No.

Every story needs characters that the audience identifies with, but who said it had to be based on outward appearance? You know who I’ve identified with? Harry Potter. Storm from X-Men. Cri-kee from Mulan. They are the ones who reminded me of me, not whatever societal groups I have been placed in.

I’ll admit, it does make me happy to see my Brownies in the media. Kelly from The Office. Mohinder from Heroes. It’s a cool thing to see. But I don’t allow my happiness to depend on whether or not those characters exist.

Because in the end, it’s still media. Fictional stories meant as entertainment for an audience and self-expression for a creator. That’s it.

Blogging from A to Z Day 14: “Non-Muslim” vs. “American”

N is for “Non-Muslim” vs. “American”

NIt has always been one of my biggest pet peeves when I hear Muslims refer to people who are not Muslim or cultural practices that conflict with Islamic practices as “American.”

“They go to an American school.”

“One of my American friends…”

“That is so American.”

I don’t like it. It doesn’t sound right. I am American. How can we refer to non-Muslims as American when we ourselves are also American? That goes back to my bi-cultural issue I posted a couple of weeks ago.

What really bugs me is when American is used in a derogatory way. “Only Americans do that.” “That is something those Americans do.”

As I have gotten older, the phrase “white” has replaced “American” in this context – as in “Why are you being so white?” or “My white friends don’t understand how…” – but the problem is still the same.

For most of my mature years, Muslims seem to be trying really hard to get America as a whole to understand that we are just like you. So many movies and plays and spoken word pieces all stress how normal Muslims are and how everyone should accept us because there is nothing wrong or strange with us.

We keep trying to promote the “we” when the language we used behind closed doors promotes a “them.” Calling ourselves American in public, but referring only to non-Muslims as American in private, needs to stop. How can we expect non-Muslim Americans to accept us as American when the only time we actually identify ourselves as American is when we want sympathy, and all other times reserve the term only for something that conflicts with Islam?

Of course, not everyone does this, but we all know the game. We know what is meant when the term “American” is thrown around in reference to an other, and only rarely do I hear it corrected to non-Muslim. And I find it offensive, to myself, as an actual living, breathing, Islam-practicing American.

It is offensive, and frankly, inaccurate. It is okay to make a point, that non-Muslims have a different mindset than Muslims, but let’s keep the language accurate. The “other” is non-Muslim, in a grammatical sense. However anyone born in America, or permanently residing in America, is American, regardless of religion.

Blogging from A to Z Day 2: Bi-Cultural Identity

B is for Bi-cultural Identity

B

Culture is an interesting thing, especially when you think about how one develops his or her own sense of culture. I have had the term “culture” defined countless times for me in various psychology and history classes, but I have never really connected with any of those textbook definitions. We all know what culture is, even if we can’t all agree on one common and accurate definition.

When I was little, I’m not sure if I had a sense of what my culture was. I went to a private Islamic school from kindergarten to fifth grade, so for me, my culture was Muslim. Other than that, I don’t think I ever really saw the racial divisions between me and my classmates. In my class, we had Indian, various kinds of Arab, and Filipino. In my own family, I had Indian, White, and Black. For at least the first decade of my life, these characteristics of the people around me didn’t mean anything special. Her being Egyptian and me being Indian was no different than her liking blue and me liking purple. It made us different from each other, but not in any defining way.

As I grew older, I realized that racial and cultural differences mean much more in society than differences in a person’s favorite color. There was the difference between White and everything else, and then the differences between each of the “everything else.” I still marvel at the fact that these differences weren’t really differences for me back when I was a kid.

However, one thing has remained constant in the whole culture discussion for me: I never knew where to put myself. I mean, I was Indian. I was one of the Desi kids. But unlike the other Desi kids, I didn’t know how to speak Urdu. My parents didn’t speak a language other than English with me at home, unless you count my mom throwing in Spanish words here and there from what she learned high school.

Unlike the other Desi kids, my parents were both born here in America. Unlike the other Desi kids, I had a completely White grandma, and even with the mix of my three other Indian grandparents, people say that I look the most like her. Anyone judging me based on my skin wouldn’t automatically realize that I was Indian.

So by the time I reached middle school I figured, okay, I’m part of two cultures. I’m Indian, but I’m also White. And more important than either, I am American.

But then you take the White kids I met in middle school. They would never consider me White. Then I start watching the news and the social media world was born and I started seeing what being part of the “White American” culture meant. Part of that culture was seeing Indian people as not White or not American. Then you throw the Hijab in there and I was definitely part of a minority.

So now I’m stuck. When I’m with Indian people, I’m not considered totally Indian. When I’m with White people, I’m not considered totally White. So what am I? What do I do when I see my fellow Indian people blaming White people for things and vice versa? Which side am I on in the debate?

Because racial divisions are so painfully apparent in American society and conversation, I don’t think my problem will ever be resolved. My temporary solution is that when people ask “What are you?”, rather than give the quick “Indian” or “Indian and European” answers I used to give, I’ve settled with the truth: “Most of my family is from India, but parts are from Europe and I was born and raised here in America.”

Now it’ll be up to them to figure out how they want to categorize me.