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Being Brown Among Whites



So as you guys probably know by now, I'm Pakistani. I'm really comfortable with my identity as a Pakistani-born that grew up in America. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), I visit Pakistan often enough that my perspective is tempered by visions of life in both America and Pakistan. America--where I have lots of opportunities and life has a definite structure, and Pakistan--where everything is miserable and hope is scarce (exaggerating, but not by a lot).


I identify myself as both an American and a Pakistani. I'm really fluid with it, so sometimes I'll present myself as one or as the other or as both. My goal in life has always been to give back to both of my countries and improve the statuses of living in both of them.


I'm currently a senior in high school, and as seniors we have the option to take a class called "Humanities," the curriculum of which is fascinating. Throughout the year, we analyze history, the way it is changed and modified by nations with an agenda, the different ways a nation can control its citizens, why history is significant, etc. It's basically an advanced world studies class. The teachers are brilliant, they put their heart and soul into designing the class, and it shows. Even more impressive is that they manage to remain non-biased and encourage us to study with an open mind rather than to buy into certain beliefs. The class's purpose is to have its students ready to analyze the world in a more critical and informed manner. It's a dual English/History class too, so it's a double-wallop. fudgeing amazing class. I can't stress how much I appreciate that this class exists.


And I can't stress how much it feels like no one else in my class does. Seriously. Half of my class doesn't pay attention, doesn't take notes, and when we discuss, they never inform their opinion with what we learn in the class. We had a month-long unit on war, while reading War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges. But when we discussed, most of the students talked about war as if it was any other current issues class; like we hadn't spent a month analyzing the cogs behind war, the rush of war, why people wage war, all that.


We have an online discussion forum where we can post articles relevant to class and talk about them. Someone posted an article re: a possible "handsome tax" being put into Japanese law. One of my classmates responded: "Well, not to be racist, but all Japanese people look the same anyways so it's easier to tell who's handsome." I was fudgeing appalled. To my classmates' credit, someone immediately called her out on her racism (one student). No one else commented on the thread after that. It really bothered me. Why would someone think it's acceptable to post something like this?


Curious, I checked the roster of the three different sections of Humanities and made a list. In all of Humanities, in which there are about sixty kids, there are less than five people who aren't white. This might not be a big deal to you guys, but my high school is extremely diverse. I've never had a class so homogeneous. Obviously, this is a big problem for the curriculum of the class. How can we effectively discuss world issues when practically the only perspective we have to offer is that of a white middle-class teenager?


Maybe I'm being a little rash, a little jump-the-gun-y. I don't want to be all holier-than-thou, but I'm not wrong in thinking that there's something that can be wrong here, right? That girl would never have posted that Japanese comment had there been an Asian kid in our class. Having a group of 17-year olds who all share major identity traits is a problem. They become an echo chamber, and they think that it's okay to think a certain way. For example, we had a discussion regarding whether one should relinquish their rights at an airport. Every single person in my class was totally comfortable with it. I was not. I asked any of them if they had ever been detained at an airport. None. And here I am, the only non-white person in my class, who has been detained at an airport every time I've been to one past the age of 13.


Or perhaps it has nothing to do with being white. Perhaps it's just that not everyone in the class has had the same experiences that I've had. A significant part of why I take that class so seriously is because I know what it's like to be in a country that you'd be unlucky to be born in. I know that the lessons I learn in that class are valuable to me as a world citizen. Maybe these kids will have experiences like this when they go off to college or grow older. I'm not blaming these kids for being white. But can I blame them for refusing to look outside of themselves?


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I think you are overreacting to the comment a bit

knowing myself I would have most likely made it myself (but not serious)

and I can't assume that anyone would seriously make that comment for real and not for lulz


people not paying attention to interesting classes and even not caring about it except for the grades is something you sadly see everywhere

and it gets even more sad if you see that they'll get that degree just like you do... :/


that is something that has significantly lowered the value of any degree in my esteem

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In a group of that size I'd be surprised if u didnt find at least 1 if not a good few more bigots/racists.


On a similar scale to "...all Japanese people look the same anyways..." I doubt all the other 55 are a generic "white middle-class teenager", look a bit closer & I'm sure you could find ( to use basic labels) white trash, goths, rich swots, aspirational poorer purists, hardcore nationalist believers..., my point being in any group of sufficient size there will be a variation of mindsets , both good & bad on the current political/social scale. Admittedly as a block they will still have a more standardised & probably different viewpoint to your own, but hopefully its not a class full of commonly programmed robots.


Theres even an outside chance that the look alike comment was tongue in cheek sarcastic similar to the comment I made in your status on your last(?) return to the US, not everyone deals with the world in the same way, or expresses their opinions clearly that all can understand.

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Yeah, that Japanese comment isn't reflective of anything, really. It just made me think about the racial composition of the class and whether it plays a factor in anything. And I think if you guys saw the in class discussions, you'd see what I mean when I say that the class's ability to learn and discuss is limited by the strong majority of the people being white.

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Leslie Knope: You're not from here, right?

Tom Haverford: No, I'm from South Carolina.

Leslie Knope: But you moved to South Carolina from where?

Tom Haverford: My mother's uterus.

Leslie Knope: But you were conceived in Libya, right?

Tom Haverford: Wow. No. I was conceived in America. My parents are Indian.

Leslie Knope: Where did the name Haverford come from?

Tom Haverford: My birth name is Darwish Zubair Ismail Gani. Then I changed it to Tom Haverford, because you know, brown guys with funny-sounding Muslim names don't make it far into politics.

Leslie Knope: What about Barack Obama?

Tom Haverford: Okay, yeah, fine, Barack Obama. If I knew a guy named Barack Obama was gonna be elected president, yeah, maybe I wouldn't have changed it.

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I don't want to be all holier-than-thou,

In my ex- white middle class high schooler opinion you failed.


Edit: That sounded harsh. What I mean is that to me you sort of stereotyped white suburban kids, just like the white suburban kids stereotyped Japanese people. Like Bwauder said one person making a rude remark does not mean you should stereotype all people of that person's ethnicity based on that. You inadvertently became what you are preaching against.

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Yeah, that Japanese comment isn't reflective of anything, really. It just made me think about the racial composition of the class and whether it plays a factor in anything. And I think if you guys saw the in class discussions, you'd see what I mean when I say that the class's ability to learn and discuss is limited by the strong majority of the people being white.

think the skin colour is more of a coincidence

rather general teenager behaviour if you ask me :P

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