Being Brown Among Whites
Entry posted by Samsara ·
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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