Natasha Ladhani ’16, Editor-in-Chief
My first day in the Wellesley public school system, someone ran up to me in the basement floor of the middle school and exclaimed, “Oh my God! You’re the new girl! Wait, I had no idea you were brown. Okay, that means you’re either Muslim or Hindu, so which one is it?” Naturally, this really threw me off, but after I skeptically responded that I was Muslim, she once again shouted, saying, “Woah! That’s so cool! I’ve never met one before! What’s it like?”
I was very tempted to use my humor as a defense mechanism and sarcastically reply that all Muslims come from Mars, and I’m the first of my kind to infiltrate Wellesley so that I can slowly enforce Sharia on New England. Luckily, before I opened my mouth, I realized the repercussions of this response. I ended up stammering a vague answer, something along the lines of “It’s pretty normal, I guess”, and quickly scurried off to get lost in this new school.
Here was a clear example of someone extrapolating conclusions based on aspects of my identity that I’m fully aware are not the norm in Wellesley. Furthermore, the comment was a paradox, as the extrapolation came from barely any evidence, thus giving her no right to tell me anything about my identity, because as she so nicely put it, she had “never met one before.” I wonder then, over the course of almost six years in Wellesley, why a number of students, teachers, and parents have singled me out as either the model outsider, spokesperson for all minorities, or example foreigner to analyze in order to tell me more about what “my people” are like.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just a victim of this phenomenon, I also contribute to it. Many times, I find myself making snap judgments about another person’s identity based on what little background information I know of a person’s generalized community. Especially in a town like Wellesley where minority groups are not well represented or accurately perceived, it’s very easy to think that we know everything about a person based on background knowledge. However, there is a difference between knowing cultural practices of South Asians based on a learned understanding and gathering a conclusion of an entire people because, and this is real, “there was one of you in my class a few years ago.” At the same time, as one member of a subset of the South Asian community, my understanding should not be taken as gospel, especially in an educational setting.
It’s very easy for me to feel like divergent of a person living in Wellesley, and therefore voice the otherwise unconsidered point of view, and oftentimes others place this role upon me. As the token brown person in the room during Modern World History discussions on Southeast Asia or the token Muslim when anything about the Middle East, Islamaphobia or extremism comes up in conversation, apparently I’m the one who knows about the world. But just as this girl back in seventh grade didn’t recognize the ignorance behind her comments, what I have to say could be just as ignorant because as the token anything, I can only speak from my experience.
Overall, this brings a conclusion that no self-respecting person wants to hear about themselves. It’s taken some serious surrendering of my ego to admit to myself that I know little to nothing about the world. Instead of assuming I do and making generalized and borderline racist, sexist, ageist, classist, or any other –ist based comment, I should instead ask curious and informed questions. The goal should be adopting a pluralistic and global understanding by learning a little bit more about the people who fill up this world, something I strive to do as I go out into the world outside of Wellesley.