COLUMN: Many Shades Of Brown
Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 29, 2013 21:09
The first month of school is barely over, and yet it seems like everyone I know is suffocating from oppressive workloads. Let’s face it, we’re struggling and can’t wait for Columbus Day weekend to arrive—I know I am.
But despite all the homework and all the studying, there are two classes that I look forward to every single week. They’re both two and a half hours long, but they’re by far my favorite classes of the semester. They’re taught by great professors, have a small class size, and on top of all that, the classes are writing-intensive.
I love writing, and I don’t think it would be wrong to say that writing itself is one of those activities that helps me unwind. That doesn’t mean writing isn’t challenging or annoying or that sometimes I don’t want to throw my laptop on the ground in frustration, but it is fulfilling. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my two classes, it’s that real stories, genuine stories, are found within yourself and among the people and events that surround you. And with that idea in mind, I looked inside myself and decided to write two different pieces, which I presented in my respective classes.
And it did not at all go according to the way I had planned.
My fictional piece for one class involved a wedding between two characters. At first, the presentation seemed to be going pretty well—until I mentioned the fact that the bride and groom were Muslim.
Suddenly, everything changed. The class now saw the bride as an oppressed woman, stuck in an arranged marriage from which she wanted to escape. She was being forced and pressured on all sides to wed some arrogant man—because that’s obviously what all Muslims do, right?
Needless to say, that is not what I had planned in the story, and that is most definitely not what I wanted my classmates to assume. But for some reason, the first thing they thought upon hearing the words “bride,” “wedding,” and “Muslim” was “arranged marriage.” Seriously.
But wait—that’s only a part of the story. The piece for my other class was more of a self-reflective narrative, and yes, I vaguely mentioned Islam. And to cut a long story short, my classmates liked my presentation—because as I sat there in front of them, they admitted it was much more obvious to them that I was Muslim. Because I was brown. Obviously.
Truth be told, I’ve never faced any sort of discrimination or prejudice at all. Growing up in a small town officially designated as a ‘hamlet’ and studying at a predominantly white university, I am more than grateful to have never legitimately blamed my skin or race for some sort of tribulation.
But that doesn’t mean we’re free of misconceptions. The truth is, unfortunately, that stereotypes continue to float around in our heads and influence our opinions, thoughts, and lives.
I’m not talking about anything as dramatic as Paula Deen and the destruction of her food empire. I’m not talking about how she wanted to use a “slave motif” for her brother’s wedding by hiring black servants in uniforms. Paula Deen’s situation and alleged racism were much more extreme and publicized. On the contrary, I’m talking about an undercurrent, a hidden habit that makes us pigeonhole and stereotype “other things.” I’m talking about the type of labeling that occurred in my two classes.
These two episodes occurred in the same week—actually, they happened in two consecutive days. The fact that these events happened right after the other, not to mention involved fellow BC classmates, has to hint at something or at least mean something. And during both classes as I sat at my desk and pondered these issues, I felt a bit frustrated.
None of my peers said anything prejudiced or discriminatory or intolerant. On the contrary, they were kind and receptive—as well as being, dare I say it, maybe a bit ignorant.
No, most Muslims do not have forceful or arranged marriages. And no, being brown is not a qualifier for being Muslim, either. In fact, a 2011 Pew Research Center survey concluded that 30 percent of American Muslims identify as white, 23 percent black, 21 percent Asian, 19 percent other/mixed, and 6 percent Hispanic.
But in the end, what does this all mean? Is this an example of racism or discrimination? I honestly have no idea, but at the same time I don’t think I was victimized or mistreated at all. You could describe or label these events whatever way you want, and while the unfortunate truth remains that stereotypes do come from somewhere, in no way does that mean stereotypes are authentic or universal.
I don’t blame my classmates, and I’m not angry with them in any way. The truth is I’ve probably done the same thing to someone else in a different situation, and I’m responsible for that, too.
So I’m going to continue to write for my classes, and I’m going to continue to look within myself for those real stories, those genuine stories—we all should.