Culture, It's Personal

Brown Boys

I’m picking up on finding my voice.

“Don’t you want to be with people that look like you?”

No, I think resoundingly.

My dad asked this when he proposed for us to move to India in 2007. It was meant to be temporary; Dad wanted to do a sabbatical, and he’d applied to many schools in the U.S. as well as in Tamil Nadu. This tech school near Chennai was just starting up, and it had bright prospects considering the enormous demand for tech education among young Indians. There was a lot of potential for him there. But this was my dad’s case for me wanting this, too.

In fact, everyone looking entirely different from me was what was familiar. I thrive on diversity. I don’t want anyone to look and sound like me, and I don’t want to look and sound like them.

Recently my dad said this again, as I’ve been trying to figure what to do next with my life. One of his proposals was to spend a year in India. He said it again.

“It might be nice to be with people that look like you.”

This past week, like many people, I started watching Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. A big reason so many of us love it is because it rings to true to real life and dealing with being an adult. It’s also been an uncomfortable and relieving experience to me because of the protagonist’s background. Yes, dealing with being an adult, and being a brown dude. I don’t talk about this often. But the problems are there, and Aziz hits it in almost every episode. In some ways, Aziz is too familiar. My dad’s words ring in my head: Looks like you.

But it’s with his own voice that he tells his story, and that he’s put up on the NYT. I can’t speak to being an Indian in Hollywood, besides the obvious problem of representation on-screen. I can speak to being Indian in 1,000 other ways, some of the same, some of them different.

…when Hollywood wants an “everyman,” what it really wants is a straight white guy. But a straight white guy is not every man. The “everyman” is everybody.

My good friend has applied for this writing workshop for people of color, and I’ve read her essays on what it means for her to be a minority writer and someone who initially just adapted her voice to fit the mainstream. Why do I try to ignore my own story here?

I realize now that this part of me needs a voice–for the people that look like me. Because it’s so horrifically true and real. And because even the people that don’t look like this can surely empathize.

Today I was reading the start of a novel rewrite I did some months ago. I was laughing at my own work, like I often do after I’ve not seen it for a while. I was praising myself and didn’t feel the least bit bad about doing so. It might just be the best piece I’ve ever written. And a huge part of it was that I had allowed myself to really flow into it, even though the characters are quite different from myself.

I may look like other people. That’s fine, maybe even a good thing. I can still sound different.

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