When oppression becomes a competition, let me in last;
I’m not fast enough with my words and qualifiers -
I stutter-step on the curb and back away from the chasm,
A back and forth motion from one body to another,
The rupture between adopted-brown-woman and American-accent.
At first, we danced around each others’ assumptions:
"Are you white? You’re Jewish? I see."
"What about you?"
What about me?
I wasn’t aware we were battling it out for the bottom.
Soul-searching is only for those without recognizable traits;
Those who can name off their battle scars can move to round two,
They’ve one-upped the judges by virtue of hue.
You took me there to slaughter me with abstract terms,
Spear my brown skin:
"Everyone knows racism no longer exists."
Period, end of sentence.
I feigned ignorance as the judges came around.
Round three weeds out the weak -
Sleek all-stars with hidden stories weave their way towards the end,
Preaching that they, in fact, were suspended inside balls of brown wax,
Put down even by their fellow oppressed.
You painted me in color lines.
Ones you thought no one can mistake,
A forged identity made from pigment and shape;
You thought of me as a colony - one homogeneous unit,
A community without entrance exams.
If I got a free pass, will someone tell me where it is?
My soul froze in a hard little box,
Re-colonized by your fantasy that my people are all the same,
That we claim others have held us down,
While refusing the hand that would lead us up.
I walked away without a backward glance.
The final round was futile; you knew you would win.
Your defense was solid -
I didn’t know your world; I wouldn’t delve in.
I studied my own heart,
Kept careful notes,
And prepared for that moment of final release,
When I’d know the freedom of my opinion set free.
When I arrived at college, I was pleased to see that there were a plethora of cultural clubs that I could join. I was represented by religion, by region, by culture, and by language. Content as I was, the availability of these cultural clubs also created some unfortunate stereotypes amidst our larger school community. A friend of mine at the time believed that racism had little relevance in such an accepting and mixed area, which she told me point blank. When I disagreed, she became upset and claimed that I didn’t know the hardships she had felt as being a white Jewish person who lived in a non-white area of her city. While I don’t discredit that she may have experienced oppression, this produced a rift between us because she assumed that I had lived in a homogeneous and accepting community of South Asians throughout my whole life, which was not the case. Our relationship then became a sort of game of one-upmanship in terms of who was more misunderstood or more put down by external forces; needless to say, this was not the sort of atmosphere I had expected in such a liberal and accepting college as my own.