What is my recent fascination with all things Desi? Is it as one grocery store owner termed it “a phase”? Or is it something more, something deeper and closer to my past than even I realize or want to admit to myself?
Remembering that my first friend in this country was a little Indian boy; and my first remembered rejection of myself was from this
little Indian boy’s family, I wonder if all these years I hadn’t held onto the shame, anger and confusion of that rejection? Perhaps my interest in Hindustanis evolved because I never fully got to explore that relationship. Part of me was secretly fascinated and the other part of me repelled.
Fascinated because I wanted desperately to understand what
it was about this culture that shattered my nascent friendship—what was hidden deep in the Indian consciousness that prevented me from enjoying my friendship? Why did my race matter so much to them when it hadn’t before; especially if we were all brown, poor and immigrants? I never got to grow up with my friend. I never got to know him. But I did remember what it felt like to be hurt, to be judged inadequate, found wanting and without any explanation or preparation—thrown aside, never to be looked at again.
And into this space stepped my repulsion of all things Indian. The Indian kids at my elementary school were unlike the black or the white kids, occupying the shadowy world of “neither”. Most of them played with themselves or the white kids yet they, smelling of curry and other strange spices, didn’t belong to any dominant group. I would look askance at them, distrust and anger smoldering in my heart as they ran about, yelling on the courtyard during recess. Years later, in college when I was asked by a Desi why I was attending
the ISA meeting (never mind that they always called me when there was a party and ask if I could bring people); I would find myself back there, in that place of repugnancy and fascination; wondering how they became yet another unknown factor in my life.
So here I am, 23 or so years out from that first blatant display
of racism, and I’ve fallen for a desi. Why now though? Is it because
there are so many Desis around me especially in medicine and in da burgh? Or is it my unexpected friendship and secret love of a certain desi? Could it have something to do with one of my friend’s interest in India—from Bollywood to biryani? Or is it merely maturity poking through—an understanding of my unsettled emotions concerning India?
And with romance comes weirdness. So I ask, what’s really good with the brown and the black? Is it a matter of forbidden fruit as Queen N brought up in our latest discussion? I don’t think so. In fact I would argue that it’s a matter of unknown and unchartered territory. To many Desi men, black women are not on their romantic radars. Another Desi woman, yes; perhaps a white woman, but a black woman? I don’t even think they consider us as possible romantic love interests. And like most other peoples, white women get the best of all possible worlds while black women aren’t even seen.
And like most of the world, American blacks are relegated to
“hip hop” and all that it brings and represents but is never fully
explored. Now you see videos where bhangra beats have been sprinkled with hip hop rhythms and vice versa. Jazzy-B flashes bling-bling around in a large black SUV while his black homeys rap about wine, women and song. Yet that’s where it stops. There is always a clear demarcation between the old country and the new frontiers. I have been told of children who point out to their parents that their older brothers or sisters have been seen in photographs with black people and how could that be? How could it be allowed? Isn’t it bad? Shouldn’t somebody get in trouble?
If you are Ghanaian, like me, then the connection is the
superficial one that comes with the shared history of colonialism and the struggle for independence. Long discussions are held about the history of European dominance, the acquiescence of our own people and the ensuing fall-out from European withdrawal but nothing more. Once the talk flits to race relations, the conversation stays within the confines of whiteness versus us; never us versus us.
So I would like to know what’s really good with Desi men? When will he think of me as more than a lazy, gang-banger with a baby daddy, no educational or common sense and lots of children? What will it take for brown to be down? I have seen many a Desi sister with an African-American or white man around campus (it never gets to marriage) but never a desi man and an African sister even dating, period!
I mean if vanilla can spice it up with the kheer, why can’t I get some chicken tandoor with my jollof rice*?
*Spicy rice dish native to West Africa that is similar to biryani or rice pilaf but better*