Growing up Brown in the Very White Suburbs of Boston— Caught In-between

How it all began

I have spent most of my life in a small suburban town right outside of Boston. The town is predominantly white (91% as of 2010) and the average household income is $130,000. It probably fits most of the stereotypes you imagine when you think of a rich, white, liberal town in the Northeast. Families with multiple summer homes, the ability to dress their kids from head to toe in Patagonia clothing, and send them to elite liberal arts schools all across America. Growing up as one of the handful of Indian kids in the public school system (yes, I mean a literal handful), I knew I was different from a very early age.

Me in preschool, second row from the bottom, second from the left

So, this all doesn’t sound too bad right?

To be honest, I don’t have a lot to complain about, but I also feel like there were a lot of things that I lacked in this predominantly white community. When you are surrounded by whiteness, from your friends, to your teachers, to your coaches, it definitely impacts your self esteem to some degree, especially in regards to your ability to achieve certain goals. I feel like this is a flaw in the public education system in general. There is a focus on teaching younger generations about all of the people who did these big, great things, and focusing less on diverse people who are making changes on community levels. I was also lucky in the sense that my parents never really pushed me into one field or another, and I was exposed to a lot of Indian parents who worked in a variety of different fields. I still think there could have been a greater diversity in representation of leaders especially when it came to my teachers in school, and the curriculum they taught.

Not being Indian enough

It wasn’t until I came to college that I was exposed to being part of a predominantly Indian community. For the first time, I felt like I was being labeled as not Indian enough. To be honest, I hadn’t been exposed to the term “whitewashed” until I came to college, where I learned that it meant being Indian (or any POC for that matter) but being more “white” on the outside. The word “whitewashed” used to really bother me, and it still does. It made me feel very confused because for most of my life I felt like I was not white enough, and now people were saying that I was not Indian enough?

Some final thoughts

The overall conclusion I’ve made is that every homogeneous community has its flaws and that not everyone’s experiences are the same. Being able to read about different races, communities and experiences is so crucial in being able to better understand yourself and having better self esteem. I wish I could say that I am some perfect non-judgmental person who has complete self confidence, but this is far from the truth. Being able to reflect on how I grew up, and how certain things were problematic has been really helpful for me to better understand what needs to be changed in our society.

What the future entails

Going forward, I would like to continue learning about my own Indian culture and other cultures. I want to continue supporting other BIPOC and encouraging them to be leaders in spaces that are predominantly white. Indian culture especially encourages sitting quietly and doing your work without bothering anyone, but I think that I need to be loud. Sometimes I wonder where I would be if my parents didn’t force me to read books by Indian authors, or if my Indian school teachers didn’t teach me about the Quit India movement. Educating, speaking, volunteering is so important in spreading information and awareness.

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