“You’re a coconut,” Stacy says, while we wait for the school bell to ring.
‘What does that mean? Is that like a bad thing?” I question.
‘Like you’re brown on the outside but white on the inside. Trust me, it’s a good thing.”
My other friend chimed in, “What about me?”
“You’re like the most whitewashed Indian I know,” Stacy replies to her.
For some reason, she beamed with pride at this comment, as if being labeled “whitewashed” was her biggest accomplishment.
The whole conversation bothered me for the rest of the school day. I didn’t understand why being “white on the inside” was a good thing. Why would she even say that? What even is being white? And why did my friend take it as a compliment?
No, I knew why. I just wish I didn’t.
Being called “whitewashed” or a “coconut” is not a compliment. It implies that we do not fit the typical racist stereotypes constantly associated with people of South Asian descent. It implies that we have forgone our culture to fit into American society. I never took these comments in a positive manner; I am proud of my culture and should be able to talk, dress, or behave in a manner without being accused of discarding my Indian background. No, it is not a “good thing.”
To make matters worse, several of my South Asian friends want to be called these terms. They want validation from their white peers, which I understand but can hardly respect. From mocking other kids who fit the stereotypical mold to claiming “I’m one of the good ones,” many South Asian kids in America attempt to garner a sense of belonging among their close-minded peers.
My friend was so happy she was called “whitewashed” that she proceeded to brag about this comment the entire day. I personally was embarrassed for her. It’s okay to have an internal identity conflict; as children of immigrants, we have a constant struggle of balancing our two worlds. However, taking joy in a backhanded derogatory statement was just pitiful. I hope she learns to accept herself and condemn prejudice against her own community. I hope our society teaches children to be open-minded to all cultures. I hope our society will one day look beyond the gross and harmful stereotypes portrayed in the media.