Monday, October 22, 2012

On being called ‘Indian’

Disclaimer: the following article makes heavy reference to the term ‘Indian’ and the italicization thereof should be noted as my way of saying that I do not necessarily agree with and cannot commit entirely to the label. It is also not a judgment or implication on anybody that freely and wholly accepts and adopts this label; that is entirely the right of the individual. That said, this is my point of view.  

There are many moments when it happens and in a number of ways, sometimes fellow ‘Indians’ refer to ‘Indian’ people (born in South Africa, might I add) as ‘Indians’. Not to mention the feeling that I get when people not of ‘Indian’ origin, look at me, sum me up by physical appearance and refer to me as ‘Indian’. In one fell swoop, negating my South African identity, ignoring my multi- pronged heritage which consists of Surtee, Urdu and a speculative but highly probable so-called ‘Malay’ background. 

Let me set it out from the very beginning… that I do not have all the answers, nor do I believe that every person who has ever referred to me as ‘Indian’ has nefarious or racist motives. All I have, without a shadow of doubt is an unerring sense of disquiet that flows through my veins every time somebody tosses race related labels around like it’s going out of fashion. 

For that matter, I don’t know that the terms ‘Black’, ‘White’, ‘Coloured’ or ‘other’ have any place of peace and calm in my mental library. I truly wish that we could all just regard each other as human beings. Call me pedantic, but it somehow boggles my mind that I, as a so called ‘Indian’ person can be referred to as such when I was not born in India nor have I set foot there in my life so far.  

Let me also state that my discomfort with being referred to as ‘Indian’ doesn’t come from a place of shame or wanting to hide my roots. I am proud to be associated with a clear lineage of forefathers and a history that trace all the way back to a time where at least some of my ancestors arrived in South Africa from India among other places. I associate with the traditions, the customs, the culture, the dress, the collective conscious of 'Indian' heritage. And I am equally proud to lay claim to the right to call myself a South African.

This feeling also does not come from a ‘wannabe’ place of aspiring to be like any other racial/ethnic group. All said, I’m just not comfortable being slapped onto a board, science experiment style, labeled and told who I am by society. Just simply because it makes me more easily visually identifiable to you as part of some antiquated outdated system of profiling. 

Sure enough, it is a world where you cannot step left or right without stepping on a label or risk crushing the spirit of somebody’s sensitive soul. So what would I like to called or referred to I hear you ask? Seeing as in the world that we live in its only rational and expected that people need to locate you in their frame of reference, categorize you and commit your mental file to memory. 

How about 30 year old female, South African (Whether I have the right to claim to be South African is another hot topic that I have been contested on many a time- a right which by the way I will hold onto to the death, as I am born on African soil after all) of ‘Indian’ origin (read diverse, hybridized heritage here), heart and soul of an artist, human being, just wanting to live, inspired by the whimsical, the unexpected and the ordinary? 

Perhaps I dream too much… 

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