By: Kali Dayn
The last time I slept with a white man was a long time ago. At that time, he made the classic off-handed remarks about me being “his brown beauty”, a “Bollywood goddess”, “we should try the kama sutra”, “you’re so wild, like a Bengal tiger”, and all of the other insolence that didn’t make the cut for mainstream discussion but were fair game for the bedroom apparently. Many people had treated me like a part of the monolith of brownness before. Many people had treated me as less than human, before, but being treated like this by someone who I shared intimacy with, who I felt, on some level, should have seen the real me, this made me feel not human in many more ways than I had before.
Fast forward a couple of years. I meet a Swedish PHD student at a conference. We start talking about his research – of course his accent isn’t laughable to the audience – he smiles and makes a few jokes about how Canada should catch up with Sweden on women’s health policy – before I know it, we had been chatting for over half an hour – he asks me out for drinks – “It would be my pleasure to go out with a beautiful chai latte goddess (The use of words an ironic metaphor for the way in which brown women’s bodies and brown culture is consumed by white people) such as yourself.” He winks. He thinks this makes the interaction less sleezy. It, in fact, makes it more sleezy. And so it happened again.
This type of thing had happened to me many times and it would keep happening. And I realized that day that I could tell. I could tell it was going to happen on some level inside of me. I could tell when the conversation turned, when the white man, in this conversation and every conversation before this, started looking at me like prey, I could tell when we started doing the dance, and I was the wild, exotic animal he had never, in his life, seen before, and only imagined, and was here to hunt now, come in for the kill. And I realized that despite being able to tell, I never terminated the interaction prematurely, I always let it go to full-term.
Because…there is a deeply ingrained monstrous, ugly, Beauty and the Beast style, part of me that wants to be loved by the white man in the conversation. Maybe loved is the wrong word, appreciated? Affirmed as a human being? Maybe loved is the right word. Because throughout my entire life, I have always been unloveable to white men. Because I was never loved/appreciated/affirmed as a human being by any of the white men I shared romance with. Nor with the white men I met as acquaintances. Or the white men that were my friends. They saw me as “other”, “less than”, animalistic, an outsider.
But this begs the deeper question, why did I yearn so much to be loved/appreciated/affirmed as a human being by white men? To the point that I danced this painful dance with them? Every time. Was I a masochist?
Well, because love from a white man is the only form in which I had seen love, or relationships at all. On TV. In books. In movies. On posters. And even when I saw love in Bollywood, there was always a sense that I got from my peers that Bollywood was unrealistic and “less than” compared to Hollywood/white media productions. And whenever people like me have appeared on Western television, they have been portrayed as ridiculous or savage or discounted. The white man, on the other hand, has goodness, manners, he is not savage, he is working, through charities, and non-profits, all over the world to save the rest of us from our savagery. The ways of life of the white man are thoroughly explained, rationalized, idealized, portrayed as normal, in western media, and the ways of life of others like me are depicted as strange. And so I estranged my own way of life. So much so that even though I critique capitalistic systems, sexist systems, on many levels on a daily basis, I still failed to critique the hypocrisy of my own mind, I still craved approval/love/appreciation from white men.
Today, I write this piece to argue that the most devastating part of colonialism was not the destruction of our communities, our economies, our relationships, the violence, the destitution. The most devastating part was the colonization of our minds. The colonization of our minds is a strange kind of hypnosis that makes us complicit and that we are unable to shake from generation to generation, like some sort of epigenetic nightmare. Because we can rebuild our civilizations, our communities, our economies, even our friendships, but only if we know to. We cannot rebuild if we hold ourselves in lower regard, if we value ourselves less in our own minds. If we carry that self-hate within ourselves. If we let our minds continue to be colonized, we have lost the fight before we have started. We have accepted that there is, after all, no fight to be had, and we are indeed lesser.