By Moyna Ghosh
On the third day of class, a white lady stopped me as I sat down. She said: “I love everything that you say in class…But you speak so softly…is that a cultural thing?” This white lady was suggesting – as well as stereotyping – that anyone sharing my cultural background is quiet. As if the entire population of India embodies the docility that the British stereotyped during colonization? Before I answer, another women of color in my class responded with: “yes” – that’s the case for her. That’s why she speaks softly. Even though she’s interrupting me, as well as ignoring this white lady’s microaggression. Grouping women of color together despite the difference experiences and narratives we come from. Ignoring the generalization that brown women are quiet because their cultures raise them that way. A week later, we were assigned a reading on how the far-right utilizes xenophobia for electoral purposes, and how personality traits are stereotyped as ethnic traits among minorities. Yet, this white lady questioned whether my personality trait reflected my entire culture – which is a mish mash of my Indian heritage and American nationality.
I wonder, during that entire class period, and almost every day in this class, why am I quiet? Why is my voice so soft, and why don’t I speak with confidence? My voice shakes as a talk. My stomach rumbles when I speak in front of people. I am so damn shy that I have performance anxiety in front of small groups of people. I stutter when I’m speaking to someone one-on-one. Speech disfluencies connect my sentences with “likes”, “uh’s”, and “um’s”. Anxiety; however, transcends race. You can be white and have anxiety. The world just treats you better for it. Access to medicine and therapy is expensive, and are rarely taken seriously in the community I come from. The thing about mental health is that it doesn’t care what your skin color is. It doesn’t care if you speak quietly because of your culture.
After the election, I noted all of the things that people thought that they could say to me. For example, a white assault victim shared an emotional, necessary post on Facebook, but complained that their post would have gotten more likes if she’d used the phrase “POC”.” I worked for a company that was worried about hiring an immigrant because of her accent and how she wouldn’t be right for the job because she didn’t really know American pop culture. In a conversation with a white friend I said, “that’s an attractive person of color.” My friend had disagreed, suggesting that this POC wasn’t attractive, because they could be “that m word”, therefore not truly being a person of color.
Unfortunately, the non-confrontational side of me tried to rationalize it. The white lady was curious. The white assault survivor was upset. My white boss was just trying to weed out candidates. My white friend was high. These are small excuses that do not make up for hurtful words. White people shouldn’t be excused anymore. I don’t care if they’re an ally or how much they want to learn about my culture.
Think about the things that come out of your mouth before you speak to me, or any other person of color. You have no idea what kind of damage comes from your ignorant words.
I can speak for myself, as quiet or as loud as I want.