Tuesday, February 21, 2012


In my second year of college, I took a history class on Muslim politics in modern South Asia. It was the first step to what would become my major and independent research. There were nine or ten of us in class, of which seven (including myself) were South Asian Muslim, one was West Indian Muslim and two were white Americans. This is important. I later took history classes on China, ancient Greece and Latin America and I was conscious of the way I engaged with the material differently because of my race and religion and nationality.
This interested me when I studied the philosophy of history (a class with concerns that are supposedly universal), in a room full of people a great deal more colourful than the classrooms teaching regional histories. "Positivism," I scrawled in the margin of my notes, thinking but not really thinking about how there can be no such thing. I tried to take my Pakistani-Muslim-Woman-Sufi parents-Urdu speaking-Punjabi speaking-pro Partition-anti Partition-upper class-American citizen-Pakistan resident goggles off for class, but I never could entirely. I could only sink into the consciousness of the way my person seeped into my readings and interpretations.
One of the girls in my South Asian history class was specialising in ancient Rome. She was from Alaska and needed the class to fulfill her "multicultural" requirement. On my way out of a different class one day, I overheard her telling her friend about our class. "So NOW I can totally talk about how Bangladesh was a product of the oppression of West Packistan's economic exploitation, who knew?" Earlier in class, she had remarked "Whoa! Interesting little country." I disliked her generally. Briefly, our eyes met. She lowered hers in the embarrassment that I had overheard her, neither of us sure why she was embarrassed. I realised I was feeling hurt. My major, my research, my home and my country had suddenly, in my own eyes, appeared as a multicultural requirement. My own history was obscure.
I forced myself to go beyond my comfort zone a lot through Intergroup Dialogues and classes about things I knew nothing about because I was determined not to tokenize any experience or see my own as the norm. I am what I am and you are what you are, you know?
Someone I knew in college boycotted Snapple because of its exoticisation of mangosteen (and therefore Asia). That was beyond my understanding. Mangosteen had nothing to do with my otherness.


Amna K said...

Love your blog.

s.e. said...

Thank you Amna K. How did you find it? :)

Anonymous said...

Haha I remember the Snapple Boycott and wondered whether that was being overboard or whether I was being ignorant of the gravity of the issue. Seriously I'm so confused about everything and college only makes you question more but then I lose the thread of thought. I really should have hunted you wherever and listen to your ideas. I really think I crawled into a let's shelter myself from all these amazing people zone when I was supposed to do the opposite and like you say listen to the story. I guess I was also shying away from that because everything seemed so contextless when I asked simple stupid questions that can only lead to yes, no, one word answers.