This post was originally published on Medium.
The immigration debates are not about legality, or about having the right papers. They are about the fact that some people look illegal and some people look legal.
Translation: The immigration debate is about racism.
I was born in this country, but I look illegal.
A few months ago I started a project: #sareenotsorry. Overall, the response has been positive. (Thanks!) However, some folks think it is pointless, because they are not worried about Indian immigrants.
“Indians are the good ones,” they said.
It doesn’t matter whether or not Indian-Americans fit the criteria of being “good” — whatever that means – because we are treated as if we are illegal. Let’s not forget the Dotbusters of New Jersey in the 80’s, the curry jokes, the dirty Hindu labels, and the Apu ‘thank you, come again’ performances.
In the United States, brown people have always been constructed as bad and dangerous. That’s why it was so easy to associate brown skin with terrorism.
The ‘War on Terror’ justifies violence against brown people, because the war needs someone to be a terrorist. But, it is terrifying that all brown people are treated as potential terrorists…and just because of their skin color.
So what should brown people do?
Don’t apologize for your skin color.
Don’t tell your sisters to stop wearing their hijab.
Don’t tell your brothers to shave their beards.
Don’t tell your daughters to stop covering their head.
Don’t tell your sons to take off their turban.
Don’t tell women to stop wearing saris.
Don’t tell men that they must wear suits.
Don’t stop being brown. This is not the time to hide.
Instead of telling people to change their look, we need to be talking to and educating those who would use violence to terrorize people just for wearing a sari or the hijab.
Women who wear saris or hijabs and men who wear turbans are not asking for violent responses, just as a woman in a short skirt is not asking to be raped. In comparing these two forms of blaming, however, we can really see how white supremacy and patriarchy feed off each other: when a person is told to shave off their beard, straighten their hair, or not wear a piece of clothing authentic to their own culture, they are being told to assimilate.
Assimilation means to “become like.”
For me to ‘become like’ the people that turn to violence at the sight of hijabs, saris, and turbans means that I would have to become scared of myself. I would have to hate myself. I would have to terrorize myself.
I’m not going to do that.
Tanya Rawal is currently teaching at University of California, Riverside. Her research focuses on indian farmer suicides, terrorism, the U.S. Prison Industrial Complex, and Italian film.
Learn more about Reappropriate’s guest contributor program and submit your own writing here.