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Asked at his last news conference whether there would be another black president, Obama joked, “I suspect we’ll have a whole bunch of mixed-up presidents at some point that nobody really knows what to call them.” That future may not be far off.
If my features make me a chameleon, Suri reminds me that South Asians still have privilege: “The difference is, with Indians, because the institutions aren’t leaned against me, I can change the way I speak, change the way I dress, get a job at a bank and become an entirely different person.” He urges “acknowledging that wiggle room that we’re granted.” And I do.
Sometimes the question is posed with curiosity, sometimes with darker intent. For those who don’t understand a person of color’s obsessions with race and identity, I want to point this out: For the past five years, whole cities across the country have been roiled by police shootings of unarmed men and women targeted, some believe, for their skin color.
White nationalists have poured into basketball arenas to profess allegiance to a candidate — now president — who promises to build a wall that would keep out those whose mother tongue isn’t like theirs, whose skin is darker, who don’t resemble them. Not long ago, I was in New York for an interview with a curator at a renowned museum. I was too humiliated to shoot him a glare, too polite to ignore him.
As I walked past them in a restaurant, a couple, on what must have been a first or second date, flagged me down from their table. It depends on which city I’m in, what I am wearing and, more often than not, who is doing the asking.
From their broad, eager smiles, I already knew what they wanted. “He thinks you’re from South America,” she said, gesturing to her date. I am a dulce de leche-colored woman, browner still in the summer. My hair winds into curls at the hint of rain clouds. “Like the president’s,” someone noted once, trying somehow to square Barack Obama’s multiculti look with my own. Now here was this couple, both white, asking the question I increasingly stumble over. Just another dark-featured, dark-haired woman in a vast sea of immigrants’ kids, I want to tell them. Because the more brown America gets, the more mutable ethnicity — mine, others — is becoming.
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