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Why Should I Apologize For Having a Complex Identity?

11/18/2014 12:53 EST | Updated 01/18/2015 05:59 EST

"Too brown for white people. Too white for brown people."

To my family overseas, I am the Canadian cousin; the one who can't speak my family's native language with, with the Anglo-accent, with the "shameful" Western habits.

To society here, I am the immigrant; the big-nosed, curly-haired Indo-Persian girl, the angry woman of colour, the oppressed Muslim.

Growing up as an immigrant to this country, I'm used to having my identity split in two. White people like to hear me complain about my culture -- it affirms their sense of Western superiority. My family likes to hear me complain about the flaws of the West -- it affirms their sense of moral righteousness. My complaints, while just being expressions of frustration and honest observations about the two communities I am apart of, become overly-politicized and twisted to fit the polarized narratives of either side.

It's true: there's so much wrong with my culture. My community has shifted greatly towards being insular, my family overseas have the most narrow and ignorant views on women, and they are utterly and totally obsessed with false notions of modesty and piety. But the culture here is deeply flawed as well; people here like to believe they are universally tolerant, kind, compassionate, while simultaneously spewing racial and sexist microaggressions on a daily basis and being painfully ignorant of their nation's extremely violent, genocidal history.

When I criticize Islam, I have to state that I am in no way saying the ideologies of the West are superior. When I criticize the West, I have to state that I am in no way saying things are better in the country I emigrated from. There some things that I hope my family in the Middle East and South Asia can learn from Western society, and some things that I hope people here can learn from the Middle East and South Asia. I like things about both sides. I dislike things about both sides.

Girls like me are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Our critiques about, let's say, the misogyny within our community are so often co-opted by white Eurocentric feminism as a kind of "see, look, the oppressed brown women need us!" And at the same time, I don't want to silence myself from critiquing by own community just because I'm scared that some white feminists may twist my words, because as a feminist myself, I need to be able to talk about the misogyny that is present within my own heritage.

We feel alienated from both communities, not quite fitting in anywhere. I've had to seek out women like me online, ones who are caught between two cultures and forge a little cyber-community of our own. We create a safe space where we can comment on both societies without our words being warped by either side and a space where we can feel like we do fit in, where we don't have to "browner" or "whiter."

These ideas that we're not "brown enough" or "white enough" are really just ways of perpetuating harmful stereotypes of being either or, a way of pushing a one-dimensional idea of identity where you either assimilate entirely or become completely insular. Identities are not that simple, and we shouldn't be pressured to alter ourselves to fit silly notions of what it means to be Eastern or Western. People are complicated and their identities transcend borders and passports; I am not entirely where I come from or where I live, but a fluid version of both. I am shaped by all the experiences in my life, unapologetically proud of my brown skin, and also happy with my home in this mostly white country.

Yes, my accent is Canadian and I know my family's native language in broken bits and pieces, and I love the snow, and Christmas, and all that jazz. But I'm also proud of my heritage, love to flaunt the sari my Dad brought me from Mumbai, dish out biryani for my friends when they come over, and unashamedly watch the worst Bollywood action movies. I'm a product of the place I live and the culture I am a part of and the country I came from. And I will not conform to ideas of what either side believes I should be in order to be a "complete" human-being. My identity is three-dimensional, complex, and beautiful the way it is.

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