From the moment I was able to consciously form thoughts and ideas, I knew I was different. It wasn’t inherent knowledge or what my parents stressed on me; it was simply daily interactions with my environment and others that helped shape my understanding of these differences and what they meant. It helped me understand where my place was, what I could and could not do, where I could and could not go, and just about every facet of my life defined by a vastly complex system of classifications.
One of the earliest experiences I recall is the idea of being like everyone else in order to deflect attention from yourself because any deviation from the “norm” draws negative reactions. As a child your ability to comprehend this need to fit in was limited because “fitting in” meant conforming to what was “popular” at the time. Childhoods can be very traumatic, as children and adolescents often make uninformed opinions and decisions. Their source of information is mainly comprised of the playground and what they hear from other classmates, or perhaps the cultural impacts of their families. Being from an Indian family, I was not out of touch with the concept of race and racism. Though I did not experience much racism as a child, I saw it happen to others. I experienced racism more in my teenage to adulthood years. As I child, I faced confrontations regarding my gender more than my race. I enjoyed playing sports from a fairly early age, which became a central part of my life throughout grade school until university. I had never thought that was what defined me as a person. It is interesting to note how these definitions changed over time as my environment changed and the ways in which others defined me. Teasing and name-calling seemed to be a regular occurrence when I went to school or the friends I hung out with at home. I was typically described as a “tom-boy” or “he-she” because I didn’t look like all the other girls at school. My composition did not meet the exterior ideals of what “defined” a girl. Girls were supposed to be dainty, passive, quiet, and had to play with Barbie. I was none of those things and I didn’t own a Barbie, but it was these qualities, these mannerisms that made me different than the other girls. Thus, making friends did not come easy. The girls thought I was too much like a boy and the boys thought the same. At that time, being different didn’t serve me too well, which I find ironic now because it seems as though being “different” is what has become “popular” today. Yet being “different” means everyone is the same “different”.
As I entered high school I began to understand why so many kids dreaded being there. I hated going most of the time and the only people I seemed to relate to were my friends. It wasn’t the easiest time and I certainly let my feelings show, which I always thought contributed to others’ perception of my personality, as an angsty kid with a pessimistic attitude. Nevertheless, I always felt I had more of an open mind than most of the kids I went to school with. Some of my teachers asserted that opinion; they had always told me I was mature for my age and I never decided whether that was a good or bad thing. In high school your identity is so essential to people characterizing who you are and it didn’t bother me until I came out as a lesbian. Through the years, my description changed from emo-depressive kid, to jock kid, and finally – the gay kid. There were other “out” kids at my school and I never understood why it was a big deal when I came out. A part of me thought it was because it confirmed everyone’s opinions. Amrit is a tomboy; therefore she must be a lesbian, but not all tomboys are lesbians. Another part of me thought it was because I wasn’t like other Indian girls at my school: long black hair, slender bodies, and feminine traits. I couldn’t understand why the students and teachers thought that way, and more importantly I couldn’t understand why it bothered me so much. Regardless, it was another facet of my identity that made me “different” and for the people at my school it was confusing. It was then I started to believe the impact of my “identity” on society and how it would influence my life.
University brought a new kind of understanding in the perceptions of my identity. As a criminology student I was enlightened to so many more systems of personal classifications. This class is certainly not my first encounter with the theory of white privilege and some of the articles such as The Invisible Knapsack. Furthermore, Peggy McIntosh and Richard Dyer’s articles on white privilege emphasized the ideas that I have for so long thought about but could never say without any legitimacy. The concept of white privilege, albeit having some idea of what it meant, helped me understand and articulate why I only saw white people on tv and in movies for so long. As a child, my parents never talked to me about race or gender equality. Having heard many racist and stereotypical comments didn’t leave me with a racist, sexist, or other discriminatory worldview. I knew from an early age that if I wanted to live my life I had to keep an open mind and a large part of me wanted to defy stereotypes. My parents came from traditional Indian backgrounds but never impressed their culture upon me. Their parents did stress the hegemonic ideals of their cultural values. Clear definitions of what a girl and boy should and should not be. As I progressed through university, I began to see all the pieces that made up my identity fall into these classifications I was learning about and had experienced through society and my family’s cultural values. Being a female meant I was inferior to males, a homosexual inferior to the heterosexual norm, and as a minority inferior to the white race. Having learned these systems of classification, I concluded that it was in fact these “characteristics” that made me “different” and how they would impact my career, my opinions, my worldview, and basically every facet of my life.
In having realized how my race, sexuality, gender, and arguably my individuality affected my life, I also realized what privileges I garnered and which I did not. Comparatively, I am ranked well below the privileged middle-class white male. However, it wasn’t until I began taking aboriginal-focused classes that I began to understand what my advantages were. The indigenous populations of Canada are the most under-privileged people in this country. Arguably, their culture and people have been eradicated. Descendants of aboriginal origin face immense hardships and extremely overbearing obstacles in defying stereotypes and racism. Being a gay Indian woman didn’t have the same affect on me having known and met several aboriginal women working the sex trade. I realized how much of a barrier my existence played in the lives of these women and the first nations peoples. My day-to-day activities uphold the systemic suppression of the aboriginals much like the white male maintains control over the societal normative. Even further, I realized what my professors meant by categorizations of race, age, sexuality, gender, sex, disability, etc. I focused so much of my attention on what made me different than the white male. I realized I only evaluated myself to that discourse when there were a vast number of comparatives I did not even consider.
Nevertheless, my worldview remained consistent in that societal norms are a discourse people have been subjected to for centuries. The experiences I dealt with in my life such as racism and enduring harassment for being a homosexual didn’t change my opinions on what I believed the social and political values of this country represent. As societies progress, so too will the understandings of the classifications we discuss, or at least that is the hope. Though I want to believe in the possibilities of changing hegemonic, heterosexual norms, I am not that optimistic. Ending systemic racism did not end racism entirely. It found news way in which to affect the unprivileged, even if it were under the surface. I continue to challenge those who discriminate, whether intentional or not, because the first step is knowledge. Having acknowledged who I am has enabled my understanding to reflect universality and the need to change this way of thinking, but that also means acknowledging how my being affects another.