Life With Stereotypes: South Asian Edition

“Did you have a normal Thanksgiving?” they asked me. I laughed and asked them if that was a joke or if they were being serious. What is a normal Thanksgiving? A traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce dinner? The American dinner? If an American-based dinner is normal, then is any dish that is not American abnormal? Even if that is not what they meant, it was implied. 

Here is a quick geography lesson so readers can better understand the rest of this article without any misconceptions about South Asia/South Asian heritage. South Asia consists of countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, etc. Desi people are people of South Asian heritage. Their traditions and cultural aspects are similar, but also different. Pakistan and India get mixed up a lot because they were once one country, but they are different with different parts to their cultures and traditions. It is similar to America and England. Americans say sweater, and British people say jumper. America has its own holidays and traditions as does Britain. This is just a comparison, but there are slight differences like these between South Asian countries.

Growing up and watching television, I had not seen much South Asian representation. I watched a lot of Disney Channel; the general movies on their channel were about high school students with a love interest they thought were out of their league. The only depiction of South Asian people that my generation has received was Ravi from Disney Channel’s Jessie and Baljeet from Phineas and Ferb. We grew up watching these shows which contained stereotypical Indian characters who were nerdy and had accents the original actors do not have. Now, every desi person is considered an Indian. Disney princesses-wise, people consider South Asian representation to be in Aladdin because of the skin-tone and the clothing they wear, but in actuality, Disney messed that up. It may not be known to everyone, but most Arabs and South Asians know that Aladdin is a mixture of Middle Eastern and Indian ideologies. The movie starts with the Arabian nights, but then they are brought to a desi girl with a pet tiger who’s name is in Hindi (his name is Raja which, in Hindi, means king). This alone provides misconceptions about Middle Eastern and South Asian culture.

And where do people get rid of these misconceptions? They don’t. Unless their parents are teaching them about different heritages and what is offensive to others, kids are not noticing if what they’re saying is wrong or not. In some cases, they might know that they are being racist. The point is, I do not believe American parents are taking their kids to the side and telling them not to pull the hijab off of the Muslim girl in their class because it is a part of her religion and her identity. Ripping off a hijab is like pulling down someone’s pants. I can only relate to my experiences and those of the people around me, but it is common for Muslim parents to have the talk with their kids. At the age of around six, my parents sat me down and made sure that I did not tell any kids in my class that Santa was not real. I’d go into school every day with kids and teachers talking about how they had to be good or Santa was gonna put coal under their tree. 

And that is where school comes into play. Should students not be taught about different cultures and backgrounds? Let’s think about it. If they are, then they will less likely be racist towards people of different cultures. Maybe a kid won’t come up to me and ask me if I am Islam. Maybe not everyone will assume that I am Indian until I tell them that I am not and make the interaction super awkward. Maybe people will learn the difference between Hindi and Hindu. Maybe people will stop mocking others with what they think is an Indian accent. 

It is important that schools consider adding culture to their curriculum because kids tend to agree with their parents. Schools do not usually incorporate this type of curriculum because taking off a piece of another student’s clothing is considered a part of mannerism, and manners are taught at home. Whatever kids learn at home is what helps them grow as a person and adds to the way they view the world. If a kid is growing up thinking that certain demographics are bad, they will indulge that thought into their entire life and reinforce the false stereotype they have. 

The curriculum should not just be added to elementary schools. For instance, a seven year old will not pay much attention to what they are learning especially when they have not seen much of the world. So, learning about other cultures might not make sense to them. The course should be implemented into high school teachings, as well. In high school, students have a better understanding of the world around them and are more exposed to diversity. Learning about other cultures will help prevent them from making stereotypical comments which, in reality, are offensive. It will also help people understand that they cannot tell someone that they shouldn’t be offended if they are not of that ethnicity. For instance, if someone came up to me and asked me if my dad worked at 7Eleven, then I would be offended because it is being assumed that my dad works at a gas station based on the stereotype of brown dads working at gas stations. If I told the person that that was offensive, they can’t tell me that it wasn’t and that I am being sensitive.

On a brighter note, more positive representation is on its way. Marvel is becoming more inclusive with other cultures. Despite how awkward the Bollywood dance scene in Eternals was, Kumail Nanjiani’s entire character was a representation of South Asian descent. Marvel’s upcoming series Ms. Marvel is based on a teenage Pakistani girl who becomes a hero. My mind immediately thought Finally! Some Pakistani representation. Now people will hopefully not forget that Pakistan is a country, and that not all brown people are Indian. Of course, that is a bit of an exaggeration. I mean, how much could one show really do? Having representation is like sharing one of your most favorite things with someone else and being excited to see how they react.

All in all, the world is a big place with many stereotypes and misconceptions about people, cultures, nationalities, religions, etc. The entertainment industry, such as Hollywood, is an enormous platform that can inform people and aid in getting rid of stereotypes. A smaller way to start making a change is by incorporating the teachings of different cultures and religions into school.