Post-Colonial Stockholm Syndrome

While I know my experiences couldn’t possibly be unique, they are, in my mind at least, underrepresented. I find I’m constantly reading about race and gender and colour and intersectionality and taking in everyone’s viewpoints and experiences but my elephant remains in the room. I grew up brown almost entirely around white people. I also grew up with a family who, despite being South Asian, fetished whiteness in all its forms. I wasn’t one of those South Asian kids who spoke their parents’ native tongue at home except in so much as my parents’ native tongue was English – the Raj having imposed itself so effectively on middle-class Sri Lanka. They listened to opera, Joan Baez and Simon & Garfunkel, watched Shakespeare and BBC sitcoms and read Lawrence Durrell and Agatha Christie. No Bollywood or Hindi music, no saris or curry (my love for that came later), and certainly no visits to the family back home (again, later). In fact, no exposure at all to anything non-white, barring my own skin and theirs. Remiss, you might say, or even cruel. Certainly confusing and unsettling.

How to live in a world you can never really be a part of? How to overcome or subvert expectations and standards of beauty and success that you can never meet? How to deal with the fact that you want to meet them but know it’s a physical impossibility? What do you do when wanting the access-all-areas privilege of whiteness is so deeply ingrained in you through every interaction and life experience you’ve had that it’s like a tapeworm in your gut – you know you need to get rid of it but you don’t know how?

I love reading empowering stories from brown women who had strong loving mothers who shaped their character so that they could go out into the world and tackle prejudice head-on, but that’s never happened to me. I love reading heart-warming stories from brown women who have found allies among their white friends who accept them as equals and give them a base of strength and support, but until much later in life that simply wasn’t the case. My story is one where I was, and still am, always different and never good enough. Mine is one where my refusal to fit into the accepted mould of what a brown woman should do and want and be has led to ridicule and rejection from my peers and bemusement from my family. Where the life I’ve yearned after and the expectations I’ve held have been based on the white world around me that I long in equal parts to belong to and to tear down. I’ve named this huge internal conflict Post-Colonial Stockholm Syndrome and I’m putting it out here in case there’s anyone else who can relate to it.

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