What 'Multitudes' means to me
I’m the first white person in my family.
No, this isn’t some metaphor for assimilation.
I’m literally the first white person in my family.
Don’t believe me?
I’ve got photographic evidence.
This is my dad’s family:
This is my mom’s family:
And this…is me.
(Yes, that is me rocking some pants that are way-too-tight at a fashion show in Bhutan.)
(Yes, that was years ago....)
Not what you’d expect, right?
Growing up, not a lot of people did.
Well aware of his Iranian heritage, my dad’s white colleagues used to ‘tease’ him by asking him if the milkman was white. Because, ‘durrrrrrr, it’s funny to insinuate that the son who this person so dearly loves might be born of some illicit relationship that this brilliant man who rose from a small village in Iran to become the top student in his PhD program at Stanford University might be too dull to be aware of.’
So funny, right?
My dad wouldn’t ever pushback against this hazing, ever-aware of his precarious status as an immigrant holding a Visa from a country that had not too long ago been the subject of a terrible scandal in which several American diplomats had been taken hostage.
He’d also fallen in love. In the second month of his PhD program, he met the woman who would become mom, a wee freshman in an intro tennis class. One game and he knew there was no way he was going back to Tehran.
My mom was just too beautiful.
While I said I was the first white person in my family, you could also make the case for my mom.
She’s basically white.
At least, everyone treats her like she is.
But the funny thing was, her parents weren’t white. They were both beaten by white nuns as children for speaking Spanish in Taos’ Catholic Schools.
My mom grew up being the envy of her cousins, her white skin like a cheat code to avoid the day-to-day discrimination many of Taos’ Spanish-speaking communities faced.
She was a ‘gringa’ in her own home.
Still, she wanted to blend among the others so badly. She tried to speak Spanish, closely attending to my great-grandmother – the matriarch of the family – so that she might become the favorite grandchild.
She wished she looked like them.
I first learned about racism when I was in sixth grade.
My brother, who’s two years younger than me, had just returned home from school, his eyes flooded with tears.
’She kept calling me monkey,’ he cried, ’She said that I looked like her little monkey!’
As you can see, my brother (seated left) doesn’t quite look like me. His skin is a cool, milky mocha compared to my dull yellow. None of this ever made a difference until that little racist girl pointed it out. It made me look in the mirror, upon which I realized that the little racist girl calling my brother ‘monkey’ would never call me monkey.
Because I looked just like her.
Let’s level set here: Love conquers all.
I love my family. I love my dad, I love my mom, I love my brother. And while I could never fully relate to what it was like to be detained at an airport for being Muslim, or to get get bullied, picked on, and ostracized for the color of my skin, or for being taunted by my own family for being the only light-skinned person in a brown-skinned family – none of that shit could ever break us apart.
Our love is a covalent bond.
While I could never relate to their experiences, I did develop a distrust for what I saw as the cause of their suffering: white people.
White people had hazed and demonized my dad, bullied and demeaned my brother, and turned my mother’s family against themselves.
It’s weird for me to admit that I probably felt this distrust the strongest. That something felt so right about me – the light-skinned one ‘free’ of racial trauma – being the one to feel this distrust the strongest. I could be the one to enact justice, to right these wrongs.
White people would never see justice coming.
Because I looked just like them.
I think about this generational story, and I know I’m not alone.
I know everyone around me has a story that you could never infer simply by how they looked or what their name was. That they come to every conversation with an unseen history.
And yet still, I judge.
I judge just like we all do.
We judge because it’s easy, because our brains are programmed to cut to conclusions with an Occam’s razor.
And that’s why I’m so committed to Multitudes.
Because I want people to see that everyone is more than we can ever imagine them to be.
That no one is the sum of their profiles or their tweets, but simply human: these mysterious bundles of contradictions who are passing through this world, all trying to remember that they are not alone.
To remember that there is no place for racism, classism, sexism, or discrimination of any sort.
Because the people who are racist, who are classist, or who treat people like trash just aren’t getting it.
We all contain multitudes.