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Man calls out younger sister; 'You're whitewashing yourself and embarrassing the family.' AITA? UPDATED 2X

Man calls out younger sister; 'You're whitewashing yourself and embarrassing the family.' AITA? UPDATED 2X

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When this young man upsets his sister after calling her lifestyle out, he asks the internet:

"AITA for telling my sister that she's trying to whitewash herself?"

I'm 17m, my sister is 15f. Our parents are immigrants from India before having us, so we've grown up in the US our whole lives. Regardless, I'd say we've stayed decently attached to the culture-- we visit India every other summer, we speak our language, so on.

But recently, I've been noticing that my sister has been attempting to distance herself from being Indian because in her words, it's uncool and Indians are negatively stereotyped.

She's convinced that people don't think she's Indian because we have light-ish skin, when she obviously looks Indian, and so do I.

When asked about her ethnicity, she always says something along the lines of 'I'm Indian but most people think I'm Latina, mixed, or greek/italian' (nobody thinks that),

has started referring to herself by a white-sounding diminutive of her name, talks about only wanting to date white guys because Indian guys are 'unattractive', and obsessively trying to lighten her skin even further.

I don't think this is a good mindset. It would be one thing is she was never that attached to the Indian part of her identity and so doesn't identify as so, it's another that she has and is deliberately pushing it away because she feels it's uncool.

That sort of mindset that being Indian is bad only leads to self-hatred, because no matter how much she changes herself externally, she'll know deep down that she's Indian, and hate herself for it.

And not only is it wrong, it's obvious what she's trying to do, and I know many people find it cringe. So she's hurting herself both mentally and socially. So, today I took her aside and told her that no matter how much she tries to whitewash herself, she'll still be Indian, and everybody but her sees her that way.

She called me TA for it, but I'm just trying to look out for her. I hope she comes around eventually.

rudypen writes:

NTA/NAH. This is really sad and I completely feel for you and your sister. I’m also Indian. I overheard and faced explicitly racist behavior when I was her age as well. It led me to feeling so ashamed of being Indian.

I couldn’t really successfully pretend not to be Indian because I was born there and moved to the US when I was 10. I tried to forget about my childhood and “assimilate” as best as I could so no one would question if I belonged.

But of course I didn’t grow up in America so it just led me to being a shell of myself. I fooled lots of people but I lost so much of what makes me, me. Now over a decade later I’m really comfortable in my identify and in fact most of the time I’m glad I’m Indian.

However, I’m not sure if anyone could’ve successfully convinced me not to erase my culture when I was younger. The main thing that helped me now is meeting cool people from all sorts of non-American cultures and seeing that I had a narrow worldview when I was younger.

In middle school, being cool and fitting in with the popular demographic matters a lot. I’ve found that adults are a lot more accepting in general.

I’ve learned that it’s totally acceptable to not to know something about popular culture and to tell people to kick rocks if they think Indian culture is weird.

I don’t know if that is something that can be forced. Hopefully that growth comes with time and being open minded to new experiences.

Whichwithc writes:

Light YTA I think you are upset she is uncomfortable with her race, but how you are approaching it will make her more uncomfortable.

She is at a fairly confusing age and trying to navigate Western society as a child of immigrants. Questioning identity is fairly normal and some patience is needed. Forcing her will only swing her to extremes.

Call out specific incidents as they happen. Her view on Indian guys? Not appropriate. Everyone has physical preferences, but hers seems to be a hang up on an entire race in a way that treads into discrimination.

Also super insulting to you, and you 100% need to remind her that is incredibly rude to say in front of you. If she says people think she's Latina, point out that's likely ignorance if they do and not really something they should be commenting on to begin with. People's stereotypes are not her problem, but she is not going to stop them from distancing herself.

Be proud of your heritage as you see fit. Your heritage is not yours or your sister's entire personality, though, and she does need to find her own answers for how to accept it. Just don't let her disrespect it to others in the process.

creee5 writes:

First: This whole situation sucks for everyone and I'm so sorry you're dealing with it. You two have a beautiful and deep cultural heritage and it's sad and angering to me that small, bigoted people have made a person doubt that about themselves.

NTA, but only because you're too young to be fairly called out for what happened. I can tell you really didn't mean to be hurtful, but you came in a little hot - "you'll always be _______" may be true, but may not always be a kind way to express what you mean.

You're not wrong: you and she will always have your shared heritage. But that's not the issue. The issue is that she's a kid who's internalized bigotry from all around her.

She needs some guidance in what about being Indian is beautiful. I'm a white person raised in NH, one of the whitest states in the US, and I have a list longer than my body of things I admire about the various peoples of India.

There's a ton to be proud of, and she doesn't need to give up her American identity to embrace it: she can be both. Lots of celebs embrace both, for example - look at the Chopra-Jonas wedding.

Like I said, I'm a white person in a white place, so I'm not sure of what resources to suggest to help, but I know being "properly feminine" in this country sucks for everyone, and fighting against a dominating whiteness can't help. You're right to want to help her, just make sure you are kind, because for her this clearly stems from some pain.

crema6 writes:

NTA but poor execution. Many minority groups have people who fall into this horrible mindset that white is better. That being whatever ethnic minority they are is bad because some idiot(s) somewhere was being a hateful ass.

Some shake it off eventually, others never do and it causes a lot of mental and physical health issues. There is an old movie that somewhat touches on this called Imitation of Life (I prefer the 1959 version with Lana Turner), the daughter is light enough to pass for white but her mom is a darker skinned black woman and the daughter hates it.

She goes to great lengths to distance herself from who she is and pays a heavy price in the end. If your parents haven't already been made aware of this they should so that they can talk with her or get her therapy by a person who specializes in POC issues. Using those skin bleaching creams isn't healthy and can eventually cause damage to her skin.

freeezg writes:

YTA. As an older sibling the correct response was to ask her what's going on, listen, tell her you love her no matter what and that you'd help her where she is struggling. You had the opportunity to connect with her in a way only siblings can; without the stress of explaining her complex feelings to an adult or familial outsider.

She might have been able to provide more insight into her feelings and situation if she felt safe enough to do so. Confronting her as you did has blown a crater into that.

Now she knows that being Indian is more important to you than her struggles with her identity, and she's going to be much less open to you in general than she may have before, because you told her directly you don't understand or care about what she's going through.

(You care here, but she doesn't know you do; she heard you say otherwise in your intent if not your direct words). You need to focus on rebuilding her trust in you, or at least leave her alone about it and let her come to terms with her identity herself. If you want to repair this, try listening without judging her choices.

Try understanding where she's coming from so you can help her see the beauty in her culture and heritage again.

apacheti writes:

NAH. Your intentions are good, but it seems like your sister is struggling with something more insidious here.

Is she rejecting everything about India/Indian culture? Have her feelings towards Indian music, dance, food, and language changed? Does she still enjoy Indian food, watch Indian movies, and listen to Indian music?

Does she like to wear Indian clothes when appropriate? If she was religious, does she still participate in the religious rituals and practices? Does she code-switch when talking to aunties and uncles (put on an accent/change her tone of voice)? Does she behave differently when around Indians than when around non-Indians?

If she is still interested in certain aspects of her heritage, she's probably struggling with discrimination, sexism, and racism. She might not be "whitewashing" herself to erase her identity, but to blend in with white people. Try to get to the root of why she's changed, and deal with that.

positvn writes:

NTA. I’m sorry but what the f is everyone else reading? OP, you were frank and direct with your sister, which is a sign of love and respect for her critical thinking skills. The world will always view her as Indian. Her doing all of this is not coming from a place of self expression or “developing and identity” like others seem to be saying.

A 15 year old trying to whiten their skin is a drastic and abnormal measure to take for the sake of “fitting in”. It is very clearly coming from a place of shame. Shame in her Indian features, shame in her brown skin, shame in her culture which yes — like every other culture on the planet earth besides White European culture — has been commodified, stereotyped and parodied in Western entertainment and media.

People who are saying NTA clearly have not the slightest idea what it’s like for other cultures to constantly be battling against centuries of white supremacy in their own cultures. If you can’t be happy with who you are, you will never be happy.

Daughters being told that their hair isn’t straight enough, that their cousins with lighter skin are the blessed ones while having to watch them get preferential treatment from the rest of the family, their hair is too curly, their nose is too big, etc, etc. It’s honestly sick and shame on anyone trying to defend it.

Update 1:

I'm not saying somebody living in the US for their whole life should be 100% Indian. I just think it's silly to deny the fact that growing up in a household with a non-American culture, having a foot in both worlds, impacts you.

Somebody can deny their background, but it doesn't change the fact that it has helped shape the person they are today.

Plus, in the case of Mindy Kailing, almost every Indian-American teenager in the country has managed to traverse being the child of two cultures and learn to appreciate and be the best of both, so why can't a 30 something year old woman with an Ivy League degree do the same?"

"This is the most 'white liberal' statement I've heard all day. Your race, culture, and upbringing inherently has an impact on your psyche, so no, you can't simply decide you're not Indian, because being Indian as opposed to another race has already impacted you. The same goes for every other race."

Update 2 (10 days later):

First off, thank you to everybody who offered valuable advice such as: 1) to talk to her to get to the root of why she's rejecting and trying to outrun her heritage 2)

to get her to connect with her culture in fun, relatively simple ways she enjoys to open the door to more in the future 3) to get her to read/watch media that reflects people going through a similar struggle 4) get my parents involved in stopping her from harming herself.

One memorable commentor even sent me links to Korean-Indian mixed weddings that showed an appreciation for Indian culture since she's a KPOP fan. I've tried to enact them.

I've gotten my parents involved, and they've made it impossible for her to get skin lightening creams, which is a good first step.

I've tried building a bridge between her and her culture through small things-- sweets, traditional clothes, songs-- with minimal success, but I'll keep trying since it hasn't been long at all. Similar results for introducing her to media too.

The big thing, of course, was listening to her on why she felt the need to distance herself so much.

Simply put, she felt India was portrayed by western media and seen by people in the west as something barbaric. In the eyes of many, millions of years of history and culture are reduced down to a view of the nation and all its people as backwards, oppressive, sexist, discriminatory.

In her words, it goes further than that: because of the reductive views people have on India and its people, in which both those things are synonymous with 'uncivilized' and 'sexist', appreciating her culture was always seen as her being brainwashed for loving a culture that 'just wanted to oppress' her.

I've come across these same reductive, broad stroke stereotypes in my own previous post. For example: They may already have a list of potential husbands to marry her off to You should be proud and get her a new tube of "fair and lovely".

By the way, she's getting old, now. Time to find her a husband from a good family, I think.

Maybe she hates her indian Roots because girl are supposed to be beautiful, obedient, good at school, clean at home, serve parents and bro and marry the guy her parents choose for her, all this while being proud of her culture ofc.

She's taken these sorts of disgusting views she's come across-- that India, and hence her heritage, is something negative or dirty, and that appreciating it means she's embracing something that's inherently against her existence-- and has totally internalized them.

This is to such an extent that she sees her Indian heritage as something she needs to escape or remove. But she cannot, no matter now many times she talks about looking Italian or how many tubs of skin lightening cream she uses.

Growing up in an Indian household in the US, straddling those two very different worlds and cultures, gave her a unique upbringing shared by nobody-- not kids who grew up in India, nor those with roots in the US, not even other immigrant families.

That unique upbringing shaped who she is, and her heritage as an Indian-American, and the impact it had on her psyche, is imprinted within her. She cannot change that, she's acutely aware of that, and it scares her, because she's been taught to see it as something disgusting.

With time, I want to teach her what I learned myself-- that it isn't a choice she has to make, to embrace one culture or another, to be an American or an Indian.

You can embrace the parts of both that you like, and leave the other parts behind. It's not black or white. Being Indian is a part of her that she cannot ever outrun, just like being an American is. But that doesn't have to mean being 100% one or the other.

And I hope people who portray India and Indians with such disgusting stereotypes realize how perpetuating them instead of recognizing it's beauty plays a huge part in causing people like my sister to hate their culture.

So rather than helping or supporting her 'liberation' are, hypocritically, part of the reason why young people of Indian descent develop self hatred.

I hope every kid grappling with their identity because of these stereotypes can grow to appreciate the beauty of their culture. I hope that with time, empathy, and support, I can lead my sister to seeing that too.

What do YOU make of OP's story? Any advice for him?

Sources: Reddit
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