Stereotype debunked: No, I do not eat curry every day

January 25, 2018 — by Harshini Ramaswamy

Turning 18 has its perks, the most unexpected one being the ability to join the popular dating app Tinder.

I chose my profile pictures and waited for people to message me, sharing the silliest texts with my basketball teammates and other friends. We cackled over the corny pick up lines and cringe-worthy come-ons that frequented my inbox.

Yet one day, I received the question “what race are you?” Unsure how to respond, I deflected by responding with “avatar,” immediately uncomfortable with the situation and blocking the person on Tinder. Never having been asked the question and afraid of becoming “micro-agressive,” I wondered if I was justified in feeling offended and angry. So, as with any other teenager of this century, I looked up the answer to my conundrum on Google.

All search results justified my indignant response and the thought “this would not have happened if I was Caucasian” crossed my mind, as it does with many persons of color in America in situations such as these.

After receiving that question multiple times, I scrutinized my profile pictures, revisiting them whenever I opened the app. They included pictures of me at junior prom, playing basketball, winter formal and attending a concert. It seemed as if this person was expecting me to clearly define my ethnicity by posting pictures of myself studying math, eating some kind of curry or even wearing a brightly colored sari.

Of course, the real offense is the question itself: Asking about race implies that the answer will color their future interactions with the ethnically ambiguous person in question.

In addition, the question — intended or not — emphasizes and reminds the person expected to answer of their “foreignness.” Having personally struggled with the culture clash and my ethnic background like many other persons of color, it feels like the internal battle I have waged since birth counts for nothing.

I had not felt such personal discomfort and resentfulness of my culture since elementary school, where my friends had shifted away from me and plugged their noses as I pulled out my roti wraps during lunch time. From that day forward, I would become unreasonable angry whenever my father would pack me Indian food for lunch.  

I also used to be grateful whenever I was met with confusion and disbelief at the revelation of my birthplace, which is Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, a state in India. In these recurring moments, I can almost see people’s minds whirring in confusion, the statement “does not compute” flashing in their minds, as they stare at my American brand clothing, hear my Californian accent and experience my loud and open personality. I have striven from a young age to not be defined by the stereotypes associated with my nationality, yet hearing this question makes my efforts to be open and honestly interact with others quite worthless.

Now, this isn’t a request to for people to not “see color” or regard me as Indian. I am perfectly fine answering questions about my heritage and background, and I am extremely proud to belong to my culture. Although we certainly have a diverse school, exposure to different cultures does not always solve ignorance and intolerance, just as education does not equate to intelligence.

That being said, I, along with many other groups in America affected by prejudices, should be afforded the respect to be considered as an individual, not as a stereotype. I should be able to go on Tinder, or any other form of social media, and not have to state the color of my skin. I am a proud U.S. citizen, and for the record, I only eat curry on special occasions.