But…you don’t look Tamil!

Written by: Laxana Paskaran

Image Source:http://www.takepart.com/photos/microaggressions-photos-show-everyday-racism-our-conversations

Image Source:http://www.takepart.com/photos/microaggressions-photos-show-everyday-racism-our-conversations

Preface: The English language is a primary site of both colonial and imperial authority that continues to silence the voices of marginalized people, especially the voices of indigenous women and women of colour. Thus, I recognize that writing this article in English adds to the mobilization of misogyny and racism through the systematic violence and oppression embedded within the language.

When you tell me “you sound so white,” you’re telling me you are surprised that I am able to articulate the sounds created by 26 letters of a violent language. You’re surprised because before this language cast a dark shadow over the lands of others, sophisticated civilization did not exist. You’re surprised that someone who must have descended from a savage, more inferior group of people could speak, so eloquently, a language that was meant only for those who worshipped the imperial throne. You’re surprised someone with so much melanin in his or her skin can mimic, almost parrot like, the way the al-mighty superior race behaves.

When you tell me “you’re pretty for a dark skin girl,” you’re telling me that you are saddened by the bronze pigmentation that automatically depreciates my features. You’re telling me the forms of structural violence embedded within Eurocentric standards of beauty are justified every time my reflection hits a mirror. You’re telling me that I am an exception to your view of darker skinned girls to be despicably unattractive. You’re telling me that the already existing inferiority complex that I’ve developed from such a young age is completely valid. You’re telling me that this statement shouldn’t make me feel uncomfortable and that in fact, you’re complimenting me regardless of the mistake in the colour of my skin.

When you tell me “you don’t look Tamil,” you’re denying that I am Tamil. You’re denying that thousands upon thousands of my ancestors were raped, tortured, and slaughtered at the hands of an unjust state. You’re denying that the crime of genocide was and continues to be the prime mandate of the Sri Lankan government. You’re denying (because I don’t fit the outline of the picture in your head) that my identity is more than what meets the eye.

Deep-seated traces of racism cling to our everyday dialogue in the form of racial microaggressions. Disguised as “compliments,” these statements are inherently violent and motivated by hatred. Our words become vehicles by which systematic oppression and discrimination are carried out. Consequently, we continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes that support the racist framework of the white supremacist patriarchal heteronormative western society.

“Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color. Perpetrators of microaggressions are often unaware that they engage in such communications when they interact with racial/ethnic minorities. A taxonomy of racial microaggressions in everyday life was created through a review of the social psychological literature on aversive racism, from formulations regarding the manifestation and impact of everyday racism, and from reading numerous personal narratives of counselors (both White and those of color) on their racial/cultural awakening.” – Derald Wing Sue


Laxana Paskaran is in her final year of study at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus, double majoring in Environmental Science and English. Her interests primarily surround geography and regionalism in literature, more specifically in post-colonial texts.




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