I have an oddly distinct memory of really wanting to watch Disney Channel, specifically a show called Jessie, because all my friends were watching it.
I had never watched a Bollywood movie or really any other Indian media, so seeing the character Ravi was truly my first time seeing anyone who looked like me on TV. And it did not look good.
Now mind you, I was the same girl who used to just PRETEND that Gabriella from High School Musical was Indian just so I could identify myself with someone. And suddenly BAM there’s someone who’s Indian just like me on TV. And they were nothing like me. The character Ravi was the butt of every joke and his Indian-ness that I so sought out was used to designate him as other.
I was in around third grade when I first watched Jessie, so while now I can identify that it was simply a faulty stereotype, it was a really big deal to me back then. I didn’t want to be the butt of a joke. And I definitely didn’t want to be seen as other. And so, I guess, I didn’t want to be seen as Indian.
I spent the rest of my elementary and middle school years trying to separate myself from my Indian heritage because I began to equate Indian with negative. Now, this wasn’t an explicit thing. I wasn’t thinking, oh! I saw this negative portrayal of Indian-ness in third-grade so now I don’t want to be Indian. It was subtle to the point I didn’t recognize it. I just knew that I wanted to be taken serious. I wanted to be badass. I wanted to be accepted. And no one who was like that looked like me.
Then one day I saw Bend it Like Beckham. And I saw someone who looked like me. She had a family like mine. And she was taken seriously. She was badass. She was ultimately accepted. (I’m going to do a post later on about Bend it Like Beckham because that movie Changed My Life).
The point was once I saw someone in a positive role who looked like me, I wanted to be me. When there isn’t much representation of yourself, the negative portrayal hurt a lot more, because sometimes they’re the only portrayals of yourself that you see.
I am so happy to see the rising amount of diversity in mainstream media (I absolutely love Love LOVE Mindy Kaling) Its important to recognize that the media we’re introduced to in childhood has such a big effect on who we become and how we see ourselves. Because it can inspire as much as it can tear down. It can change us, in one way or another.
Please leave your own stories in the comments! I would love to hear from y’all!