The Beauty and Challenges of INTERSECTIONALity

Anjali Bose, Georgetown Day School
Photography by Ariele Bonte

Identity is more complicated than black and white.

I have experienced both the beauty and the challenges of intersectionality. As a first generation American and a woman of color, my experiences have shaped my values and impacted my growth as a young Indian woman. However, the discrimination I have faced stays with me, and will affect my actions and thoughts for years to come.

I’ve grown up in both India and the U.S., and I consider myself an American, as well as an Indian teenager. My family’s culture and religion are a large part of who I am today and I am not ashamed of my background. I find pride in the fact that I speak three languages at home and will publicize the cultural celebrations of my family.

I feel, however, like I have to act a certain way outside of the safety of my home, as I spend most of my time in places where members of the South Asian community are scarce.

I am one of the few Asian students in my classes, and I am expected to know scientific or historical facts that I was never taught — like my peers who have attended the same classes as me. My teachers assume that I will be one of their stronger students, yet when I don’t fill the stereotype of the model minority, I feel shame, and then refrain from asking for help when I need it.

I walk with my head down in public spaces because I am usually one of the only brown people there and I pretend not to notice the concerned looks when I am in predominantly white neighborhoods. I don’t tell my friends my concerns about feeling unwelcome in these spaces, fearing their dismissal and accusations that I am overreacting. When I am randomly selected for extra security checks in an airport or asked to check my bag in a store, I pretend that coincidence has caused these events when, in reality, my race has most likely played a role. I pretend not to hear the group of people across the street yell “Paki” and I continue to walk with a smile. I am proud of my culture in safe spaces, but outside of these spaces, I often find obstacles that caution me from displaying this pride.

I am not only treated differently in the U.S. because of my background, but I am treated differently in India as well. My opinion is dismissed and ignored because I am American, but people forget that I identify as an Indian as well. I feel pressured to act a certain way to avoid scrutiny for the differences I have from others in India, such as my American accent. I identify as an Asian American, but this identifier is irrelevant to others around me. In India, I am “the American,” and in the U.S., I am “the Indian.”

Growing up in the era of “Me too” and having strong female role models taking a stand in the media has made me incredibly proud to be a young woman.

With this confidence, I’ve embraced my gender and tried to be a voice for women's rights. Still, like most young women, I have also been a victim of gender discrimination and male dominance in our society. I have been overlooked for opportunities because my gender was considered a disadvantage. I have been called out for being too “feminist” when voicing my views on women's rights and identifying the systematic disadvantages that women have had to build their lives around. I have been objectified, catcalled and humiliated in the street because men feel they have a right to exert their dominance. These obstacles have affected my growth in society because it has created artificial barriers both personally and societally.

My identity as a female, as well as a AsianAmerican, cannot be separated. The underlying bias of my race contributes to the discrimination I face as a woman, and vice versa. I have been made a target of sexism by certain men because my race makes me inferior to white women, and therefore more of a subject to race targeted sexism.

In addition to the sexism I face in public spaces, I face obstacles of gender bias within my own family because of our culture. My family, being more conservative than I am, has criticized me for wearing shorts or arguing on behalf of gender equality, actions that are considered normal in my American communities.

The sexism I have faced is connected to my background and demonstrates how my identities cannot be separated. Because of this underlying factor of gender, my race is further scrutinized than someone without the intersection of race and gender. Others have felt more empowered to target me because of my race because my gender makes me seem weaker and therefore less likely to defend myself or hold someone accountable.

Embracing my intersectionality has emphasized my unique beauty as an individual and has helped me grow into someone with pride and confidence in my identity. But, the challenges that I have faced have created negative effects on how I express my identities to others.

The intolerance of people who are different has held others back from realizing how different identities create diverse and strong individuals. In the future, we, as a society, must change the way we view intersecting identities so that individuals can proudly embrace themselves.