I grew up watching my mother get insults from random white people she didn’t know in public for wearing the Pakistani dress shalwar kameez. For her, it was just her clothes. Nothing too threatening about a brown woman in a shalwar kameez with her three daughters along, right? But anything that is not anglo-centric in America is instantly alienated. I remember how we would walk through malls and look at long skirts and silk blouses for her and she would make sure she bought something “western” but that also covered her because she followed her Islamic faith. Why? So her colleagues wouldn’t make fun of her at the bank.
Every time she would wear a blouse looking at herself in the mirror, she would turn around and ask me, I was barely 8, “Do I look educated now?” Like as if she needed their approval to function in that society despite having a masters degree and work experience, despite being fluent in English and excellent at work ethics. What the fuck for? When a white person comes to a brown or black country and wears our cultural clothes, we’re supposed to celebrate this display of “diversity.” But if a person of color tries celebrating their heritage in a white environment, accusations of “backwardness” commence.
It broke my heart but it never broke my pride in my culture. If you see me in America wearing a shalwar kameez with my dupatta dangling down my shoulders and my feet in my chappals and give me a stare that implies “What are you wearing, ew?” or “Wow, so exotic!” or “Which backward country is that from?”, I will greet you with my middle finger and be on my lofty way.