A hundred thoughts flood my mind.
I am immediately small.
What if my hair smells like curry? What if my curves protrude too far?
My brown skin already stands out; browner than it does in my own family. I’m of a medium complexion. But with them, I can see that I’m coffee next to milk.
I stand apart feeling different.
I don’t know what to say.
I have so much to my name but it disappears. I am nothing more than an intruder in their space.
I immediately feel unworthy.
Because my body is not slender.
Because my ears hear a language it doesn’t understand.
Because my tongue can’t speak it.
Because I don’t know if I will ever fit in.
And I have never wanted to.
But I want to be seen.
I want to be enough.
Why can’t I feel enough?
I want to be the most beautiful girl in the room.
Because sometimes I am.
But it’s not of their standard.
So instead, I feel invisible.
People walk past me with caution, their hands don’t brush mine.
Like I’m a disease.
They don’t know what to talk to me about.
They don’t even try.
They don’t want to know me beyond the smell of curry in my hair.
It doesn’t matter that I went to a prestigious school. It doesn’t matter that I have many accomplishments and accolades to my name.
At that table, I feel like my ancestors.
Awarded a seat.
But they eat in silence.
It makes me think it’s because I am there.
“Yes, madam. No, madam.”
I wonder how it felt for my people on the sugar cane fields?
It makes me feel empathy for the old men I used to see working at old Durban hotels. They’d look down on us as if we didnt know anything; as if we didnt deserve to be there. Because they had earned a place at the table.
Because they had been brainwashed into assimilation.
Have we been running away from our history because we’re ashamed?
Have we been assimilating whiteness as our benchmark for greatness?
It goes further.
Have I been running away from my history because I want to be someone who can show everyone that we are more than what’s in our townships?
Do we want to be…
More than rolling rotis?
More than pots of food on the fire?
More than cutting vegetables at large tables outside?
More than sarees and gold jewellery at functions?
More than sweet meats at Diwali.
More than boot jols and dancing in car parks?
More than prayer dates?
But are we?
Are we really?
We aren’t. We are every stereotype. Even though we are more.
And that doesn’t make us unworthy.
I think all we want is to feel seen.
In all the invisibility we face, we have tried to assimilate so that our identity can be something they can identify with.
Instead of us making them try to identify with us.
I can’t help that my curves protrude.
I can’t help that my hair is thick and black. It sometimes smells like curry after cooking for a few hours.
My skin is brown.
My hands are sometimes stained from eating with my fingers.
My stomach sometimes craves something you might not understand.
Try to understand.