When a Tik Tok sound reveals so much more
“I am so glad the North Indian half of my boyfriend is his dad. I could never imagine taking his mother’s maiden name because it’s so long!”
A college peer of mine said this, with a chuckle, to me, a South Indian woman with a long last name.
Although my family is one hundred percent Tamil, I shot at every opportunity to let other Indians know that my mother actually grew up in Mumbai, and that because of this, my mother is more fluent in Hindi and Marathi than Tamil. I would tell people that I understand Tamil, but I know Hindi too. In fact, I know Hindi better than Tamil, and that this was as good of a reason as any to accept me as someone who isn’t Tamil.
When college started, I had the same mentality. I disengaged from my Tamil identity. With every South Asian I encountered on campus, I made sure they knew that I could understand Hindi too. Until one day while studying in a group, a very telling comment was made.
“Puja doesn’t really know Hindi, dude. Her Hindi is fake. She’s a Southie.”
Yikes. This was a wake up call. No matter how hard I tried, no one would ever see me as anything other than who I was, a South Indian.
Let’s circle back. What got me to this point? I am a South Indian woman. So, why was I so ashamed?
Was it because the follow-up question to “Are you Indian?” was always “So, do you speak Hindi”? Was it because the North Indians in my community really thought a song like Lungi Dance and a movie like Chennai Express were appropriate? Was it because North Indian girls in high school used to tell me that I was “pretty for a South Indian”?
The answer is yes, it was definitely all those things, and it was definitely because of many more encounters that helped establish an internalized racism towards myself. But I am actively fighting against those thoughts, because when I was younger I didn’t realize that I had a choice in determining my worth.
After the prejudice I faced, it was inspiring to see South Indians be openly passionate about our culture on Tik Tok utilizing a wonderfully remixed sound. This sound was used to show off our culture in a way I could have never imagined doing when I was younger. Especially now, when shows like Indian Matchmaking continue to perpetuate colorism in our community, there is significance in employing any platform to uplift the voices of those who are consistently overlooked. The problem arose when this concept was neglected and the sound was utilized to further an overtake of North Indian culture.
Now, even typing that sentence made me realize how petty this situation can come across. It’s just a sound… on Tik Tok… what’s the big deal?
The big deal is the bigger picture. Tik Tok helped start a conversation that our generation needs to have. A moment was created to elevate the voices of those who had felt bullied for their cultures and overlooked for the amount of pigment in their skin. It’s these little moments of appreciation that create the greater change in a cultural outlook. But when even these events are overridden, change cannot occur. It is the hierarchy of prejudice and discrimination — when we allow indirect occurrences to pass underneath our skin, we allow those with prejudice to continue to push the boundaries until a direct prejudicial action occurs.
It’s our generation’s responsibility to change the narrative. It’s not our parents’ faults if they came in with their inherent biases, but it is our job to reject those biases and stop them from becoming ingrained in us. As part of the South Asian diaspora, many of us are in countries that can treat people of color poorly. It should be obvious that fighting among ourselves is trivial. If we want to help create change in the countries we reside in now, we have to stop discriminating among ourselves. We need to recognize that these divides were placed between us long ago, and that it is our duty to break down the walls now.
For the time being, that means amplifying the voices that have been drowned out for so long. That means uplifting the people who have been pushed down for so long. And, for goodness sake, if that means giving South Indians a sound on Tik Tok, then let that be the case.
Let’s lift up a generation of South Indians who can embrace who they are, who don’t disengage from their identities, and who know their worth. Once we accept each other, and ourselves, for who we are, we will be able to address even more issues in our community and the communities around us — together, as human beings.