On Sept. 20, 1994, baby Bryan burst onto the scene into the world of consciousness and earthly delights. Turns out, baby Bryan was as white as snow, both to my surprise and perhaps yours.
But how did I get so brown, you ask? Well, over the years, the brown factor has been increasing exponentially. I’d say I achieved peak brownness in my early teenage years.
But just as I was nearing the tender golden brown that I am today, I moved into a predominantly white neighborhood. It was around this time that I began to see myself in a completely new light.
The first day of fourth grade was a rough one for me. I had spent the last eight years in a fairly mixed town, and now here I was as not simply the new kid, but also the only brown kid in my elementary school.
I was like a single Cocoa Puff floating in a bowl of milk—cold and alone.
Wherever I walked, I overheard people whispering my name and glaring at me. Hardly anybody would talk to me, and one kid even had the nerve to ask me if I was from Saudi Arabia with a cringe-worthy drawl.
By the time recess came around, I couldn’t maintain my composure any longer. I had never before felt so misunderstood. My only reaction was to curl up by the corner of the building and cry.
It was the first time in my life that I became acutely aware of my race. It never occurred to me that such things mattered, and at the time I couldn’t even comprehend how to cope with the feeling. I became incredibly self-conscious and never truly felt comfortable in my hometown for the vast majority of my middle and high school years. And just as I was beginning to come to terms with life at home, it was about time to head off to Duke.
Coming to Duke was a big change for me. No longer was I the single Cocoa Puff in the cereal bowl, but I became part of a well-balanced breakfast.
Diversity within the student body was a strong consideration for me when choosing colleges—and Duke definitely delivered. But right off the bat, people began to self-segregate, and I didn’t want to perpetuate the trend by any means.
Unfortunately, I really think my efforts to break from the norm just caused more tension than they were worth. It became evident that a small minority of my dorm residents had any respect for me, and the few people I interacted with never truly appreciated my company.
This could very easily be the fault of my own personality, but I believe that by forcing my previous experiences at home to be the life that embodies my college experience, I had a great deal of trouble adjusting.
But in recent history, I’ve found a lot of good in embracing the chocolaty goodness that makes up who I am. I shouldn’t have to feel the need to stifle an aspect of myself that is a large part of my identity, whether I want it to be or not. Everyone has their own prejudices inherent within them, and cognizance of it can only enhance my interactions with others.
I no longer seek to be identified with who I was at home, as much as I find solace in it. Here at Duke, I accept my new identity and know there is a lot that I have yet to experience and understand. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not Indian—in fact, my parents are a special flavor of brown: Guyanese. Most people haven’t a clue about my culture, let alone are able to find Guyana on a map. But the people I ended up shying away from, in fact, are the people that will understand me most, and I regret the choices I made first semester.
Societal pressures and inherent prejudices are something I have learned not to try to escape, but to serve as a guide for how I carry myself and live my life.
There’s a good reason why people associate themselves the way they do, and I shouldn’t be so critical of the norms that have been present for so many years.
I’m not about to get swept up by the tide, but I’ll gladly let the waves carry me gently back to shore.
Bryan Somaiah is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs every other Thursday. Send Bryan a message on Twitter @BSomaiahChron.