Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Looking at America From the Outside

I am brown.

Now why would a suspicious-looking bugger like me start off his piece in a newspaper like that? That’s just drawing more attention than I can afford, isn’t it? It probably is, but I did so for the following reason: In no other country would the above description of myself be relevant.

The mere existence of the factor of skin color in people’s relations with each other is quite astounding to most people from outside this country. And I am not quite sure as to how I should go about even talking about this issue. So I guess I’ll take the very first thing that comes to my mind, and that is the segregation of people, even Georgetown students, based on race and/or ethnic group.

I am by no means implying that people do not interact with other ethnic groups or that multi-ethnic cliques do not exist. But what is striking is that on a campus and more generally in a nation as diverse as this, such groups are not as much the norm as one might expect.

South Asians, henceforth referred to as desis, tend to stick to their own kind. East Asians generally hang out together. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with this, nor is there a lack of multi-ethnic groups, one does wonder as to why ethnicity and/or race is relevant on a college campus where people do not hesitate to make the effort to learn other cultures.

The reason why I see no reason for people of similar ethnic backgrounds to hang out together is perhaps my own lack of understanding and my belief that at the end of the day, you are all American. And I mean that in a good way. Let me explain.

I am a Pakistani Muslim. When I interact with Americans of the same background, I find that we have very few things in common. That includes our outlook on what our common religion is. And I find that they share much more in common with Muslims of other ethnic origins and even with white converts. This semi-empirical evidence led me to conclude, and I think most American Muslims would agree, that American Islam is a way of life that, while deriving from the culture of the Muslim world, remains ultimately independent of it.

I have found the same among South Asians. I have more in common with an Indian FOB than I do with a Pakistani-American. Everything becomes American once it crosses the Atlantic or the Pacific (whichever way your boat was coming). Perhaps you can understand my perplexity a bit more now. Why would ethnicity be relevant when everything has become thoroughly Americanized?

Herein lies my own lack of vision. I am still looking at this nation from the outside, where everything appears to be one monolithic whole. In my mind, ethnicity is only relevant when you have a defined geographical homeland, like the Sindhis living in Sindh (a province of Pakistan). It is the same in most other countries, even in Europe, where you have the Catalans of Catalonia which is spread over France and Spain.

But such a creation of ethnic concentration is not possible in a country where every person ultimately comes as an individual. Yet the need for ethnic identities does not go away in this highly individualistic alternate universe. Just because it is Americanized does not mean that every ethnic identity is the same as all the rest. And so you have these islands of ethnic concentration popping up every time a group of desi/black/Hispanic people see each other and decide that they like each other’s company. And therefore, it remains relevant for us to describe ourselves by our skin color or ethnic origin. Therefore the following: I am brown/desi/Pakistani/Muslim.

Addendum: If the above is true, would it not make more sense to have a system of proportional representation in the House of Representatives?

Farooq Tirmizi is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at tirmizithehoya.com. FRESH OFF THE BOAT appears every other Tuesday.

Donate to The Hoya

Your donation will support the student journalists of Georgetown University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Hoya