“Can you help me put on a sari? I have an Indian wedding I am attending next weekend!”
That was at least the second time during my career I was asked that question. In both instances, I vaguely knew the person. In both instances, they randomly approached me at work.
There was the time I was in the sandwich line trying to decide between a tuna melt or an egg salad wrap. And then another time, I was walking down the hall, headed to a meeting. I believe there may have been a third time. I have likely blocked that encounter from my memory.
And so why is it that this randomly happens to me? Is it because I have a friendly face? Is it because they had seen me wear a sari before? Or is it because I am Brown?
For the record, I have never worn a sari to work. Because I actually don’t know how to put on a sari.
She asked me to help her put on a sari. So what?
It’s the “so what?” that gets me. It has been part of the narrative of my experience growing up Brown in this country. Of a whole host of things people have asked me and continue to ask me, the list includes:
“Do you know Dr. Raj? He’s the dentist we go to and he is Indian.”
“Do you know our neighbor Anuradha? She’s Indian and makes great samosas.”
“Do you know this woman named Kiran? She’s Indian and she’s also in marketing!”
We are surrounded by labels. And so at work and in our communities, we want to check the box.
Dr. Raj. Anuradha. Kiran. Apparently, I should also know every Indian person within a 50-mile radius. And sometimes the ones out of state, too.
After having worked for many years in marketing, I know we marketers make our living putting labels on products. That’s how we sell lots of stuff. Gluten free. Contains SPF 50. Paraben free. All natural. Dairy free. Made with no preservatives.
We are surrounded by labels. And so at work and in our communities, we want to check the box. We want to put people in…