Are you Christian or are you Indian? A question that has surrounded me in my schooling career.In 6th grade, I was given my newfound nickname: the coconut. Brown on the outside but white on the inside.
The Indian who was Christian, the brown-skinned kid practicing a white religion. Throughout my schooling, I had been asked every possible question about my race and religion, often with an intention to learn how the two intertwine, but the questions often had negative connotations. My classmates hadn’t seen a Christian Indian before, so it was understandable. However they thought since I was Indian, I had to have good grades. I worked hard to convince my classmates that my grades weren’t due to a superhuman gene passed through Indians or a potion that I drank everyday, rather it was the result of an activity called studying. But since I was Indian, I wasn’t considered to be good at sports.
I was told that I should go study something rather than play sports. This intrigued me, why should the color of my skin denote any skill whatsoever. I was the kid with the mediocre PE mile times, but I was first pick for basketball or volleyball.
When I challenged them with that, they retorted that my Christian nature was kicking in. My religion somehow was making me better at sports. One day in 7th grade, a classmate announced that all Indians were either super rich CEO’s that you see in magazines or they were the receiving end of tech support calls. A couple of people agreed with him, but I sat there stunned at his words.
I stood up and demanded, “Then what am I?” He glanced towards me. Eventually, he called me tech support. Between “I’m sorry I said that.
I was being an idiot”, “smart,” and “tech support”, insulting me was the easiest for him to do. I thought high school would be a new beginning for me. I didn’t have my old nickname, but the concept of the coconut still followed me. My freshman year classes were composed of people from various ethnicities. There were many students of European, Arab, South-African and Native American descent, however, they all had fair skin. When introducing ourselves, everyone repeated my name. They glanced at each other with confused looks. I looked Indian.
I had the skin tone, the slight accent, and the grades. However, my name Georgi was a white name. Brown skin and white name? That didn’t add up. In 10th grade, we learned about the violence and destruction caused by the Crusades in the 11th century. A boy in my class turned around and whispered in my ear, “Destroying their lives too huh.
They should send you back to where you came from.” I wondered if he ever told that to his German girlfriend too.I became insecure of my ethnicity and religion. I began denying my identity. I told people that I was Indian, but since I lived in America I wasn’t really Indian. I told others that I was only Christian because my parents wanted me to be. However, in doing so I became estranged from my identity.
I soon realized, I wasn’t being myself. I realized I wasn’t the fairest nor the most handsome. I didn’t have the most muscle or the best flexibility. But I found I had something others didn’t: my identity. I learned that my ethnicity and my religion were a part of me, but how other people saw my background did not define me.
I embraced being a Christian. I embraced being Indian. I embraced being a brown-skinned kid practicing a white religion, but it was my skin color and my religion. But most of all, I embraced my identity: a coconut.