Originally published in February of 2016.
Before coming to live in Europe for four months I entirely predicted being associated with negative American stereotypes. I knew when I met people that saying “I’m American” carried a certain weight and connotation. What I didn’t realize was what would come out of another aspect of my identity.
After saying “I’m American,” I am usually asked next what state I live in. I’ll answer “Texas,” and while I may hear responses joking about cowboys, barbecue, and republicanism, I’m far more often greeted with a very harsh reality that has left Texas with a reputation across the world. That reputation?- racist.
I distinctly remember speaking with a group of men at a bar in central London. The guys and I had already discussed our similar Indian heritage, and one mentioned his family had lived in Uganda-somewhere my dad grew up. When I told them I was from Texas, one boy gasped before saying, “Oh! They would not like us there!” I followed up, saying, “no, of course they would,” before multiple boys of the group said, “no, they’re racist in America, especially in Texas.”
Upon hearing this I was more than shocked, I was disappointed that the nation where I had grown up was represented this way to the rest of the world. My heart hurt for these boys, and all members of minorities, who looked at the U.S. and thought, “I would not be accepted there, they would judge me on the color of my skin.” The worst part about the situation was that for many American individuals, this statement could hold true.
The boys talked to me about racial tensions in the States, social injustice and Islamaphobia. I tried to convince them that Texans wouldn’t assume less of them based on their skin color- but the damage had been done and I could not win this battle.
Maybe if America examined certain aspects of society that could be fixed, a reputation like this would not stand. If members educated themselves on Islam, understood it as a peaceful culture and religion, then Islamaphobia wouldn’t be so prevalent, and minorities wouldn’t view America as so racist.
What is seen as “the most powerful country in the world,” “the land of opportunities,” and “the essence of freedom,” is now simultaneously associated with racism.
This encounter with the group of boys has not been my only. On four separate occasions, not all of which took place in London, I have been greeted with the notion that I am from a state of quintessential racism.
While I have seen instances that could reinforce this stereotype of the U.S. and Texas, I know both to be places of inclusion, love and friendliness. I do hope that the U.S. finds ways to make this reputation one that doesn’t exist at all.