I couldn’t emotionally handle ‘Get Out.’ Let me try to at least get my words out as best as I can. I am so ashamed, embarrassed and hurt. I am ashamed to be a bystander. I am ashamed that I was not any better than Rose. Or Missy. Or Dean.
Let me tell you all a story.
I once had the privilege of falling in love with the most handsome, smartest, and most importantly, kindest human being in the world. He also happened to be a black man in America, who took on a brave task: dating a Bengali urban-American whose family was so deeply infected with colonialism and hypocrisy.
He fell in love with a girl, whose father got back home from a district 75 public school every afternoon and expressed how hurt he was by comments fellow white teachers made about his accent, and therefore his accompanied lack of intelligence. He then, simultaneously, questioned the merits and accomplishments of his Hispanic and black students with heavy apprehension. See, he is from a country where TV showed white doctors and black drug addicts to cure them. Chinese shop owners and Hispanic shoplifters. This was yet the continuation of white supremacy in the East.
[Read More: Why Confronting Anti-Black Racism as South Asians of the Next Generation is so Important]
The very first man who owned my heart and taught me how to love, not my father, of course, the African American man whose name I eagerly moaned, fell in love with a scared little 18-year-old. My mother knew I couldn’t control who I gave my heart to, but she also knew her voice meant absolutely nothing under her own roof.
I remember coming home in high school, scared, excited, and confused. I had an amazing, discrete date with a black man I could not stop kissing for the life of me. It was a Friday night and we were going over to my family’s house. I knew I had to stay silent as all my cousins talked about their boyfriends and crushes, white men with green or blue eyes. They couldn’t possibly understand what I found in the dark boy who resembled the men their dads told them to stay away from.
So I stayed silent and avoided getting teased. I recall, going home, sobbing to myself.
God, why can’t I be normal and date Bengali men? Is there something wrong with me, God?
I spent the next 4 years avoiding men, of all races, who tried to court me. But see this isn’t about me. This is about the greatest man on the planet that I fell in love with, and the man I fought off so hard.
When I felt my heart being released from my own chest, I cried and spoke to my siblings first. They were just as frightened as I was.
Wait, you think you wanna marry him? You know Bappy will kill you right?
I knew that better than I knew any other fact in the world. So the coward in me reminded the man I loved of that fact, every single horrendous moment he spent with me.
I am disgusted with myself for being that coward. I spent my whole days in the arms of a gentle, sweet man who never rose his voice at me, while I shuddered at my own Baba’s voice. As I heard my dad say,
God take me away before I see my children with African Americans,
I cried in guilt, shame, and anger. By then, my silent mother had died and I was even more alone. I lost hope. I lost the hope to love.
How could I have been such a coward? I made love to an African American behind closed doors, but could not stand by his side to silence my family, the world. I loved so hard, yet I fought so little.
The rhetoric in ‘Get Out’ gave me chills, not simply because of its impressive plot and hefty dialogue, but because I was witnessing my family’s thoughts in action. The Asian American in the film who inquired about the protagonist’s stance on the African American experience was so powerfully symbolic of Asian Americans I know. We are White when our privilege allows us to be, and we are a “disadvantaged group” when we are asked to explain ourselves.
While European Americans fetishized African American features, my family feared and abhorred them. I was carefully reminded that tall, dark arms weren’t meant for hugs and love, and if somehow I ever felt those sentiments around a black man, it was merely my immaturity and lack of wisdom.
So, despite spending 3 years together, I always held my African-American lover to higher standards, not realizing that I am asking for him to undo long, strategic years of colonialism and White supremacy. I thought, if my black lover was more educated, calmer, cooler, I could prove his valuable worth that I felt so deep in my heart. I don’t deserve his forgiveness, and I will forever pay the price of my mistake, my first love lost because I was a coward.
I write this, especially for my Asian sisters, who have reached out to me about similar traumatic experiences. Our love is so much stronger than social construct, and my loves, I am so sorry so many of us have never heard this in our lives. That love matters, that we should feel butterflies when we kiss our lovers. We must feel love when we make love, not compliance to our ancestors.
I will never forget the words of my first lover:
“Alima, if I could I would paint myself lighter, learn your language, anything. But I will never be enough. I have never felt less to be a black man in American than when I fell in love with you. And I still love you with all my heart.”
The valor in his love was stronger than racism and hate. To love someone who hates you, yet knows not to you, is the bravest deed of all.
I am so ashamed I was a bystander…
Alima Chowdhury is a 23-year-old, originally from Bangladesh, who grew up in the Bronx, New York for the past 16 years. She studied Speech Pathology and Special Education at Pace University and will be a Secondary English teacher in Ethiopia, June of 2017 through the Peace Corps. In her spare time, she can be found reading poetry, thrifting, or begging her cousins to apply henna on her hands. She is a lover of autonomy, dainty piercings, and cheeky feminism posters.