There’s a bit of a meme on Facebook to replace your profile picture for a week with the picture of a celebrity you resemble.
I appreciate the fact that my skin colour/features combination is a little unusual, but it does mean I get left out of things like this. “Come as a celebrity you look like” parties are also difficult to imagine enjoying. This isn’t just a race thing, looking like a generally thin, able-bodied, cisgender celebrity even in fun is difficult for a lot of people, but when it’s just my face under scrutiny I become very aware of my race as a barrier to social acceptance on this level.
What’s more, I am unwilling to use pictures of the celebrities who come closest because their background is Black, not South Asian, and I don’t want to identify myself as connected to an ethnicity that is not my own. In the same way, I wouldn’t put up a picture of a white celebrity who happened to have exactly the same features and hair as I do, unless attached with the label “the white version of me” to draw attention to the fact that my ethnicity is different. I could do the same for “the Black version of me”, but then it could sound like I’m trying to distance myself from a skin colour darker than my own, a bit of an internal prejudice for people of colour (from which I am not immune, and will go into in a future post).
Unpacking this a bit more, I think I’d put “the white version of me” to make it clear that I’m not getting above myself, in the same way as I might say “the thin version of me” or “a prettier version of me.” How messed up is that? In contrast, the reason I would write “the Black version of me ” is because people could think I’m Black, and have cultural expectations of me that I cannot fulfil. But I’m actually half-white, and not Black in the slightest. I suppose to an extent ‘white’ and ‘not white’ really are the only categories that matter.
But this is where the mixed race perspective comes in: even if I were to sift through Bollywood stars until I found the closest candidate, I would still state that this is “the Indian version of me,” because I would want to make it clear in advance that I cannot fulfil those cultural expectations. The most common expectations I have encountered are of language (sorry, I only speak English and Japanese), religion (raised Christian, currently lapsed) and heterosexual dating behaviour (“I am a South Asian man, you are a South Asian woman, therefore I am entitled to your company!” An unflattering picture of South Asian men, but the majority of my experience to date, and again a topic for a future post).
I am English. That is my cultural background. I am not in denial of my roots, as I have been told by some, but aware of what my roots are not. I am also aware that my face does not fit those roots. For this reason, it would be impossible for me to put up the picture of a celebrity lookalike that I am comfortable with unless she had been raised in an English-speaking country to one South Asian parent, one white parent. Yes, celebrities like that do exist, but I have yet to come across one who looks even remotely like me, hence defeating the purpose of a celebrity lookalike.
Incidentally, this is a great example of a blog being used for self-discovery – I had no idea that I had these particular issues with this lookalike meme, just that I felt excluded because of my race. It’s the type of subject I couldn’t raise with my friends though, as not one of them has this particular mixture of cultural baggage. I hope this blog leads me to learn a lot more about myself.