My job here is to help you become American, and as such I want to make the journey as easy, accessible, and entertaining as possible.
Unfortunately, your enemies are legion.
They range from the comical microaggressions—for example, when people think SPEAKING ENGLISH AT A HIGHER VOLUME AND A SLOWER PACE will somehow make a person of color magically understand the language—to the frustrating ones, for example, when people assume you don’t speak or understand English just because of your name or ethnicity.
Your enemies include, but are not limited to, the following: online trolls who tell you to “go back to where you came from” and mock your “ethnic” last name; lazy stereotypes and conspiracy theories weaponized by politicians to scapegoat entire communities of people; managers who refuse to hire you or pay you less because of your skin color; shopkeepers who stick to you like sweat, eyeballing your every move, assuming the worst of your intentions; and friendly, educated, suburban neighbors who call the cops to investigate Black and brown people doing normal activities like selling lemonade, enjoying a barbecue, bird watching, or jogging in broad daylight.
If we analyze white supremacy from the philosophical lens of Star Wars, then it is all the Sith Lords, the Empire, and the First Order commanded by the Dark Side of the Force. It wants to dominate and impose its will on all galaxies, even those far, far away. Let’s just call this insidious force THE WHITENESS.
The Whiteness’s ability to inspire fear and anger is so strong that it corrupted many well-intentioned people, including people of color, to vote for an incompetent vulgarian in 2016 and 2020. It deludes many liberal and “moderate” whites into believing that they are the “good” ones who are committed to social justice as they talk about white privilege but never actually give up any of it. Still, they’ll have these discussions about racial equality with their white friends in establishments with white patrons from white neighborhoods—without including the rest of us.
The Whiteness has always played for all the marbles. It’s not interested in diplomacy, a representative government, free and fair elections, equitable pay, and a delicious buffet of meals from a multitude of countries. It needs a border wall, a Muslim Ban, and affirmative action for wealthy white students at Yale University. It’s a system, a structure, a paradigm, an ideology whose ultimate goal is domination and submission by any means necessary. The Whiteness also discovers foods that have always existed, such as hummus, and gives them a new twist and sells them overpriced at restaurants and gentrified neighborhoods. Hello, artisanal chocolate hummus!
Yet white people are human beings, who like me belong to the genus species homo sapiens. They simply have different levels of melanin than people of color. From my lifetime of observing them, with enough field research to earn me an honorary doctorate, I have deduced that many of them seem to like juicing, turtlenecks, Peloton bikes, excessive stickers on their bumpers, and donating to NPR. Verily, none of these are criminal acts. Every tribe has their own fascinating rituals and customs. For example, Pakistanis are genetically predisposed to transforming into wild, ravenous beasts at the sight of ripe, sweet mangoes, willing to sacrifice their young for a chance to enjoy the gooey nectar of the gods.
Who am I to judge?
White people are not the Borg, an alien, cybernetic species that share a hive-like consciousness. There is no one white world, white community, white narrative, or other convenient catchall that absorbs all the whites of the world into one bland, nondescript monolith. (White supremacists would beg to differ on that. Its core adherents believe that “white people’’ are descended from Norse gods, etched from their Viking ancestors who all happen to resemble Thor and Scandinavian models.) White people come in different shapes, genders, nationalities, political persuasions, and personalities.
In fact, many who are now part of the Whites in America weren’t even considered white back in the day. They were excluded from the club. Just talk to Irish Catholics and Italian Americans who know their history.
Skin color itself is a product and spectrum of natural selection, evolution, and human migration in relation to our interaction and duration with sunlight. As you’ve heard by now in countless school lectures and public service announcements, the whole concept of race is just a social construct. The colonial records reveal there were no “white” people in Virginia when African slaves arrived in 1619. They made their first appearance about 60 years later. In America, “white” as a racial category was invented by the ruling class to create a system of racial privileges, control, and power for themselves at the expense and exploitation of others, namely “Black” people.
In my experience, each time topics like white supremacy, the Whiteness, white privilege, the caucasity, goras, and wypipo are discussed, some whites take it as a personal assault and an insult. They feel I’m slapping them across their face with my chappal. They bite their lips, their faces tighten, their bodies become tense, they cross their arms and lean back, flustered and hot.
They shut down.
Or, they hit back, defensive, holding back tears, making an impassioned case for their wokeness—oftentimes literally saying, “I’m woke!”—and insisting through use of specific life examples how they are not in any way privileged or racist but instead have lived through hardship, succeeded despite setbacks, have always tried to be allies of people of color, and have just managed to succeed due to their own merit.
During these speeches, you can expect to hear some of the following citations:
I’d totally march with MLK if I were alive back then.
I went to the Beyoncé concert and loved it.
I once had an Asian boyfriend/girlfriend.
I love Indian food, even the spices!
I hated the white family in Get Out and clapped when they died!
I convinced my friends not to wear blackface/brownface/yellowface or a culturally appropriated costume for our neighborhood Halloween party.
I voted for Obama.
I read Michelle Obama’s Becoming. I made my mom read it.
I read Ta-Nehisi Coates. I made my dad read Between the World and Me.
I love Rumi and Sufism.
White people suffer too; just read Hillbilly Elegy.
I don’t see race.
And those are just examples of some of the pleasant encounters.
Others hit back harder. They suggest that I am in fact the real racist for talking about race in the first place. They accuse me of being an antiwhite racist who only sees race, who can’t see past race, who is stuck, swimming, bathing in racism, because I’m a professional race baiter and race hustler whose vocations and extracurricular activities involve peddling my brown skin to make a quick buck by sucking the ever-flowing teat of white, liberal guilt.
(It’s delicious by the way. Salty, but delicious.)
As you can tell, this isn’t my first rodeo. So, I assure you, the enemy is not white people.
But if we don’t acknowledge and name the real enemy, how can we confront and fight it, oh fellow traveler who so desperately yearns to taste the fried glory that is America?
Hiccups are to be expected; roadblocks and potholes are routine on this eventful journey to the American dream, with the occasional fatal police stop. My parents, who came as immigrants, said it was normal to encounter the casual racist joke, the mocking of accents, or “the great lumping.” The great lumping sounds like a kinky and adventurous tantric sex act, but it’s what happens when your unique ethnicity and story are flattened and lumped into the giant burlap sack of brownness. Every Pakistani and Bangladeshi now becomes an Indian, who might as well be an Arab, because, hey, close enough, and we all look the same and geography is not America’s strong point, so let’s just stop being so sensitive!
The Whiteness doesn’t want us to be American. But since it can’t remove all of us, it will always find ways to dominate the rest of us and make our lives uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s easier not to resist and fight back, but just to give in.
If that’s your chosen strategy, then allow me to share this helpful guide on how to give in to the Whiteness, assimilate, and become a model Amreekan.
How to Be a Model Amreekan
Censor your babies’ “ethnic” names. Instead, ask yourself, “What American names will white people like?” Adam and Laila are safe bets.
Study the Rust Belt and endlessly interview white undecided voters in Midwestern coffee shops to understand white grievance.
Be an “essential” worker during a pandemic, but never demand or expect essential wages, benefits, or health care.
Assume that wealthy and white immigrants are “expats” while poor brown and Black immigrants are “foreigners” and a “public charge” who should go back to their “shithole countries.” Lust after white immigrants from Norway—preferably the ones who look like Vikings and Thor.
Say you’re drinking chai tea and eating naan bread, otherwise known as tea tea and bread bread.
Whine about liberal college kids and being “canceled” by woke activists from the platforms of influential newspapers, magazines, podcasts, and talk shows.
Applaud the curiosity and bravery of your white colleagues for tackling subjects in which they have zero expertise while the person of color with the actual experience is relegated to work on “ethnic” stories and “diversity issues.” Always assume your white colleague is neutral and professional, and your colleague of color is biased and emotional.
Support free speech by trying to ban critical race theory from being taught at schools. Protect your children from turning into godless Marxists who hate gender pronouns and white people.
Be the one token person of color at school or work who does all the work in educating everyone about history, culture, racism, and diversity without asking anyone to do any homework or heavy lifting on their own.
Refer to the children of Latino immigrants as “anchor babies” and the children of white immigrants as “babies.”
Celebrate wealthy white men with silver spoons for “keeping it real” when they challenge you by being “politically incorrect,” but when a person of color challenges you, call them uppity and angry.
See John McCain (born in Panama) and Ted Cruz (real name Rafael, born in Canada) as red-blooded Americans, while suspecting Black people like Barack Obama and Kamala Harris, both born in America, of being foreigners.
Rail against Mexican immigrants and “welfare queens” for being lazy and taking handouts, but whine and complain when the government takes away the Medicare and Social Security of “real” hardworking Americans.
Refuse to accept Santa Claus, a fictional character, as anything other than an old, bearded, white man, become enraged over the fake War on Christmas, and ignore the real War on Terror that has killed and devastated tens of thousands of innocent lives.
Demand immediate racial reconciliation, but never the truth.
On our journey toward becoming American, we must always be vigilant. If you’re a person of color, you can’t ignore the Whiteness. You will be tempted by its power, coveting its warm, comforting embrace, even if it means renouncing your identity, cultural roots, and community. You might voluntarily allow yourself to melt into its giant, bland, tasteless pot, deluding yourself into believing the Whiteness actually likes your “ethnic” smell and “exotic” flavor.
You will wear blue contact lenses, shorten your name to “Mo,” and tell people you’re Mediterranean even though you are brown-eyed Muhammad from Lahore who couldn’t find the Mediterranean Sea on a map if his life depended on it. You will complain about those “lazy blacks” and “goddamn Mexicans” who take welfare and don’t work hard as you hire those very same people on minimum wage because their labor keeps your successful business afloat. You will complain about Islamophobia and demand that other groups help your community push back against hate as you continue supporting homophobic and racist politicians who pass laws that harm other marginalized communities.
You will spend four years whining about Trump and his hateful rhetoric but end up quietly voting for him because you love his tax cuts. You will complain that America is going to hell and that nobody teaches their kids morals or selflessness and then proceed to throw extravagant weddings and parties during a pandemic.
You will always complain about the goras behind their backs but never, ever criticize the Whiteness publicly, because you don’t want to rock the boat, even after you have attained power and wealth and status and can actually help reform the system.
You will feel anxious when any other person of color succeeds in your workplace and threatens to take away your coveted token status. You will go full Highlander and insist that “there can be only one” from your community—you—who can succeed.
You would rather go into debt and suffer from crippling anxiety and stress than give up your successful lifestyle because you will be obsessed with “what will people say?”
As you desperately try to hide all your problems, frustrations, and dysfunctions, you will smile wide with your white teeth showing and make sure your partners and kids do the same at social events, so everyone can see and celebrate you as a perfect, Amreekan family.
Excerpted from GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American. Copyright (c) 2022 by Wajahat Ali. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.