Growing up, I never really thought about my identity too much. I was often surrounded my people like me: Indian skin, Tanzanian parents, American passport. I spent the first few years of my life in Orlando but moved back to my parents’ home in Dar-es-Salaam very young. The culture I grew up around was very religious and quite conservative, but thankfully my parents and many of my friends’ parents were much more progressive. Spending summers in the US also exposed me to a more modern Islamic culture. I was fortunate enough to go to private schools in Tanzania, where I was exposed to a very diverse student body. I also spent a lot of time with my Khoja community. But as I grew older, my American accent, my tastes in music, and my social beliefs set me apart from many of my brown peers. I was often called “too white” or “shoga” for supporting social issues such as marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose. I believe this ostracism is what led me away from my Islamic culture and friends, and made me rethink the role that God and religion played in my life.
In 2016, I moved back to the US to begin college at Georgetown University. It was here that I really started to define myself and my identity. The first question I was often asked when meeting people was “where are you from”, and I had a tough time explaining my culture and the Indian diaspora in East Africa.
Many times when I said I was Tanzanian, I would get asked “but you’re not black?” so I would just default to saying I was from Florida. Over time, I learned more about my own culture, and gained much more pride in it. I now feel much more comfortable explaining my identity. I still often feel like I don’t belong to any one group. I’m not truly African, nor truly Indian, nor even truly Muslim. Many Americans today would argue that I’m not truly American either. However, I define my own identity, and I belong to all these groups. But I’m still aware of the race implications that come with existing with brown skin and a Muslim name in America, all I can do is try and educate people on my story, as a Hybrid South Asian. -Kumayl Jacksi