How to Break a Brown Girl

Playing Jenga

How do you break a brown girl?

Well for starters, you take her out of her (brown) country and put her in a white one. This way you make her realize she is brown, a lower-ranked pawn in the chessboard of colors. This is just the beginning. Repeatedly and loudly compliment her on her command of the English language, so that she does not forget that she is foreign, that language too is a colonial legacy, over which she has flimsy claim. Ask her if she learned how to speak so fluently from the movies or her parents (because they belong together on the spectrum of parenting). Ask her what language she spoke at home. Look suspicious if English isn’t part of the exotic mix you were expecting. Mock and marvel at her accent. Make her visible each time you meet her, except when it counts. In a classroom or a meeting, make sure you talk over her, especially about that one time you went to India and spent a day in a local slum. You know this. You’ve got this covered.

Tell her you love brown women for their feisty attitude or that you appreciate their docile spirit —whichever stereotype you have decided to own. Of course this is not offensive, you are only highlighting what is wonderful about brown women. Why would they not like that, unless there is something wrong with them? Point out there is no need to get churlish (churlishly). Pat her gently, condescendingly. Ask her to make you some butter chicken and tell her about your love for the wonderful festival of colors in May. If she tries to tell you that the festival is celebrated in March—May is the mid-western calendar date to prevent hypothermia—remember you can’t be bothered by that level of detail. If she tries to tell you she does not enjoy cooking just know that is beyond your ability to comprehend. Talk about how the food at a restaurant you tried was spicier than you expected and they really should have warned you better. Ask her about her arranged marriage and why it hasn’t happened yet. Insist on asking more questions, convinced she is shy and just needs some prodding, like cattle. At this point, she should be starting to seethe and crack, but you are a long way from being done.

Butter chicken curry.
Butter chicken curry.

Launch into cookie-cutter stories about your visits to the Indian subcontinent. Perhaps your story is about how that trip changed your life. You saw people who live in slums and somehow still managed to crack a smile (oh the wonder!) and it thawed your hard heart. Never mind the homeless who live in your cities, the people at every single city corner asking for food and clothes. Poverty lives in brown countries. Talk about your experience sitting on the floor and eating a warm home-cooked meal. How something about that meal became the unique applesauce of your vanilla life. How someone gave you a trinket as a gift, you gave it symbolic meaning and it has now changed your life and tackily adorned your living room. Tell her you returned a different person.

Your story may be the opposite of this. You could tell her tales of your extensive diarrhea and the insufferable rudeness of crowds and how dusty everything is. You could emphasize on the dirty beggar who would not stop touching you. Talk as if she has no idea about any of this. Again, it is your discovery of this that is the focal point of the story. At this point, you should be cracking her skull open with boredom.

Indian Friends Celabrating Holi

You may not even be white. This story line still holds. Now that you feel you have familiarity, you could launch into bathroom stories. Ask about how people use bathrooms and which hands they use to clean their bums. Never mind if her face has shut down on you, you’re on a roll now. Tell her she is lucky not to burn in the sun and expect her to accept this silently—after all you truly do suffer in the sun. Ask her to translate a few token words from English into Hindi and take great care in pronouncing them correctly (but semi-joke if you can shorten her name—that feels like more than you can manage).

Question her about her gods. If you find that she has none, tell her your favorite story about the brown person at your church. Then tell her about the brown family in your suburb. Refuse to understand that all brown people are not the same. Think briefly about how those who came in the 70s and 80s are different than the younger folks who travel now. The one whose wedding you attended could be nothing like the person in front of you. But remember you know better than that—finding common denominators is your skill. At this point, the work of breaking a brown woman is well and cooking. All you have to do is add a final touch.

Tell her you know how she feels as a brown woman in a different country. You had the same feeling when you went to Mexico for spring break last year. Watch her come completely undone. Blame it on the surliness of brown people.

Brown paper parcel with fragile sticker
Fragile sticker
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