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The घोटाला of ‘inclusion and diversity’

I am no longer asking for a seat at the table.

The thought of ‘inclusion and diversity’ which once brought up hopes and expectations of opportunities and rich learning experiences, has now turned sour. I find myself asking ‘but where are we being included?’. Where is this disembodied and almost figurative space that we’re being heralded to? I ask myself this as I sit in the common kitchen in a University accommodation, and watch groups barely interacting with each other while remaining within themselves. I ask as I watch group meetings take place and somehow White people always end up in charge or end up speaking the most. I ask as I walk down the street and a middle-aged White woman yells at me to go back where I came from. I ask as I watch my course reading list and see only European names.

Have I failed? Is this my fault? Is it my fault for not having long last relationships with my White peers? Or finding our interactions upsetting after a point? I must have failed to include myself. After all, I was brought here by the gracious consideration of the University board who picked me from one of their many ‘diversity priority markets’ (direct quote from a scholarship email). I should be able to fit in. It is my own shortcoming, perhaps, social anxiety or better yet, narcissism, that I am unable to find any sort of fulfilment in most of my experiences at University.

I know that this is not an isolated experience. At best, international students from non-western countries will look at their white and diasporic peers and wonder what it is they need to emulate or embody while scrolling through social media and figuring out their next aesthetic. At worst, they’re isolating themselves and wondering where it all went wrong. In all these cases, the common ground is self-doubt. We blame ourselves for a system that is built to never truly ‘include’ us. That is unless we become some sort of acceptable version of the ‘other’. We learn to dress, talk, behave and eventually think in the way the dominant (generalised) western culture expects us to.

Intricacies and nuances of cultural difference are lost in the noise of hegemonic cultural imperialism. Internalised feelings of cultural inferiority become apparent and we no longer want to even speak as we did back home. We become the same people until all that is left is the difference of physical appearances. Some folks are brown, and some others are Black, some are East Asian, and some others are just the ‘other’ (those that White people cannot be bothered to even vaguely categorise). We are included and then we become ‘diverse’.

Cultural assimilation then becomes the expectation, the implicit terms, and conditions to the long document of our acceptance letters. If we don’t assimilate, we don’t last long, and quite literally, go back to where we came from. We don’t thrive in any aspect of our lives because even our own people who manage to assimilate, expect the same from us. This is the insidiousness of cultural assimilation.

It is what White systems of power use to justify themselves, and further assume a position of generosity by gifting us the basic human rights of freedom and self-expression. It brings into question why, when we’re discussing protests erupting globally, my teacher asks me to ‘enrich’ the class with my ‘unique’ Indian cultural perspective, but I am never asked to narrate readings in class, only my White peers. Why when I bring up discussions of racism, my White classmates stop responding and my teacher announces that it is just a matter of different opinions to alleviate the ‘tension’. Why I am championed as some sort of martyr or superior moral being when I express the trauma of being a person of colour in a White institution, but few extend genuine concern beyond classrooms.

The disembodied space we are being included in is the abyss of western cultural imperialism and I am no longer asking for a seat at the table. Though I know proximity to whiteness has its privileges, it will never get us anywhere, because the table is not levelled, it is not skewed in our favour and never has been.

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