You know what I hate? Gossip. And people who gossip. The person who smiles to your face (or at least sardonically smirks) and then proceeds to giggle and taunt you the second your back is turned. I have been mocked by these types of people my entire life for a multitude of reasons: I wore Harry Potter-esque glasses, my clothes were mundane, my parents weren’t doctors (they are now!), and culturally (I’m of Indian descent) I faced a lot of barriers that prevented me from participating in activities many of my Caucasian friends did, such as late-night parties, dating, and school dances. The result was derogatory murmuring behind my bony back from “friends” I naively believed would attempt to understand my various predicaments. This issue did not abate when our family moved from our conservative suburban home of ten years to a town that was more multiethnic-friendly. If anything, it became worse.
If you are unfamiliar with Indian stereotypes (believe me, they are true) or are blind to prejudice by choice (God bless you), allow me to explain. When a part of an Indian community, you are automatically subjected to intense scrutiny from all of its members, even those who belong to your immediate and extended family. False friendship begins at a young age and does not change as adults “mature”. Teenagers and young adults in your age bracket speak kind words to your face (or completely ignore you), then proceed to judge every aspect of you: your skin tone, attire, beauty, and most significantly, your performance in school and the standing of your grade point average. Adults are no better, snootily regarding their frenemies’ cooking, saris, jobs, and children with pure jealousy and unyielding nastiness, if only because their family is “better”. If your child is not a doctor, an engineer, or, to an extent, a lawyer, you and your family are disrespected socially and mentally by the entire Indian clan. I do not exaggerate. This problem probably exists within all different cultural spheres: being both American and Indian and attempting to balance both worlds, I have been at the short end of each stick many times. I am proud to say (and I swear, I’m not just saying this to seem like a goody two-shoes) my parents have raised both my brother and me with an open mind, teaching us to be good, genuine, and real to all people who cross our paths. “Treat others the way you want to be treated”, they’ve always insisted. Great things come to those who are kind. This isn’t to say I haven’t gossiped before or found fault with people who are not like me, but I try every single day to be a better person and walk in the shoes of others before judging their book cover. I’m guilty of making mistakes, of accidentally hurting people who did no wrong, of creating messes instead of cleaning up, but I always try to learn and grow from those hiccups. Luckily, wonderful friends and family who maintain the same goal surround me. Finding people like that can be very rare; I am blessed to have discovered several.
The reason I am bringing this up, however, is because presently, there are a few people in the Indian spectrum of my life who are causing me grief with their actions. I apologize for turning this into a therapy session; I’m just going to express my frustrations and eventually get to the song of which the lyrics emulate my emotions exactly. In a brief summary, the people who encompass everything I despise, as written above, have made dinner parties miserable with their ostracizing treatment, ruined my holiday season (four years running, I hope they’re happy, because September through December is my favorite time of the year); turned seemingly unbreakable friendships into shattered pieces of bitter memories; left me uninformed on matters that are essential for me to be informed upon because of personal vendettas, and, most annoyingly, have taken advantage of me on several accounts, then proceeded to regard me as a nonexistent piece of nothing. Don’t worry; I’m not having a self-pity party.
My mother, strong as she is kind, has also taught me to never be a doormat, a position I’ve found myself in countless of times. But recently, I’ve decided for myself that sometimes, it’s okay to be a brat right back to those people. Sometimes, it’s okay to stand up for yourself and not be the punch line of everyone’s jokes. And all the time, it is okay to take the negativity and the gossip and the bullshit and turn it into something positive, rendering yourself a tougher person, one whose exterior and interior is ironclad enough to watch the crap and nastiness of others simply bounce off your shiny armor. After all, your worst enemy is yourself, and the only person whose opinion should be of any importance is your own.
I fittingly happened upon a particular song while driving home from school today. I’ve sung my praises about Kacey Musgraves in the past (see: Artist Spotlight); her album is a permanent fixture in my CD player, and her tunes serve as the current, and almost irrevocable, soundtrack to the confusing era called my early twenties (I’m only six months in, but boy, am I lost). The song that paralleled my vexed feelings is, “Step Off”, a direct command to whoever pissed off Musgraves. Stop your fake smiles, stop your fake friendship, and stop thinking that you’re better than me, because you’re not. You’re getting too close to me/with all your negativity/just get lost. Let me wreck my own reputation. Musgraves condenses all of my erratic irritations into three minutes, admirably avoiding the “beat around the bush” technique and going straight for, “in the nicest way possible, get out of my face”. This song inspires me to speak with that directness, that succinct and clipped manner that conveys the point with little words and a strong sense of authority.
So this song is dedicated to everyone who has made my life a living hell recently: to the people who sneered and scorned, who took advantage then threw me away when I was of no use; to the ones who believe they know everything about me based on what they see from the outside and choose to judge my insides with that same frame of reference. To anyone who has nothing better to do with his or her life than to hate me for no rhyme or reason: Wipe your feet on your own doormat. Step off.