by Rukma Sen, ’15
You swivel gracefully on your Michael Kors clad ankles, and stare straight at me. Your eyes are blank, and they make me shrivel and curl up inside my head like a dead, nameless thing. We are at a meeting of Stanford’s undergraduate pre-professional community and I have just asked about financing professional schools. The kindly old man talking to us has just paused, and asks us whether we have questions. I do, “What about —- school debt?” I ask.
He isn’t surprised by the question, he merely nods and begins to answer but the other undergraduates turn around and look at me. There is the swish of dyed, coiffed hair and the Gucci, Chanel and Burberry women attached to these heads turn around to stare at me.
At once, I am otherized.
I am not like them. I wear bright, cotton clothes, and the red-gold of my shirt screams against the soft beige-greys of the Chanel women. I have never owned a piece of clothing from Burberry, and I am shamed into silence by the stares of my peers. There is nothing hostile in your expression, Gucci girl; perhaps I read too much when I interpret the curl of your well-painted lips as disdain.
But I think you would agree with me if I said your eyes hold incomprehension. Complete incomprehension and disbelief, which sends me flying as far from you as a well-aimed kick might have. I am on the other side of the Michael Kors chasm. We are not us anymore; we have become me and them. I am the one with the question about debt and they are the Gucci girls.
I wish I could tell you that it isn’t so very odd that I worry about paying for school. I’m not “trying to be hipster” by not owning a smartphone, I can’t afford one at the moment. I don’t work because I have a lot of free time; I need money to buy my books. How do I explain to you that I don’t think this is an unfortunate state of events? I love my family for giving me more than they can, I love my job and my co-workers. I like my bright unbranded clothes. I don’t really care that I don’t have a smartphone, my current phone works just fine!
I do care, however, that I am made to feel unacceptable and alienated. I don’t expect you to share or even understand my experiences, but try not to give me those blank stares. Try not to ask, “Why do you work?” Next time, don’t ask me to meet you for lunch at an impossibly expensive place. Try not to pity me, because I really don’t deserve it. Another time, understand that other people are different from you; their skin, their accent, their clothes, their gender, their financial status, or whom they chose to love. Understand that I am not interested in being reminded of these differences. I know who I am and what I can do. I want you to know, Michael Kors girl, that I am proud and happy to be all that I am, in this instant, at this place.
Rukma Sen is a person who likes cooking, books and sweet things. She works on intersections between communities, and likes writing for fun. She was raised in Mumbai, India and Mumbai remains her favourite city with London and Istanbul coming in a close a second.