In Maria Qamar’s debut book, Trust No Aunty, the artist (who runs the popular Instagram account @Hatecopy) details her experience growing up as a South Asian woman in Canada and provides tips for everything from dealing with overbearing aunties to hiding your white boyfriend from your parents. In the following excerpt, she describes what it’s like being the only Desi person in a majority-white office. —Dayna Evans
It is tough being a person of color. It is absolutely 1,000 percent tougher being a person of color in a corporate environment. I’ve held countless jobs in countless offices where I was the only brown girl at the agency. And for whatever reason I was never allowed to forget it either. Here are a few very real things I have heard during my time in corporate hell:
The Apu accent is an evergreen tool used by the casual corporate racist to put down those that season their food. My family did not endure three wars and a genocide for me to sit quietly while some idiot bobbled his head in attempts to “playfully” bond with his new Indian co-worker.
This comment — wildly inappropriate on at least 50 levels — was hurled in my direction when my Polish co-worker decided to download Tinder and came across someone he referred to as “one of your people.” Yuck.
This little gem came from a creative director when I was writing commercials at a massive global advertising agency. Remember, being brown in the workplace is only useful to the extent your employer can monetize it.
One little-known fact is that my middle name is actually Yelp and I spend half my days researching Indian restaurants in every neighborhood on the planet. Don’t believe me? Just utter this little racist blurb and find out. By the way, I usually just suggest the first restaurant that comes up on Google.
If the examples above weren’t enough to get me to practice rolling out of moving cars to avoid these conversations, this was the one that sealed the deal. One word, Brad? You realized that I am from the same culture that made samosas? Where is my jar of mayonnaise, Brad? I was expecting a jar of homemade mayo to dip these samosas in! This potluck is RUINED!
Despite the fact that Canada is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, everything I pitched had to be tinkered with to become more digestible to a whiter audience. This was a response I came to expect. It was feedback I received all the time and an infuriating reminder of the lack of representation not only in the media but in the industries that try to sell things to consumers of that media (which aren’t all white people). “Mainstream” in this sense simply meant “not your people.” Not to worry, though. There are a billion of us. Sooner or later, we’ll hook up with China and become the global mainstream.
Look, I’m sure Ajay is a great guy. And I might even get along with him better than with the idiot who is attempting to lump me together with the other brown person at the workplace. But, no, we do not all have a secret handshake and, no, we’re not going to find out we’re cousins. Ajay could very well be an asshole, Brad. It is rude to assume things.
Adapted from Trust No Aunty by Maria Qamar. Copyright © 2017 by Maria Q. Hassan. Reprinted by permission of Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.