How Using the Term “Whitewashed” Is a Global Problem Plaguing Particularly First-Generation People

Rajsi Rana ’26

Contributing Writer 

“Whitewashed”: a term I have become all too familiar with. The first time it was said to me, I felt my cultural identity—something I have never questioned—rise to the surface of my thoughts, breaking into my conscious mind. It suddenly became a part of my daily thoughts, a part of my self-reflection; it became something I started thinking about when I pondered why I do what I do. It has made me question myself more than anything has before.

When I made my decision to attend Trinity, one of the first things I noticed was the amount of international students enrolled. I was so excited to meet my peers who had come from all over the world to study here. I was especially excited to meet students who came from South Asian countries because they were students I shared cultural values with, students who understood a part of me without needing any explanation. The students I hoped to become friends with were the people that made me question my identity more than ever.

The term “whitewashed” is a hurtful term, one that implies you do not appreciate your culture or want to be a part of it. From my experience, it is largely directed towards first-generation kids who have grown up in a different country than the one in which their parents were born. Everyone who falls into this category has their own unique experience.

Many things that make people appear as cultured, such as speaking your mother-tongue, celebrating cultural holidays, or knowing how to cook your native foods, stem largely from their environment. Do people speak to you in your native language, and are you taught to reply in that language back? Is there anyone there to teach you the meaning and significance of cultural holidays? Does your family cook your native food at home, and was anyone able to show you how? Much of this is out of someone’s control and is in the hands of how they were raised and the people around them.

Now more than ever, the world is very connected, yet it is also more different than it ever was before. There are groups of people from one country who have ethnic communities in many different parts of the world. People from one culture, therefore, have grown up in so many different ways, all experiencing different degrees of immersion in their culture, whether it is learning the language their parents or grandparents speak or learning their cultural traditions. 

There is no one thing that makes you more cultured than another. The meaning behind the term whitewashed—the idea that you are “white” if you don’t do certain things—is inherently untrue. It also warrants a deeper question: Do we measure people in terms of how “white” they are? Why are we putting people’s identities on a scale when personality and values are not factors that can be measured?

No matter your intentions when calling someone whitewashed, the meaning behind the word itself is immensely problematic and offensive. 

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