Big White Lies

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”  Mark Twain.

I don’t know too much about copyright and titles, but I did recently finish watching the series Big Little Lies, and since I don’t want to get in trouble, I’m going to go with Big White Lies as my title instead.  Anyway, Big White Lies is more appropriate, because this is about the lies we tell to fit into the White American world.

After I wrote my last post Immigrant, I developed a huge writer’s block.  I didn’t know where I wanted to go next.  If you didn’t read it, you should read that before reading this.  It is the most vulnerable I’ve ever been in my public writing, and while it only skimmed the surface of the bullying that I experienced because recounting all the details is not necessary, the outpouring of support I received from people was absolutely incredible and had me in tears for 72 hours straight.  I thank you.  After that response, I really didn’t know where to go with my writing next.  I got some assignments from Women’s Running Magazine to write about other runners which was a nice distraction and allowed me to continue to do some running writing, but I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to write about in this much more personal venue.  I tried to write a triathlon recap after my incredibly fun tri, but I abandoned the post halfway through because it had no passion.  I then decided that I would just wait until after my upcoming presentation at Expressing Motherhood to see if it would give me any ideas of where I want to go next.  Out of the blue during my run this morning, as I was thinking about the show Big Little Lies and a recent unveiled lie, inspiration hit.

The most important thing that happened after my Immigrant post is that my older sister and I finally communicated about what we hadn’t talked about for 30 years; about her experience as an immigrant and what she did to protect herself.  While we were at it, we went through a couple other difficult but crucial conversations that needed to be had as well.  If all the writing I’ve done over the last couple of years was just to get me to the point of having that conversation, then it was all worth it.  Other people started reaching out to me privately as well with white lies they told to blend in and be more easily accepted.  Some immigrants go by nicknames or change their names entirely to make their experience easier.  Many lie about where they come from.  I never lied.  It never occurred to me that denying my country of origin may be an option.  When those boys in 5th grade kept asking me are you from Iran, I would say yes.  When they’d ask isn’t that the country that was holding Americans hostage (the Iran Hostage Crisis occurred from 1979 to 1981 and we moved back to the U.S. in 1983), I’d say yes.  Even in my undergraduate years, I remember being at Chauncy’s nightclub in Pittsburgh every Thursday for 50 cent drinks until midnight, and having guys ask me where I’m from, and I’d yell Iran over the loud music.  Their eyes would bulge out, and I’d walk away.  That truth-telling was for the best, because nothing good was going to come out of Chauncy’s anyway.

While every one else was telling white lies to hide their identity, we never talked to each other about what we were experiencing and how each of us was trying to protect ourselves.  Even amongst ourselves, we were all pretending to be ok, despite seeking each other out for friendship, clearly out of a need to be with someone who may understand, but then not talking about it.  No one pulled me aside and said, hey, don’t tell people you are from Iran…. just tell them you’re from Bangladesh or some other country with dark-skinned people that no one has heard of and is not in the news, and half your problems will be solved right there.  Would I have been able to lie?  I don’t know. I’ve really only told my husband one big white lie in the 20+ years we’ve been together.  Over the last several years, I’d periodically think that I should come clean about that big white lie from 16 years ago, but I kept putting it off.  After Immigrant, I finally told him what it was.  He didn’t even remember the circumstances of the event that I was talking about and of course didn’t care at all about this thing I’d unnecessarily held in.

Anyway, what actually surprises me about these identity lies is not the lies other immigrant friends told as kids…. what disappoints me is to find out that some are still lying.  I am talking about successful adults who are at least in their mid-30’s and still telling Big White Lies to fit into this White America which isn’t even White anymore…. Yes, maybe as a child I would have been better off to lie about my identity to protect myself and get myself through… I’m not sure if that would have been better….but as adults, we need to stop hiding… we need to be an example of hope for other people… we need to stop lying…whether about our identity or anything else that we don’t feel comfortable admitting for fear of how we will be perceived.

I’ve had a lot of mixed emotions about presenting at Expressing Motherhood.  At first I was petrified, then I calmed down.  Then I started to read bios of the other presenters and I again freaked out, unsure of why I was chosen to present my very simple piece amongst these other experienced women.  But in the last week, I’ve finally gotten to the point that I am not just calm but looking forward to it.  I’m looking forward to pushing myself out of my comfort zone.  I’m looking forward to being in the company of this cast of women.  Most of all, I am looking forward to stepping out from behind my computer screen, standing in front of about 300 people on stage, and very simply presenting my truth.


About Paria

Runner, mother, pediatrician, blogger

15 comments on “Big White Lies

  1. Beautiful Paria! Your willingness to be so honest and true to your experience is inspiring … and thought provoking: The universal temptation of the white lie to “fit in” is so present in many contexts .. but how much better we all are if we are true to who we are and living/telling/sharing our truth …

    • Thank you… the white lie is present in many contexts… I think I’m finally old enough to be able to share and tell the truth.. finally letting go of worrying about what people will think when I tell my truth… but it’s definitely not easy to do it. I have to push myself to do it.. I have not completely let go of caring about people’s reactions, but I’m working on it:)

  2. I think about this a lot. I don’t have your perspective and I appreciate you sharing it. Growing up in a small midwestern (aka white) town, I wasn’t exposed to anyone who wasn’t of European descent or Christian. So you’d think I would be more judgy.

    But that isn’t how my parents raised me. Working in medicine also makes it tough to judge people based on culture or skin color because our co-workers are all multicultural. In the clinic where I work, most of my patients are immigrants. We see a variety of cultures–I’m pretty sure that every corner of the world is covered. It makes life interesting. I feel fortunate.

  3. Really appreciate your sharing your thoughts on this. While I don’t have the same perspective as you do, growing up in the jewish faith was not always easy as a child and recently with so much in the news it can be hard sometimes. You are so going to rock that panel can’t wait to hear about it

    • What’s in the news is definitely heart-breaking. There has definitely been terrible displays of anti-semitism in LA recently, and LA is a big diverse city.

  4. I’m so happy for you that you and your sister were able to have a conversation that you needed. <3 And while it hurts my heart to hear your experience and other immigrants' experiences, I'm very glad that you share it. Also, "nothing good was going to come out of Chauncy's anyway" made me laugh. You are going to be amazing sharing your truth on the panel.

  5. I have always wanted to fit in, not draw any attention to myself, and blend. But I doubt I have because I don’t feel like I’ve ever fit in, blended, and probably drew attention to myself based on physical characteristics alone, which I didn’t have much to do with.

    But growing up, oh hell – even these days, I struggle with the balance of presenting my authentic self but not stick out. But why not be me when everyone else is taken? How do we be ourselves, be true to ourselves, and fit in?

    I’ve learned recently that what’s happening in my head is not the reality of what’s happening outside of my head. For years, I’ve always said to my friends and my husband, “I fly under the radar”. And everyone has laughed at me and said “Ha – Never. How can you think that? We’ve noticed you from day 1.” Maybe it’s better to stick out, and not fit in.

    Maybe Lady Gaga got it right: “I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way”

    • I think the “what’s happening in my head is not the reality of what’s happening outside my head” is so true… I have been working on getting out of my head and trying to look at things more objectively or as an outsider.. I do think I have definitely been doing my best to embrace the be myself and whoever doesn’t like it, that’s their problem.

  6. Oh I can relate to this so much. The very first question I always get (to this day!) is basically “what are you?” People never know quite what to make of me – is she black? Indian? Iranian? Egyptian? (yes, I get that last one all the time!) And, when I was in second grade my neighbor told all the kids at school that I was an Indian and held secret rituals in my room at night.
    Where we differ, obviously, is that I’m from two “acceptable” countries – Italy and Cuba – so I can’t imagine how many eye popping experiences you had to and still have to endure. I love this piece and I love you woman. Keep on doing you because you do it so well…

    • Wait, you’re not from Egypt? I’ve been stalking you thinking that you are related to Hoda and can get me on the Today Show… In all seriousness, thank you for your comment and also realizing that it does make a difference when you are an immigrant form “acceptable” countries vs Iran. And most of all, thanks for your continued support and interest as my writing seems to diverge away from running these days.

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