What Does Being a WOC Mean to Me?

Written by: Shayla Joshi

What does being a woman of colour mean to me? It’s a big question- a question of identity, a question of origin, a question of my sense of self. Being a woman of colour can mean so many things to so many different people, but its significance is more than just skin deep to me.

Being a woman of colour means having multiple identities. Born and raised in Ottawa, I am just about as Canadian as it gets. I love skating on the canal, I put maple syrup on just about everything (try it in your salad dressing, I promise it’s amazing), winter is my favourite season, and I say sorry all the time

However, I also identify with my Indian roots. Pani puri is my favourite food, I talk a lot and very loudly, you will always find me bargaining for a better deal at a market, and I will look for any excuse to wear a saari (even if I complain that it’s itchy). 

My reconciliation with my identity has not always been smooth. 

I often find myself questioning who I am: “How can I be a woman of colour if I have never even been to India?”, “Can I even associate with my supposed origin if I barely know anything about it?”, “I can’t even speak Gujurati- who am I call myself a woman of colour?”, “I’m too ‘whitewashed’ to be Indian.”

Despite these intrusive thoughts, questioning my identity as a woman of colour seems to have resulted in a sense of belonging. It may have taken me some time to reach this conclusion but, regardless of what “category” I belong to there will always be a group of empowered and fearless women standing behind me. These women understand the experience of intersecting identities and– much like me– these women cannot be categorized. Despite having multiple identities, we still come together as a collective, listening and learning from one another. 

Through these women, I have learnt that being a woman of colour is more than cultural belonging. Sure, I can’t speak Gujurati and I’ve never been to India, but I love my culture and I am always looking for ways to learn about it. 

I do not fit into any typical categories, and that’s okay. I’m not too ‘whitewashed’ to be Indian and I’m not too Indian to be Canadian. I don’t fit into a typical category: I am a combination of the environment that I was raised in, the people that I have been raised around and my familial roots. I do not identify with one thing; I have a multitude of identities. 

A woman of colour is a myriad of things. She may be confused about her identity, wanting to seek a sense of belonging. She may be scared, because the world around her seems to cater to her exact opposite- white and male. But she is also brave for enduring multifaceted discrimination. 

From this bravery, she wields power. She is powerful, because she will always belong to a welcoming, empowering collective. And that is what being a woman of colour means to me. 

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