I am an Indian-American. I have brown skin. I think I speak with an Indian accent, though I am not sure. Some people have told me my accent is pretty thick (in spite my growing up in America since I was 11), and others have told me I don't have an accent. I am also someone who thinks that academic philosophy at the schools I went to in America is too Eurocentric. My being Indian-American and making the criticism of Eurocentrism might make one wonder what exactly I know and don't know.
So let me clarify what I don't know.
I don't know Sanskrit, Pali, or any other ancient Indian language. Regarding contemporary languages, I know enough Telugu (the language of my family) to speak with my family, and enough Hindi to watch Bollywood movies. That's it.
I don't know much Indian scholarly philosophy. When I come across names like Shankara or Nagarjuna I have a fuzzy warm feeling of identification, which is then immediately overshadowed by my awareness of how little I know about these authors' philosophical views. When I see titles of philosophical treatises like Mūlamadhyamaka-kārikā (Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way) or Pratītyasamutpādahṝdayakārika (Constituents of Dependent Arising), which I just lifted from the Wikipedia page on Nagarjuna, I feel a bit dizzy and out of sorts, like I am looking at something familiar and alien at the same time. It is similar to how I felt in high school when extended family members at a party would speak to me in Telugu, assuming that I could understand them perfectly, since after all I am one of them, and was in India till I was 11. What they didn't pick on was that I was struggling to understand them, and what I did understand was for me without many of the rich cultural resonances which they had for the adults in my family. Regarding Indian philosophy, it is obvious that many Indians and non-Indians know way more about Indian philosophy than I do, a fact which does not bother me, other than when I reflect on the fact that my education in America failed to provide me with even an inkling of such knowledge. When I think of contemporary Indian philosophy, I realize I know nothing of it.
I don't know Yoga or meditation. I don't know how to cook much Indian food (or American food for that matter). I don't know many Indian holidays or festivals, though I have some recollections from when I was in India and know some things from my family in America.
I used to be ashamed of this kind of lack of knowledge on my part. I felt I was a rotten Indian, a turncoat, a brown Oreo. I tried my best to hide this lack of knowledge, both from Indians and non-Indians. The main way I tried to hide it was by avoiding any topic that would even remotely get near these issues.
One reason I didn't press more these issues of diversity when I was in academia was that I felt like a failure regarding Indian philosophy, and I was intent on not having that failure become public. The few times I asked my professors about Indian philosophy, and they gave a look of incomprehension or ignorance, it was hard for me to say anything back to them because I had the worry that, minus my brown skin and my family, my knowledge and my situation is not that different from them. Could I hold them responsible for something which I myself didn't know? That seemed hypocritical on my part.
I assumed back then that before I could say anything about diversity or expanding the curriculum, I had to master Indian philosophy myself. That until I do that, I am myself only a Western philosopher. I had the world neatly divided into the West and the East, and given that I knew Western philosophy and not Eastern philosophy, I assumed I was more Western than Eastern myself. And if I am basically Western, then surely the education I am receiving is the right one for me. That, at any rate, is what I told myself. It passed unnoticed by me back then how convenient this argument was for keeping the status quo just as it was.
What I also failed to see back then was that I didn't need to know Indian philosophy to speak up. The fact that I want to know it is enough to speak up. The fact that I should have the option to know it is enough to speak up. The fact that I was feeling confused about where I belonged, and that I was unnecessarily blaming myself for my lack of knowledge, as if I was a bad Indian-American, was enough to speak up.
I also failed to see that bridging philosophical traditions is not only about having knowledge in multiple traditions and making the connections. There is a whole other way of engaging the topic, which is to simply think through what it means to bridge traditions at all. Or what it means for something to be a tradition. Or what it means to develop anything like a global philosophical tradition, or traditions. I failed to see that I could just think through from where I am and what I know, and if I just did that philosophically, and with care and wit and confidence, that also can be a way of contributing to the dialogue.
I am an Indian-American, among many other identities. That means if I just think through my life philosophically, then that also is a kind of bridging of traditions.