I Grew Up Wanting to be White

Eboo Patel: I Grew up Wanting to be White

Eboo Patel was born in India and came to the United States with his parents at two years old. At the time, Patel’s father was completing his MBA at the University of Notre Dame. Patel is the founder of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit that encourages collaboration among college students from different religious backgrounds. When Patel stopped by the StoryCorps booth in September, he talked about how the seeds of his work with the Interfaith Youth Core were sown from his own experiences at school. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps. This story was also aired on NPR’s WBEZ. Learn more about “Muslim American Journeys” here. 

“My first day at the University of Illinois, August 1993. I go to play basketball at the nearby gym. And there’s three games going on. There’s a white game, a black game and an Asian game. I remember standing in the doorway watching these three games and then instinctively walking towards the white game. And then I remember stopping and thinking, why am I trying to play in the white game? I had this major realization… Holy cow! For the first seventeen years of my life, at least since I’ve been in the United States of America, I’ve always considered the white game the supreme game and I’d always implicitly thought that other people wanted to play in the white game. To see other people not doing that was really striking for me. The powerful thing about college, was that could’ve been a fleeting moment. It’s not like I had never had a realization along those lines in high school, but the fact that it was almost never talked about meant that I didn’t have a chance to process or articulate or find words for that kind of stuff. But identify in college was talked about all the time. And so, that experience on the basketball court has an opportunity to get processed and articulated in freshman orientation and in sociology classes and in the dorm room.”

Scroll to Top