Featured Blog, I: Union Jerks
Dinesh, Thoughts Flux /April 14, 2004
This is the first time I may be using four-letter words and the like in my writing, because if what I'm about to describe is not an incident that can trigger anger in me, I don't know what will.
On Vishu day, the first day of the Tamil new year, after a placid day, I went to play football with some friends. A bunch of 15-16 year old girls with cheap vodka bottle in hand seemed to appear out of nowhere and raided the pitch. We, at the other end of the field, thought they were chatting with a lady colleague and a colleague's wife. They used the 'B' word and ladies with us shrivelled. While leaving, the girls spat on a male colleague. Waiting patiently was not his forte, but he did. Then when it was too much to handle, he said 'Bitch'. This was enough to flare up the obese bitch (yeah she was) in the girl's group.
"Fuckin' Asians. This is my country, I can do what I like. I have a knife in my pocket. Our boyfriends are here to take care of you...blah this and blah that" and so on went her incessant blabbering. The other ones were less vocal but more active in kicking our football. Then their fun went too far when they kicked the football onto the highway nearby.
Blinded by anger at getting spat on my shoes by then, I was running behind them and didn't realise that I was on a high-speed highway and could have been killed by a speeding car. I am sure all the five of us on the field have never controlled our fists to this extent before. The girls were mere 15-16 years and we could have had them for breakfast without letting out a burp, but retaliation would have landed us in jail for hitting minors. Their vocabulary never went beyond four-letter words and they wanted us to talk like them. Not in a million years could we go down to that level. In this north-eastern part of the country, the standard of their English was as pathetic (even in its birth place) as it could be.
Something like this happened on a lesser scale sometime back and I chose to ignore it, not once but twice. While walking on the roadside, some guys in a car sped past in the opposite direction mouthing obscenities about Asians and almost spitting on me. This was during the July blasts and I forgave them, considering it just another case of misjudging by colour. Another one was a bus driver wantonly driving through a puddle of water to drench us Asians on the sidewalk. We crossed the road in front of him and so I am sure his move was planned.
This naked reality and stark contrast between the excellent Brits I know and these racist shitholes I've encountered amazes me. Of all the good things I have said about professional Brits, this incident eclipses quite a lot of it. By experiencing these unwanted incidents of innate racism, I have no respect whatsoever for this so-called developed country. A developed country is made of its people and if people are shitholes, so is the country. This incident has just made my intention of never settling abroad stronger and more concrete.
I am sure incidents such as these have been experienced by many and I live in hope that some day the tables will turn. In fact, I can already see them turning. India is growing stronger and so are Indians. There will be a time when Indians will look down upon people here because they will be far behind us.
Featured Blog, II: Apartheid Connection
No Handshakes in Queens
Vikrum Sequeira, Vislumbres / April 6, 2006
A few days ago, I was in Queens [New York], the most diverse borough of that most diverse American city. I was visiting Marta, a Mexican friend, and we had decided to meet at a local Starbucks.
When we entered the coffee shop, Marta saw one of her friends, Megan. I looked at Megan, and noticed that she had blue eyes, blonde hair, and was wearing a hijab, the headdress worn by millions of Muslim women. Marta explained that Megan was an American woman who had married an Egyptian, converted to Islam, and embraced the faith. Marta made eye contact with her friend and we walked over to greet her.
I extended my hand to Megan, expecting her to shake it. She averted her eyes from me and ignored my hand. After a second or two, I took it back. I realized that she would not shake my hand because of her religious beliefs.
Later, when Marta and I sat down to talk, I asked her if she noticed what had happened. Marta told me that she had indeed noticed, but mentioned that I should respect the cultural difference: "Not all cultures share the same norms. That's her culture and you must respect it."
It was slightly ironic that the Latin American, coming from a culture in which men and women kiss as a greeting, was defending this woman's rejection of my hand. Marta was employing a culturally relativistic argument. In other words, all cultures are different and certain norms make sense in certain cultural contexts; we have to respect those differences, even if they seem absurd to us.
I still felt offended. It is offensive that Megan would not touch me simply because I am a man. I thought about it and asked Marta about a hypothetical example:
"Let's say we were in South Africa thirty years ago and Megan was a white South African. And I stuck out my hand and she refused to shake it because of the color of my skin. Would you say, 'That's her culture (apartheid) and you have to respect it?' No. You would correctly condemn that woman for being racist."
My friend agreed with me. It would definitely be racist for one person to refuse to touch another on the basis of color.
Megan's religious beliefs forbid her to shake hands with a non-related male. Apartheid also forbid different races to share space in most public areas, including beaches, buses, and hospitals.
Why is it that many progressive people find it easy to condemn systems like apartheid, but sometimes find it difficult to condemn apartheid-like actions that use religious justifications?
Megan is actually an employee at the same Starbucks. She was not working at the time. It seems hypocritical for her to refuse a handshake but accept money from (and therefore touch the hands of) male customers.
[See also "Reflections on Hindi, Language, and Indian Americans]