‘She reminds me of my friend’s mother’…


I wrote about my blocked kitchen sink fiasco yesterday. Today I will write about how it got solved and who solved it. The plumbing company said they would send someone between 8 am and 11 am. I got up bright and early, showered, dressed and waited. As promised, a gentlemen pulled into our driveway around 9:30 am. I opened the door, welcomed him in and just to make conversation, I asked, “Is it hot out there yet?” He said he did not feel the heat like some other people did. I responded I am with him. I am from India and my body can tolerate heat better than the cold. To this, the man said, “Yeah, we dark folks have more melanin to protect us.” I turned around and looked at his white face bewildered but did not say anything. The dude was white!! Maybe not Irish or Scandinavian white but somewhat tanned white. After I explained to him the issue with the kitchen sink and after a lot of casual conversation, he went to his van to get his equipment. I turned to Sahana and asked, “Isn’t he white? Why is he saying we dark folks?” She shrugged. I wondered if he identified as a dark person. Is that even a thing?

Anyway, my wonderful daughter canceled her plans and stayed at home for the plumber so I could go to work which I did after listening to all that the gentleman was going to fix and worrying about how much it will cost me. He gave me an estimate, I informed Sahana, made sure she had enough in her account to pay and left for work.

At work I got a voice message from Sahana. She was trying hard to keep the laughter from her voice. The gentleman, in his late thirties if I had to assume, told Sahana that he loves Indian people. And I reminded him of his friend’s mother who had come from India and who treated him like her son. I am getting up there but this comparison with his friend’s mother seemed little bit of a stretch but I will take it. You know why? He fixed a few things without charge. He went to a hardware store to buy what we needed and he gave a bill that was much lower than what I expected. He also told Sahana that if we ever needed a plumber, we can request the company to send him and he will make sure we get the best service. Why? Because he likes Indian people and I remind him of his friend’s mother. 🤣

Sahana also said they had long conversations about race while he was working and he told her “We immigrants need to stick together.” The man was Italian American. The crux of the story is I jotted down his name, gave him a 5 star review. If (please god, no) we need a plumber, I am calling this ‘dark’ man who thinks of his friend’s mother when he sees me. I really needed this laugh today.

Yes, that is my mom.


“That is your mom!! What? How?” – this question has been posed to my white passing biracial son since he was in preschool. I sometimes wonder how it made him feel. By kindergarten, he was so used to this question that as soon as I showed up to volunteer at kindergarten luncheon, he would preempt the question from his peers by announcing “That is my mom. Yes, she is brown. She is from India.”

Once I was waiting in the hallway of a high school to pick up Ryan after a middle school concert. He came out with a few other kids. One girl, upon seeing Ryan greet me and come towards me, exclaimed, “Ryan, IS THAT YOUR MOM?????” And then, with the insensitivity of a 13 year old, she followed up that exclamation with, “No way! But you are white!”

Ryan and I will continue to baffle this easily confused world but I hope one day, the world will integrate colors enough to exclaim less when it sees us together.

Last night, as Sahana, Sean and I tackled the New York Times spelling bee, we got talking about how perception of parents follow us in our lives. Sahana said, “Tell me about it. My friends have told me all my life your mom is so pretty. OMG! Who wants to hear that all the time? Leave my mom alone!” She laughed. I have heard her say that before and we have laughed together about it.

Here is the thing that amuses me – different standards of beauty in the two countries that I belong to. In India nobody would give me a second look. I am old now but even when I was young nobody looked twice. My experience was very different in USA, at least in the part where I live.

I read a few books about biracial individuals who try to find where they belong. Good Talk by Mira Jacobs is a great book to read on this issue.

Microaggressions


First off, I feel so naïve about this blog I wrote in 2014:

https://what-mama-thinks.com/2014/06/27/racism/

Some aspects of it are true though. I still can not think of a single incident where I was discriminated against for being a brown woman. I guess I am just lucky. I also have closeness to white privilege being married to a white man. As race talks unfolded in recent years, especially after the tragic murder of Mr. Floyd in 2019, the protests against systemic racism over the summer of 2019 and conversations about racism in my own work place and family, I had time to analyze my personal experiences as a person of color in United States. I have experienced microaggression several times over the years, I simply did not have a name for it. The conversation where microaggression was directed at me left me with an uncomfortable feeling, a sadness and yes, a little angry. I could not pin point what it was. I was almost relieved when there was a name for it. I could say in my head, “Ah, so that is what it was! Microaggression!” A name to that kind of behavior somehow equipped me to deal with it better. Most of the microaggression that I experienced were not intended to hurt me, they generated from ignorance perhaps. And when you take out the intentionality from the words, it becomes a learning moment for the one who uttered them and teaching moment for the one who was at the receiving end of it. Of course, learning can only happen when both parties are willing to listen and speak up respectively. Once I discovered the term, I started speaking up when I encountered microaggression and people I am around on a daily basis, listened. I also self analyzed and learned what not to say to someone that might come off as microaggression. Personally, it was both a teaching moment as well as a learning moment. In my early days in this country, however, I have had aggressive comments directed at me with intentionality to make me feel bad about where I come from and the backwardness of my being because I come from a developing world. I think of those comments now. I wonder why those comments were made. Do people say them to feel superior at the cost of others or truly want to hurt others? I wonder how one feels when their words have hurt other human beings? Is it kind of a ‘high’ like sugar high? Does a ‘low’ come after?

In the blog written in 2014, I wrote I do not see color. I don’t think that is true. I have been extremely conscious of a person’s color in these days. And that has been a progression in my perception of another human being. As a newbie to this country, with only an overview of the history of slavery and white dominance in the Western world, I saw people’s color of course, but I did not comprehend the deep connotations of what experience the person had and/or continues to have due to his/her skin color. Now I am aware. Books on race, conversations, films, webinars – all have helped in raising my awareness about racial inequality.

I have read quite a few books, both fiction and non fiction, on race, inequality, microaggression over the last several months. As I said before, they all helped in my growth but one book that truly made me aware of other people’s experience because of their ‘otherness’ is Yes, I am Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab by Huda Fahmy. I commend this short book to everyone who wants to know more about some experiences of the ‘other’ and examples of microaggression.