Racism


I have been asked if I faced discrimination for my color when I first arrived in this country long, long time ago. My answer has always been “no, never felt it!” I came with the naivety that in the land of the free racism is found in its past. I came with the belief that there was equality and camaraderie, solidarity and respect for all. The truth was, I was oblivious. I wasn’t aware I was being discriminated against because in India, where caste system still prevails, race was not something one worried about. The complexion mattered for aesthetic reasons(it still does), race did not. We were not segregated due to our race, we were however, segregated for caste. When I think back to some of the comments that I have received in US, with my new found sensibility of race consciousness, I believe I should have taken offense at them. I, however, incredulously pondered upon the ignorance of the person making such comments. I did not take her/him to be racist. As I said, I was naive.

I still live in a bubble. Or I like to think the world that I inhabit is full of people who do not judge me by the color of my skin, but love me for who I am as a human. I do not feel out of place among white/ black men/women because my skin is brown. I have ceased to notice skin color.

But racism exists in abundance. I discovered racism among my children’s peers. I found out it is completely acceptable for children of specific ethnicity to call each other by pejorative terms that is indicative of their race. Children of other ethnicity are not allowed. On a bus to a middle school New York trip with my daughter’s middle school, I flinched every time I heard middle schoolers of certain ethnicity calling each other with a derogatory nickname. I asked my daughter horrified. She explained it is acceptable to do that. As I see my daughter’s friends I find there is certainly a tendency for children with similar background to form a clan. That is not necessarily a negative as long as there is respect for all.

Recently, I watched a Folk tale Celebration of my Third grader, just before the culmination of his school year. As I listened to bright, energetic little voices singing this song with passion, a kaleidoscope of skin colors up there on the stage, I could not help but smile.

Some of us come from a distant land
Some of us come from nearby
But all of us carry a treasure chest
with things that gold can’t buy
And when we share our treasure chest
We all grow rich you see
The riches of our treasure chest
Are what makes you and me.

Holiday games and stories
Languages and songs
Faith and courage and wisdom
And ways to get along, and ways to get along
And when we share our treasure chest
We all grow rich you see.
The riches of our treasure chest
Are what makes you and me.

By Minnie O’Leary

If that song does not describe the essence of America, the great melting pot, then I do not know what does. We come from distant lands, we come from nearby. We all bring our treasure chests full of songs, language, cuisine, cultures and share among each other to enrich our lives, broaden our horizons and hopefully encourage acceptance and respect.

The schools in my community are doing such a terrific job of treasuring diversity. As I sat there and smiled at the enthusiastic third graders belting out this song with animated expressions, I wondered if they will carry the message of acceptance and respect for all as they grow. Will they spread that among the generation that they procreate? Will they, if necessary, teach their parents and family members, dogmatism and superiority hinder social equality and growth?

They filled me up with hope that one day racism will indeed be a thing found in history books. One day skin color will shed all its connotations and become simply what it is – color of one’s skin. Respect will usher in acceptance and solidarity. And the world will put away their guns because there will be no need to kill.

I am a dreamer, you say? Why don’t you join me? 🙂

Become an angry young man.


I believe one of the most rewarding aspects of parenthood is observing the slow emergence of the questioning, thinking mind of a child. It is a delight to see your child becoming socially conscious, questioning the wrongs that s/he sees around him/her, asking you for your thoughts on it and trying to figure out the chaos in his or her minds in his or her way. Questions, innumerable questions are hurled at us at all times. We try to answer to the best of our ability and resort to internet when we run out of answers. I personally try to convert each question about social equality or justice into a teaching moment by leading their thoughts in a certain direction and allowing them to persist and think it through.

While changing bed linen the other day, such a teaching moment arose when my younger child, Ryan followed me to the room asked a very pertinent question.

“Mom, do you get very, very angry when you read about all the bad stuff that happened to women in the past, that you read in history books? I feel bad for women that they had to suffer but I am a man and I don’t feel as angry as you or Sahana about it!

Every time I hear about violence done against women, my belief about teaching our sons to respect women (and men) gets reaffirmed. We are equally responsible as the law and order system in the world to bring about the change in the mindset of men and women regarding the equality of all. And we can do that by teaching our sons to respect women and teaching our daughters that they are not inferior to any because of their gender.

So I took Ryan’s question as a teaching moment to teach and reinforce fairness and equality.

I told him, “Think of the injustice done to the women throughout the ages as injustice done to humans. Don’t think of them as women. Think of them as a part of human race who were not given equal rights. They had to fight for their rights, they were ridiculed, violated, oppressed yet they continued their fight and continue to do so to this day. You get angry when you read about how the whites treated blacks, how the homosexuals are treated in the world still, right? It is the same with women. They were not treated equally and that should make you angry even if you are a man. And use the anger to help women fight for equality which is their right.”

He listened silently and walked out of the room. I knew I had planted a seed. I just hope the seed grows into a tree and bears fruit and the world receives a young man who gets angry at any form of injustice and uses that anger as a fuel to right the wrongs done.

Questions! I love them….most of the time!

I don’t have all the answers to their questions. But I felt good about this answer and I write it and store this away in my treasure chest as a good mommy moment.

 

The spectacular now