I am of Indian descent – my parents immigrated here in the early 1970’s to afford us a better life. For the most part I am grateful for the sacrifices they made to create a life in the US for their family, but every so often, I wonder if it really was for the best.
I recently visited a Target store in Pittsburgh to buy some things for my kids to make a lemonade stand during the last few hots days of the summer. As I was checking out, I saw a woman out of the corner of my eye – she was exasperatedly pacing, looking for a manager. She began mumbling to herself and looking around frantically. People began to notice. Finally, a manager came over to help her, asking her if everything was okay. She began with “I just needed a price check, but this MAN…” The way she said man, gesturing at a tall, slender Middle Eastern man, caught my attention. She continued”….he was supposed to get me a price check, but he didn’t! Maybe he’s too lazy, I bet he can’t even understand English…” I began to get annoyed by this last comment – how judgmental of this woman to presume he can’t speak English just because he didn’t do what she was asking him to do.
And then I heard the comment that shocked me the most – she said “what else can you expect from a minority?” I froze. I could not believe my ears – had I heard her properly? Did she seriously just say that because this man is a minority, it can be assumed that he is lazy and cannot understand English? I was shocked, horrified, angry…I could not believe that in 2018, in a suburb of a major US city, people could still foster such hatred towards brown people.
But then again, I have experienced similar microaggressions throughout my life – because of the color of my skin, people have asked me things like “so how long have you been in this country?” or “wow, your English is so good, did you have a teacher?” Those types of terms used to make me laugh, and think “umm – that’s kind of ignorant” but as I’ve experienced those types of microaggressions, either aimed at me or other people, I’ve begun to realize that these are not silly isolated incidents, but a much larger more systemic problem.
What continues to worry me the most, not only about this one incident but about this growing unrest and racial division in this country, is that I gave birth to two brown boys. That kind Target employee, who was in his mid 20’s, not only caught my attention because of the verbal assault he was getting, but because he had a striking similarity to my older son. I shudder to think that we live in a world where my son, a second generation born Indian-American, may have to face discrimination like this man faced, simply because he’s brown. I hate to think that their future hardships are somewhat written for them already because of how they look. The woman in the Target perhaps was having a horrible day, or maybe is just a racist, but the sad and scary thing is there are SO MANY people like her in the world today.
So this is my plea to you – regardless of what race, ethnicity, culture or religion your are, teach your children about tolerance. Teach them to rise up and speak up for those who may not be able to speak for themselves. I didn’t speak up during the incident at Target because I did not want to make the situation worse for that young man, but seeing his manager, a white woman, speak up and put that horrible woman in her place, gave me hope. We need to rally around each other and create opportunities for tolerance, acceptance and love. Those in privileged position, be it wealth, power, race etc need to stand up for marginalized communities.
I am so grateful that my children weren’t there that day to witness what happened, and see their mother cry – and my hope is they won’t have to experience that level of hatred themselves.