09 September 2008

Responding to Ignorance

I've been enjoying the summer so much that I haven't been posting much. I've got some recipes and things to post soon though, but first I wanted to post this.

I was reading Cagey's blog today and thinking about how ignorant people can be and how you can just be blindsided by the awful things people can say sometimes. How do you respond to something like that?

I had a similar experience in 2006 and was so angry that I wrote an op-ed for the Roanoke Times, which they published. It was satisfying to get my anger out in that way, although the chances are pretty slim that the jerk who screamed at my husband actually would have read it. I can no longer find the op-ed on the Roanoke Times' website, so here it is:

It's been two days, and I'm still wondering what that guy was thinking.

As the pickup truck sped past us in the Valley View Mall parking lot, a man leaned out and screamed at my husband, "Osama!"

To give you some background, I'm American and my husband is Indian. Not American Indian, but from New Delhi in the subcontinent of India. There are challenges and rewards that come with mixing cultures in our marriage, and I'm happy to say that we make it work. It's an adventure!

At that moment I was livid. I'm a pale-skinned Caucasian and I've never experienced prejudice due to my race or appearance. Before the truck sped out of sight, I yelled back and—well, it wasn't very ladylike. I was shaking with anger.

I expected my husband to be angry too, but he shrugged it off. For one thing, he's not Middle Eastern; he is Indian, and a doctoral student at Tech. He is not Muslim; he is Jain. To my way of thinking, it takes a real bonehead to connect him with a mass murderer like Osama bin Ladin, based apparently on nothing more than his dark Indian complexion.

I haven't stopped thinking about how hateful and hurtful it was for someone to scream at my husband like this. I was humiliated that, in the place where I grew up, some people are so hateful and ignorant. The more I thought about it, the more connections I seemed to see between this sorry incident and our nation's parlous political state.

As I write these words, it seems that we may be about to expand our Iraq adventure into Iran. Ignorant people draw hateful cartoons about Muslims, and the reaction is burning rage. The Trotskyite neo-cons in control of our foreign policy are thirsting for war with another Middle Eastern country. And if people like the guy at the mall are a clue to the state of public discourse in America, the prospects for prudent consideration of the consequences are dim.

In the aftermath of 9-11 and in the run-up to war with Iraq, we witnessed the same kind of ignorant hostility. The actions of a few terrorists—themselves provoked by our meddling in the Israel/Palestine conflict—caused people like our "friend" in the parking lot to display indiscriminating animosity toward certain groups of people: Saudi Arabians, Iraqis, Middle Easterners, Muslims—a hatred that now seems to include all people whose complexion or facial features resemble even remotely those of the terrorists.

Such malice has caused the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent people: US soldiers, women, children, and non-combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whatever politicians' real motives are for a war with Iran, they can only regard the ignorance and anger of people like the guy in the pickup truck as a useful tool as they forge ahead in their utopian quest to remake the middle east.

I'd like to believe that in southwest Virginia in the year 2006, we are not so easily led by politicians who manipulate bigotry. I'd hope that we are not so consumed by a volatile and dangerous mix of ignorance and hatred that we would lash out at people simply because of their appearance.

So I wonder about the guy who screamed at us. Why?

Because, after all, people like him are as likely as anybody else to suffer losses from the war. It might be him—or his brother, or his buddy—who comes home next in a casket. So what could he have been thinking?

I'd like to believe that he would realize that the safety of his own family and community is endangered by our reckless adventures in the middle east, and that he would at least considering saying "no" to another disastrous and illegal war.

But after our encounter in the mall parking lot, I'm not so sure.


Cagey said...

The most hurtful racist comments are the subtle ones. I have a few friends with whom I will never, EVER complain about Manoj. They are quick to jump on anything negative that I say, then I feel defensive or him. It is frustrating, because sometimes, you just want to grouse about the silly things, but I do not feel comfortable doing that with some of my friends.

D. Jain said...

Yep. I've seen that too. Or people who I thought were open-minded suddenly making blanket statements about Indian culture, respect for women, etc. At least I'm in a university town, so most people here are used to people from all over the world. The place where I grew up is only 45 minutes from here but worlds away in terms of racism and exposure to anyone of another culture or race.

Gori Girl said...

Aditya hasn't had much problem with racism, I think, but we live in a pretty multicultural area, and hang out with an international crowd. When we were in Indiana I think he had a few problems - but I'll let him write about that, now that he's apparently willing to guest post on my blog (you'd think an English Lit major would be more willing to write stuff).

D. Jain said...

Yeah, where you guys are now is pretty multicultural, Gori Girl. Wow, was Aditya an English major? That's so cool! I was too (bachelors and masters).

Gori Girl said...

Yeah, he was an English Lit & Religious Studies major - so un-stereotypical! Every other Indian at our college majored in either economics, mathematics, or computer science.

D. Jain said...

Aditya's Bengali, though, right? From what I've heard/read they have a reputation for being very literary. So maybe it's not so un-stereotypical after all! :-)

Gori Girl said...

I suppose. His mother was more happy when he was an economics & math double major his freshman year, though!