There is momentum happening in the world. In the middle of a pandemic, no less, there is something in the air, there is something coming to the forefront…that has really been there all along, but we are just seeing more of it.
I want to share my stories of racism as directed towards me. I have a strong feeling the most all people of color have experienced some form whether simple or outrageous. As the #metoo movement proved, many have been effected by sexual assault of some kind. I feel the same about racism.
This all came about because my friend, Emily Lo, recently shared her experience on FB, as a new firefighter in uniform no less! It was in response to another family posting about the racist woman telling them they don’t belong in the country and to back to where they came from…all caught on tape.
The first time I remember experiencing it was when I was little, maybe 6 or 7. Some kid at school (in Michigan at the time) called me the “n” word. I went home and asked my parents what that meant. They explained it’s a bad name that people use towards black people. So of course I was like, why, since I was Indian? I just didn’t get it, but of course later understood because it was about the color of my skin. A few years later I remember thinking and reveling in the fact that I had a natural tan and I didn’t need to spend hours in the sun like many of the girls around me. I felt sorry for them.
Years later, when both my brother and I were about 10 and 13, we went to Tahoe with my parents, They had a timeshare in Squaw Vally and we went every year. Snow was everywhere and it was just beautiful. We stopped at a gas station to fill up. My dad got out of the car and started to fill the tank. All of sudden we hear a lot of yelling outside. I disheveled man was getting close to my dad and yelling for him to go back to where he came from.
Now something about my dad….he is a 5ft 6 calm kind of guy. Has definite opinions about certain things…such as he would much rather give money to an organization that saves whales that to one for humans. He always tells us to be happy, in whatever we do in life. He loves looking at pictures of his family and loves cherishing memories. But he is quiet for the most part, leaving the disciplining to my mom. But today, we hear words come from my dad that we never heard him say. To such a point, that the three of us in the car thought he was gonna have a heart attack just from the veins bursting out of his neck. The obvious drunk man was yelling all sort of slurs but my dad proceeded to yell just about every curse word at this guy, which I think threw the guy off a bit. When my dad was finished with the gas, he got in to get his wallet, and Raj and I piped up and said that we will go inside and pay, cause we all thought, including my dad, that my dad would kill the guy, So Raj and I took the cash and went in. The man was talking to the lady behind the register and that when we found out he was a local cause she called him by his name and was telling him to calm down. Raj and I just dead stared him, almost daring him to just say anything. And he was talking a lot of shit in general about how “n” and “ragheads” were taking over the world. We paid and left and he didn’t follow and we went back into the car. Dad had calmed down and thanked us for going in, even though he was worried about us, but Raj and I figured the guy wouldn’t hurt a couple of kids. We ended up have a fantastic time and came to an understanding that there are horrible ignorant people in the world. My mom and dad then shared some stories…but that is a whole other post!
Next incident I remember was when I was a new student in the 7th grade, at El Dorado Middle school in Concord, California. I was being shown around by a pretty, feathered hair 8th grader. Lots of big hair back then! I wanted feathered hair, but had to settle for two long braids and bangs! But she was really nice. We ended up by where my new locker was. Near them was this very blond guy sitting on bench in a foot cast with crutches next to him. He was pretty much cutting class and started to talk with the pretty girl. She was telling him that she was busy showing me around and doing her job (as a student volunteer/leader), he then proceeded to ask me, “What are you anyway?” Where did i come from and that I should go back to where-ever that was. She piped up and told him to shut up and then apologized for him. While he hobbled away, I thought to myself, I could easily take him out! But didn’t act on that of course, and then started to think, “back to where I came from?” I was born in Michigan!!! Again, ignorance and stupidity on his part and thats what I chalked it up to.
A few days later I met Emily Lo, a Chinese American who sat in front of me in first period. I was always late to this class and had to ask her what I missed. And thus our 30+ friendship began. She is now captain of a fire department…just sayin!
I was doing a London semester of college and the Gulf war was going on. Some students went home as a result. It was spring break, and I was traveling with my friend, who was a short cute, blond woman with very white, pale color skin. We were at Heathrow international airport excited to go to France and Italy! It was an epic trip no doubt, but it started by her getting though checkpoint and customs very fast. Meantime, she became very irate with me as I finally met up with her about 25 minutes later. I explained to her that they had pulled me aside to do a full body check with pat downs and checking all my luggage contents. They basically racial profiled me. She got pretty upset and said I should file a complaint, but I calmed her down and said no, they were just doing their jobs and as far as I was concerned I was totally fine with it. But part of me was upset that I was treated different based on the color of my skin.
It was after 911. All flights have been stopped and I remember driving to work, our local rape crisis center for SLO county thinking how pretty the sky was, realizing there were no streaks in the sky. As I came to a stoplight I was thinking about the conversation I had with my parents and brother the night before. My brother and I were explaining to my parents, living in San Diego at the time, telling them to just be careful when they go out and about. They didn’t seem to understand the danger due to our skin color and being Indian even though the terrorist were not. And I was more worried about Raj in Sacramento, and he was too. After thinking this, I turned to face the car coming up to my left, and I received the weirdest stare from the guy next to me. It was one of those stares that got my flight/fight response going; my intuition shot up and I quickly looked away. As the light went green, I heard him mumble what I think I heard as “f*ing sand “n” word. My intuition was spot on. More ignorance. I proceeded to call my brother when I got to work to tell him to be careful again and later told my parents the same reminder.
Next one I remember was when I took my two daughters who were both very little, like 6 and 3, to our local park. My husband was quite the toe head when he was little and so my girls also had beautiful blond and gold streaks of hair color! I was approached by another mom, saying how the girls are just gorgeous and how long I have been nannying for them. I told her I was their mom, and she kinda looked at me like, No way! We ended up have nice conversation, but it was interesting looking back on it. Assumptions.
I’m sure there are more, but these are moments in my life that stand out for me. They are not even close to being as terrible as other people have faced. But they resonate with me. I think there are a lot of stories out there…memories…that we just take due to ignorance and sign of the times. But this is something that just has never stopped. We just have the ability to share and see it more.
I’m not looking for condolences or anything. I just wanted to share my experiences with it because I don’t think I ever have, except to close friends and family and in my journals.
What I am learning is that there is a deeper history in my country that was never taught completely…all due to the color of skin. It’s ingrained. And to unlearn all of it and moved forward is going to take more tenacity and time. We need to learn more about the past and remember it, so that it doesn’t happen in the future. History isn’t meant to be repeated. It’s there to learn from and move forward….hopefully in ways that make sense to the whole. But I need to be curious about the history I was never taught. I don’t have answers. All I can do is teach my girls and write and share. All I can do is learn and read and have conversations. We are human, all bleeding the same color blood. Thanks for reading this all the way through.