Conversations With My Mom: Racism
Mom: So, tell me: does racism still exist in this country?
Me: [bitter laugh, followed by humming of Kanye West tune] “Racism still alive/They just be concealin’ it.”
Mom: Girish, I’m serious: does racism still exist?
Me: Of course it does, Mom.
Mom: Oh that’s so sad.
Mom: Tell me: are people ever rude to you because of — you know — our skin?
Mom: But how do you know it’s because of that? Maybe the guy’s just in a bad mood, or just a rude person. Isn’t that possible?
Me: Yes, it is...
Me: But after it happens a few dozen times, you begin to realize there’s more to it than that.
Mom: And 9/11? Did that change anything?
Me: Well, that week, I went to Mighty Taco for lunch one day, right here in our neighborhood [almost all white working-class or retiree]. When I walked in, it felt like the whole place froze. Twenty-five pairs of eyes seemed to be staring at me and it got kinda quiet for a minute.
Mom: I’m shocked — you went to Mighty Taco?
Me: Good point, Mom, but you see what I'm saying.
Mom: Do you think it was…your imagination?
Me: Well of course anything’s possible — but in this case, I doubt it. It happened. And it took me aback.
Mom: I’m sorry to pry but I’m your mother, and though it makes me sad to hear these things, I want to know about them. Does that make sense to you?
Mom: Do you remember the first time you thought someone was being racist to you?
Me: Yeah. This is almost funny. My plane had just arrived at JFK. I had been in America for, like, an hour. I collect my luggage. This cabbie comes over and asks me if I want to go to Manhattan. I say, no thanks. He looks at me: fresh off the boat. He says: “That’s OK. We don’t take Indians on Sundays anyway.” And he calmly turns away.
Mom: Oh my God.
Me: Wait. You haven’t heard the best part yet. I hear him say this, and I think, “Oh, they must have some kind of special rule about this.” And then I forget all about it for a while.
Mom: You’re kidding.
Me: No, I’m serious. See, for centuries we Hindus have had these outrageous caste rules and do’s and don’ts — we’re such a horribly class-conscious society. So, I just assumed this was some sort of unwritten American practice, some American caste rule I didn’t know about.
Mom: That is pathetic.
Me: [sigh] Yes it is, Mom.