As I sit here eating one of my favorite quick lunch recipes from Pioneer Woman (modified to be vegetarian) and checking my computer while Nandini naps I am struck by how I am living in a world that is not made for me.
I was ecstatic to find out that an Indian woman was crowned Miss America last night. I thought she looked gorgeous and I was so happy to see her bringing out her culture for the talent portion with a Bollywood dance routine.
I was shocked to read all of the nasty racist things being said about her a few hours later. I'm glad to see that Nina Davuluri is giving these comments the brush off in her moment to shine, but I think it deserves a longer conversation.
I am from Pittsburgh but I now I live in the South and follow a lot of Southern bloggers. These women often focus on family and crafts, which I love, but their inner circle is segregated at best. I occasionally hear them talk about ministering (aka converting) the 'poor people' in the slums of India and around the world. They also talk about beauty pageant contestants quite in depth, especially on twitter. I wish I could say I was surprised to see how they were reeling when the winner was announced.
If it is so easy to connect with Indian people when you are looking down at them, why would you freeze up when one is wearing a crown on her head? Buzzfeed tells me that many people were tweeting things much worse. I won't stand to repeat them here but the comments were vile and racist. I want to say that I'm disappointed but I am not even surprised.
To me, this is just a flash of what I know is lurking under the surface. Growing up in Pennsylvania I got to experience it first hand. Children don't know they are supposed to hide their racism, instead they parrot what they hear at home without filters. I was called the N-word, treated to war whoops at the bus stops, often asked if I lived in a teepee and if our bathroom was a hole in the ground.
I think these interactions really pushed me into the introvert I am today. Socially awkward. Afraid to start conversations with random people. I'm still utterly useless at cocktail parties. I made it through middle school and high school with a small band of close friends. Semesters when we didn't have lunch together were devastating.
College was easier. I made friends quickly and they remain my best friends to this day. I met my husband, who is Jewish, then. We moved to New York City after we got married and I started to feel normal. I was friends with a great mix of people and I loved it.
We moved to Houston and I kind of forgot to worry about it. Then I slowly realized that the only people we seemed to be able to make friends with were also almost always Indian. This was odd, as it had never happened to us before. But, whatever. After we started sending Avinash to school the differences really hit me hard.
Making play dates was next to impossible. Women would turn away from me if I tried to talk to them while waiting for pick up. I often got vague non-committal responses to requests for playdates. One woman told me flat out that she had no free time ever. I heard so many whispers when an African-American girl joined the class about her never being able to fit in there. Okaaay. We put him on a few waitlists elsewhere but never got him. For the sake of exposing him to Judaism we put up with it.
Then he started getting harassed by other kids. We saw him sitting alone during carpool several days in a row. When pressed he admitted to us that the other kids told me he wasn't allowed to play with them. Tell me that those kids weren't getting at least some of that at home. We went to the principal. Forgotten promises to 'keep an eye on him' were all we got. Teachers were too busy to notice. We pulled him out after that, a few weeks before moving to Austin anyway.
Moving to Austin was eye opening to say the least. More than once I figured that we were having trouble making play dates for Avinash because of my social inpetitude, etc. Suddenly, we were meeting people and exchanging phone numbers all the time. At the park, at story time, at the Jedi Knight training, etc. Suddenly we were not living a segregated city with a segregated friend group. We actually have yet to meet any Indians here but I'm sure we will.
It has been beautiful and wonderful. And, it shows how attitudes make a big difference, even in two cities just hours away from each other. This is why it is so important to talk about race.
People who think that we are living in a post-racial society are really fooling themselves. If we don't talk about it, it will certainly never get better. If we never expect to be treated any better, we never will. Nina, I'm proud of you. And, I hope this leads to a constructive discussion about race and acceptance in America.