Monday, September 16, 2013

Miss America

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.

17 comments:

  1. Great post! I'm Caucasian American and I could still never live in most of the south. I got enough of that growing up in rural PA. I've heard lovely things about Austin though. Glad it's working well.

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    1. Thank you Terri! I love PA in a lot of ways, but I can't always ignore the bad stuff too.

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  2. I am not shocked by their reactions. I am saddened and disappointed. I had hoped that racism was on the decline.I would have thought that is would dissipate considering how much people communicate with each other these days. I am glad Nina received the crown. She's beautiful and a great ambassador of her heritage as both an American and an Indian.

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    1. Thank you Christy, let's hope it is on the decline. We have the power to make it do so.

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  3. I'm glad you wrote about your insight as a South Asian living in the South. NIna Davaluri is smart, beautiful and well-spoken, and I hope she's able to show the public that you can have brown skin and be American.

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    1. Grace, thank you for your kind words and support! I hope the same thing of Nina Davaluri.

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  4. Love this post, and I'm sorry that your experiences in TX have been sucky. And at a Jewish school?! How hypocritical.

    This is one of the reasons I love living in Seattle - no one ever gives a second thought to it. We don't get weird looks. Every family around us is "mixed", it seems.

    Glad Austin is working out better. I told TJ that was the only place in TX I would live :)

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    1. Yeah, I like to think that it has less to do with the religion of the school and more to do with the culture of Houston but yeah, I did expect better.

      It is funny how much attitudes change in different cities. It may not be as open minded as Seattle, but I think you would like Austin too!

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  5. Thanks for writing this post. The sad reality is that it's not surprising at all. I don't want to say most people, but a lot of people are full of prejudice, racism etc.
    I'm a jew living in Austria (for the last 2 years), trying to forget the dark past this country has in regards to my people. Thankfully life is very good here, and people don't seem to care so much about these things anymore. But still some see immigrants, or just people who are different than they are, as something to be scared of, or keep a safe distance from... People are just stupid that way... so very sad, but true.
    What we can do, is educate our children to be better than that.
    I wish you and your family all the best!

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  6. Wow, this post saddens me on so many levels. I am so sorry that you, and your child, were treated that way. It's ridiculous that we live in a world that still has issues like that. I am so happy to hear that you have found a better place to raise your beautiful family.

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  7. Thank you for posting this. I lived in Houston several years before we moved this summer to UK. Can you believe racism exist for European people too ? Your storing about your bathroom remind me when we first arrived there 12 years ago, someone ask my husband if we have running water in Paris... Go figure. It's a lot better now than in the past, but in 12 years, we only had one Texan family in our friend's circle. I feel you about playdates too. But everything changes when the kids went to the International school.
    I'm glad Austin is a good fit for you.

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  8. Hi, I came over from Anandi's blog. I'm kind-of horrified to read about your experiences. That is just terrible. Terrible even for me, a person of colour in South Africa. So glad Austin is better for you and your family. People's ignorance and outright prejudice just shocks me - it's so senseless.

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  9. I am so sorry you were treated like that. I love that Americans are slowly accepting other races into traditional white roles, but very slowly. Glad things are better for you now, and hopefully will continue to be better. Its sad that parents influence their kids that way.

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  10. One more thing. I hope you'll consider unfriending and unsubscribing to those Tweeters and bloggers (you know, the "Christian" ones making the comments). Hit them where it hurts, social media-wise.

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  11. Hi there! Thank you so much for writing this post. I have had similar experiences as a South Asian growing up in the South, and I know we have so much progress to make. I am still really happy that my kids will grow up being able to see people on TV that look remotely like them.

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  12. Here from Anandi's blog. What happened to you and your son broke my heart. I can't believe that kind of behavior in a major American city no less. I'm starting to fear for my sons when they start school---I went through that crap growing up in the south, but I (naively) assumed that things might have changed in 30+ years.

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