Monday, November 07, 2005

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.
Me: [shrug]
Mom: Tell me: are people ever rude to you because of — you know — our skin?
Me: Sure.
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...
Mom: But?
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?
Me: [shrug]
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.


Anonymous rakesh said...

My friend moved to Connecticut this October and he became a vitim of racism too. A white man refused to accept his blood (he went to a hospital to donate blood)just because he was an Indian.Can anyone believe that???

November 07, 2005 8:29 AM  
Blogger girish said...

I corraled a few links on the Hindu caste system in case anyone was curious:
here, and

November 07, 2005 8:47 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Right after the Sept 11 attacks, my boss asked me if I was a terrorist. I laughed, but what I really wanted to do was punch her in the face.

November 07, 2005 9:12 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Tuwa, I have Indian pals in the US who shaved off their beards that week...

November 07, 2005 9:18 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh, and as is probably evident from the post and the links, we're way ahead of y'all Americans--
We've been practicing systematic, cold-blooded racial discrimination in India for centuries.

November 07, 2005 9:21 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Girish, we're trying to catch up; just give us some time. We just need some more tax cuts for the rich and another Katrina or two, and I think we'll have it down pat.

I decided--perversely--to cut my hair shorter and to let my beard keep growing, on the rationale that I needed to be more patient. Mixed results so far. ^_^

November 07, 2005 9:42 AM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

Have you seen Persons of Interest yet? There was one particular testimony that reminded me of your experience right after 9/11, also in Buffalo. He stopped at a Burger King, then parked his car to eat at the parking lot, and he saw a bunch of people pointing at him. Then soon after that, he was arrested for "illegal use of a vehicle" or some such nonsense. The guy exhausted his life savings fighting the charge in court.

November 07, 2005 9:48 AM  
Blogger girish said...

No, I haven't seen Persons Of Interest yet. It's listed on Netflix, with release date unknown. Thanks for the link, Acquarello.

You know, I have to say something here, and it might be a little un-PC. (And this is painful for an avowed lefty to say.)

Most of the cases of racially motivated suspicion, unfriendliness or outright malice that I've encountered in the US has come from white (1) working-class folks, or (2) older folks.
It is especially apparent in a town like Buffalo with a large working-class population.

But on the other hand, maybe educated, white-collar people are sometimes just better at hiding what they really think...

November 07, 2005 10:46 AM  
Blogger phil said...

brilliant post as always...brilliant graphic as well.

you know what i'd love to see you do sometime? i think i'd really like to see you take these conversations with your mom and illustrate them. your "stage directions" have the motion of Sunday comics in my mind. maybe you could collect a few strips and self-publish them in a mini-comic or something.

November 07, 2005 11:03 AM  
Blogger phil said...

ah, oh yeah, i almost forgot: racism is bad.

November 07, 2005 11:04 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, nice idea about the mini-comic, Phil. I never thought of that but it would be a cool project.
Do a small Kinko's lo-fi run of palm-sized minis.
And maybe USS Catastrophe might pick them up and hawk them for me.

November 07, 2005 11:11 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Fascinating post (plus responses) by filmmaker Tom Gilroy.

November 07, 2005 12:12 PM  
Blogger girish said...

That Cronenberg juggernaut rolls on: Michael at Culturespace; and Steven Shaviro.

November 07, 2005 12:42 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Girish: you've talked me into it. I'll go see it this week, before it's gone (I missed Serenity at the theaters--dagnabbit.)

November 07, 2005 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

"But on the other hand, maybe educated, white-collar people are sometimes just better at hiding what they really think..."

There's probably some truth to that. I've known a fair number of educated, well-paid, white-collar folks who have either an intense dislike for certain ethnic groups or, in the very least, are uncomfortable around them.

And thank you for the link, Girish.

November 07, 2005 1:04 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Oh, you're more than welcome, Michael.
And Tuwa, even if you end up not liking the film (I know some people who had reservations), it's a fun film to think about, IMO.

November 07, 2005 1:15 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Okay, Aaron knows how to drive you crazy.
In these mash-ups, it's ironic that the only one of these six movies I can't place is the one that appears to be the most obvious: the first, at top left.

November 07, 2005 4:05 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...


November 07, 2005 4:30 PM  
Blogger girish said...

I guess that means you won't give me a hint.
Okay then.

November 07, 2005 4:35 PM  
Blogger Mike Slagor said...

Hey Everyone - Sorry I'm really behind on the comments, but I wanted to say something about Rakesh's first comment:

I cannot believe the donating blood story..What friggin year is this?

November 07, 2005 4:38 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...

Okay, here's a hint because you're a sport: All the images come directly from the DVDs, so nothing was colorized or modified beyond a little proportionalizing.

November 07, 2005 5:05 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Um, that was a huge help, Aaron. :-)
Shall go think some more.

November 07, 2005 5:14 PM  
Anonymous acquarello said...

It's been about ten years since I last gave blood, but I remember that there was something in the disclaimer about not being able to donate if you had been out of the country in that last x months or if you had lived in another country in the last x months (years?). I think the idea was that you had potentially developed immunity to certain viruses that someone in this country may not have the antibodies to fight, so you could potentially be introducing antigens in the recipient's bloodstream.

By the way, now rould be a good time to cue L'Intrus. ;)

November 07, 2005 5:33 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Speaking of L'Intrus, so looking forward to DVD. Thought it was a lost film for sure.

November 07, 2005 5:35 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Six films, Girish? I see three.


November 07, 2005 6:13 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Oh. I'm quite ... unclever.

Yeah, I don't know any of them. Not even sure which Leone it is.

November 07, 2005 6:16 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Tuwa, just happened to see that Leone again recently.

November 07, 2005 9:23 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Wow. That contest is tougher than one in Premiere magazine where contestants had to create mash up titles. I got cited for The Incredible Shrinking Man who Shot Liberty Valance although I have fondness for Night of the Living Dead Poets Society.

November 08, 2005 1:16 AM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...

I don't remember that, Peter, when did Premiere run that contest? Then again, just because I write for them doesn't mean I ever get around to reading them. Bad film critic!

Here's another hint on my mash-ups: None of them feature movies starring Herve Villachaize, Estelle Getty or the dude who played Bernie in the "Weekend at" series.

November 08, 2005 10:40 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Aaron, I'm curious: how many quiz responses do you average a week?

November 08, 2005 11:38 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

Girish --

First off, the most disturbing thing in the conversation is that you eat a place called Mighty Taco. ;-)

Secondly, as for Aaron's quiz this week....where have I seen another shot from the film in #3? Hmmm....

November 08, 2005 11:51 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Yes, Filmbrain, my family finds it disturbing too. :-)

November 08, 2005 12:09 PM  
Blogger phil said...

did i just hear someone throw a dig at the mighty taco...?

father forgive them for they know not what they say...

November 08, 2005 12:32 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Phil only likes them because their tray-papers are made of comic strips.

November 08, 2005 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Aaron Hillis said...

Filmbrain: Bad Filmbrain!

Girish: It varies. Sadly, the actual number of submissions is pretty low, typically less than 20 a week. I think people are scared off by the more challenging puzzles or they simply don't guess if they're unsure of all three answers.

Mighty Taco lovers: When I lived in Austin, I frequented a fast food Tex-Mex joint called Taco Cabana (they all looked like that).

November 08, 2005 2:22 PM  
Anonymous Darren said...

For the record: Joanna and I eat at three or four local Mexican restaurants so frequently that Microsoft Money has prompted me to make each of them a regularly-occuring expense.

If I ever make it to Buffalo, I am so buying Girish lunch at Mighty Taco.

November 08, 2005 3:25 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Yes, I'd like that, Darren. :-)

November 08, 2005 3:41 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Aaron: the contest in Premiere was way back in the 1990s. It was the last contest they had for some reason.

Girish: I love Mexican food, too. That's the one thing I miss about Denver. Lots of food, low price, covered with lots of gooey cheese. One of my favorite places was Senor Burrito.

My internet connection is still inconsistent, but I am posting on my site again!

November 08, 2005 5:53 PM  
Anonymous rakesh said...

Mike!The blood story happened this October. I couldn't believe it myself when he told me. If you want details, I could ask my friend.

Thx for the info, acquarello.

November 09, 2005 9:21 AM  

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