I read her blog, and then read some articles about her (thanks to my friend UnAmerican’s previous post), and then made the mistake of reading the comments section. My God! The hate that has been directed at this woman – why?! It makes my stomach roil and I wonder at her courage.
And underneath my horror and admiration is another emotion – relief that I was not born black in these white lands; I can leave.
As my husband said about France, “black and brown people here are so beaten down and scared that if you breathe hard on them, they will blow away.” My son, who is born in these lands, experiences much more than us. In France, there are very few Indians, and his friends say that he is from Africa. They don’t believe him when he says he is American. He is darker than I, and is smart as a whip, a topper in school and a champion at chess and can solve the rubics cube in under 2 minutes, and I watch as he hunches more inwards over time, looking down in the presence of adults; his voice so low, we have to ask him multiple times to speak up. He will not go and ask a waiter for more water. How different he is from his cousins in India – they are loud-bordering-on-obnoxious and so sure of their place, high in the world. They demand. My son scrunches himself smaller.
In our apartment building, several neighbours cannot get their heads around the fact that we live in their apartment building in this aristocratic neighbourhood. It is so bizarre a fact, it doesn’t compute. So when the downstairs lights burst, the apartment manager comes to our door and questions us about our whereabouts on that day. She is a budding Sherlock Holms and wants to ascertain the facts. After 15 minutes of this and once her intent is revealed, I ask her – “Why would we, me a professor and my husband an engineer, after 5 years living here, suddenly feel the urge to sneak down in the dead of night and break a light?” She goes away – logic is not the strong suit of these hate-filled-ones – but persistence is, and she comes back another day with a different charge. This is a beast that cannot be killed.
But to us, this hate is a minor annoyance, easy to shrug off, at most a twinge in the pit of our stomach. But for my son, it is a more deadly, slow-poison. He is almost-always crowned the leader when there is troublemaking involved and never the leader in any other matter. One day, we got home from the park, and I was in the garage putting things away while the kid waited right outside for me, and two neighbour women start scolding him. For what?! He was simply standing there, waiting for me. He has every right to be there – we live here!
I hear them and I came out the garage and I see my son, standing sullen and scrunched up, his voice getting lower, more defiant-defeated. And I shout at these hate-filled-ones, and I threaten to bring down the whole force of every power under the sun if ever-even-once they shout at my son again. If they have an issue, come speak to me or my husband, or “I will see you behind bars,” I thunder with all the righteous fury of generations of middle-class Indian privilege. They flounder at my vehemence – they do not know that I am not one of those whom they have beaten-down since birth.
And I wonder at black mothers, what they must feel as they watch their little ones being “dealt with a firm-hand” in school and by random strangers who feel the need to “teach them a lesson in how to behave.” Head down, hat-in-hand, a bow and scrape perhaps? What is the proper level of obeisance that must be paid to whiteness?
My stomach roils at the thought of being in these mothers’ shoes, but underneath my empathy is also relief – I can leave and take my kid away from this mindless muck.