Saturday, December 1, 2012

Don't Judge Me!

My fingers race across the keyboard as I type up an article about life insurance. To my left, two Australian students - a boy and a girl possibly in their early twenties discuss Financial Accounting going by the title of the books strewn out in front of them. Directly across from me at the table, sits an Asian man solving multiple choice questions in a textbook. I cannot make out if he’s Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean. The four of us are immersed in our work, the only sounds being the discussion of the students and a few sniffles every now and then from the Asian guy, none of which seem to disturb any of us. I notice an elderly heavyset shabbily dressed man sporting a long white beard make his way to our table. Seating himself at the head of the table, between me and the other Asian, he proceeds to spread out some newspapers and some papers from a bulging folder. Suddenly he mumbles something to me. Unable to hear him clearly, I ask him if he needs anything. He leans toward me conspiratorially, yet in a loud enough voice so everyone at the table can hear him says something to the effect of ‘That Asian man is sniffling. I hate people who sniffle. It seems to be a cultural thing.’ Suddenly, everyone at our table goes quiet. The man continues. ‘Asian countries seem to have a very high level of tolerance towards such unhygienic things. I know people spit, they trash the roads.’. I am not sure if the statement is directed towards me or if he thinks he can kill two birds with one stone. I recover from my dazed state to defend the Asian saying he might not be doing that intentionally, maybe he has an allergy or is catching a cold. Unfazed, the man continues with his rant. 

Chaos erupts as the Asian questions his reference to the word ‘culture’ and then launches an offensive attack picking on the man’s own sense of hygiene suggesting instead that he’s the one who smells and who should be taking a shower. He calls out the Aussie on his suspicion that his disgust seems to be stemming not from the sniffling but from something much more deep rooted than that. Swearwords are freely exchanged. I try to show my defiance against the Aussie too supporting the Asian man who seems well educated, who had been minding his own business, and was calm and composed up until then. I hate confrontations of any kind and I do my best to avoid them. Plus, I cannot deny the fact that at the end of the day, I am an outsider in this foreign land despite the fact that there are arguably more number of Asians residing here than Australians. Do these emotions make me weak and cause my defensive arguments to sound feeble to my own ears?

I am pleasantly surprised when I find the two Aussie students also supporting us, showing their repugnance at the Aussie man’s statements and summoning the library staff to get the man to leave their table. The Aussie finally resigning himself to the fact that he won’t find a supportive audience at our table moves elsewhere but not before he  points his finger at the Asian man yelling ‘You people come here to study and you rip our country off. I fought for my country. But what did you do!’. As he moves away he defends himself stating that he is not a racist and he doesn’t care about language or the color of one’s skin, but the damage has been done.  

Children teach us the way to acceptance and tolerance. Say No to Racism.
Image source: Front.Moveon. Org
The Aussie students try to comfort the Asian man and show their aversion towards such racist people. With his exit, there’s silence at our table again but a deep mental unrest too and the episode leaves me shaken to the core. I had heard of racism being rampant in Australia but this was the first time I was witnessing it.I think about the politically driven agendas back home too which provoke the masses to drive out all non-Maharashtrians from Maharashtra. We talk about racism being prevalent in foreign nations, but that isn’t this racism too? Be it domestic or international, how can we profess to be an intelligent race of people, how can be we evolve as a species if we cannot even be tolerant of other cultures?  One can learn a lot from the kids in the picture, don't you think? If you had been in my place, how vehemently would you have stood up against the unwarranted verbal attack?

I would love to hear your views!

31 comments:

  1. the Silent specstraitorDecember 1, 2012 at 12:25 PM

    I learn from the pic that black and white should point fingers at each other or poke each others eyes... that's the best way to resolve issues. If I had been at your place, it would have been great to be in Melbourne...The city is very nice...green...not too crowded...If you mean- what if i had been in the library, I would say Shhhh...silence please... go out and fight. Because, fights will never cease...so, best is, apna kaam se kaam rakho. Kya boltai?!

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    1. Not funny :) Yes, Melbourne is a fun place to be! You should read my other post A Dash of Melbourne to know more! As for me going Shhh ... I guess that's why the Aussie students beckoned the library staff over to get them to maintain quiet! And lastly, yes, everyone was minding their own business but this was still an unprovoked fight! Was the Asian man this time, but it could very well have been me!

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  2. I liked the way you presented this incident...really nice...Though I feel sorry for that Aussie...He has fallen prey to something that must be simmering deep inside the people there...Some keep quiet, others lash out..Frankly, if I were in your place, I would have left that spot, you were brave to take a stand and help the Asian out...

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    1. Thank you Payoj. Well it is a true account of events, so I just wrote it as it happened! Yes, I do understand where the Aussie is coming from but I cannot condone unprovoked arguments :( As far as me being brave, I did try to, but I think with my avoiding confrontations mentality and the thought about me too being an outsider, I didn't end up mounting as good a defense as I should have!

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  3. Racism exists everywhere, even in countries which decry it outside their own shores, ignoring what is happening right under their nose. In our country it has become an obnoxious way of targeting anyone whom one doesn't like. And standing up for a fellow human who is being attacked needs a lot of gumption and I am glad to hear that the Aussie students did just that.

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    1. Very true. Its almost as if people who know they're wrong point fingers at others simply to take the focus away from them and show how bad the others are. But making someone else look bad doesn't necessarily make us good either! I was so surprised when they stood up for us, hadn't expected that at all! I think the younger generations are slowly learning but then unfortunately, there exist forces that provoke and influence too!

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  4. Racism is there everywhere, Deepa! People with minimal self-esteem exist everywhere and prop their self-respect on the crutches of racial identity. As for being in another country, if they did not want you there they should have shut their doors on you.

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    1. You hit the nail on the head Suresh! Its exactly that - people making others feel bad to feel good about themselves! I agree about the last part except I doubt the Aussie was in agreement with the immigration laws of his government, though that makes it his problem not mine!

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  5. racism is in india as well. north and south indians , maha and non-maha, kashmiri and non-kashmiri etc even the govt discriminates - forward caste, backward cast etc. so i believe this trait is both inborn as well as carefully cultivated.

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    1. Hello ROC, Thank you for stopping by! Yes, racism is in all forms everywhere - very much rooted in India. If not with racial tones, then by religion, region etc! But I am more of an opinion that it's comes from education - I don't mean the school kinds. I mean the ones kids learn at home or by observing others around them. Upbringing plays a huge role. After all children or young adults are pretty impressionable. They accept what they're taught. Which is why it is so important that they be taught to accept all cultures. Unfortunately there are forces that do think otherwise :(

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  6. Good article to bring out Deepa. Indeed "biases" (what you'd technically call what we see in India) exists everywhere. These are deep-rooted as some other commentators suggested. All that can be done is leadership to ensure the systems discourage it, and in general this has happened in most of the world. The root is upbringing, so if it really must be uprooted off subsequent generations, only the unique personal/social institution of "marriage" can achieve it :-)

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    1. Thank you Pradeep. I did have something else in mind for this week but this happened and I couldn't not talk about it. Yes, I agree with you - we need strong leadership - both at a system level and even at a personal front level. Children and young adults accept what they're taught. So upbringing has to take these into consideration! I am not sure if you mean marriage as marriage or marriage as a conceptual definition where we talk about uniting individuals (bringing together people!). Much as I am all for the former, I do think that even single parents with biological/adopted children can teach them the good lessons of life. So I am actually leaning towards the latter in this case! The conceptual meaning of marriage in a broader sense, one that applies to a whole multi-cultural community!

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  7. I think humans everywhere like to "belong" to a community. If not race, then maybe you will be pointed at as an outsider based maybe on your taste in music, the language you speak, your conformity with certain traditions etc. Wonder if we are even capable of truly becoming "global citizens". Sometimes you can't help but wonder if the locals do indeed have a point.

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    1. I do agree with you Revacious, to a certain extent. Yes, its basic human tendency to "belong" as you say. Much as we try, something or the other will always set us apart. That is what makes us gravitate towards others of similar interests then. But then we do not see ourselves laughing at or looking down or insulting people with other interests do we? There are people I detest for whatever reasons. But for the sake of courtesy and humanity, we co-exist peacefully! Two people do not have get along, but getting into a fight mode unprovoked is what ticks me off! Yes, sometimes I do think maybe they have a point but in that case, they should just seal their stupid borders and not let anyone in! If they are, then the locals' fight should be with their government shouldn't it?

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  8. I agree with Zephyr, Deepa! Racism is the easy way out to target someone we don't like or we have a tiff with or we are plain uncomfortable with. It is hitting below the belt and a sign of a very mean individual. It exists everywhere. It is very rampant in our country where we discriminate on the basis of culture, caste, colour, religion and what have you! What can I say? Your situation was difficult, but kudos to the Aussie students.

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    1. Yep, you're right. Its simply an excuse to vent your frustrations on someone and let them take a form. What I feel sad about is that some people I know are so judgmental in calling others racist when we live in other countries and witness/experience such but sometimes one really needs to open their eyes and understand that what happens back home is no different. It exists everywhere just in different forms. I was a little confused and maybe a little unsure of how strong a stand I should take, but you're right. I applaud those Aussie students for standing up against one of their own nation in the fight for humanity.

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  9. Racism is all over. I see it everyday. And we Indians are actually the most racist.

    And not just in India even here in UK I have seen us being so bad with our fellow countrymen.

    But I

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  10. Oops I pressed the publish button too fast..

    As I was saying but I found your situation difficult. . Don't know what I would have done in that situation. . But still the guy did not have any right to speak like that.. if he has fought for the country then he shudders ask his govt. To stop immigration. . And believe me Indians have actually contributed a lot towards the economy.

    Sad sad when people talk like that..

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    1. That's what I couldn't digest Bikram. The fact that it was an unprovoked uncalled for act. Maybe he thought no one would stand up to him, he probably didn't expect the Asian guy to lash back or him or the students to go against him. People like him are everywhere, who believe by their talks they can influence the youth and fill them with spite just as he is filled with. Thankfully more and more youngsters have a mind of their own! You're right, his fight should have been with his government!

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  11. Oh dear. Such episodes make you question about your decision to live in a foreign land. But, like you said, where is the fairness when a man from Mizoram who works in Mumbai has similar thoughts?
    We have come a long way from where we were decades ago, but there is plenty of road still to be covered before we become a post racial human race.

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    1. Sometimes it does make you think, but then for every one such crazy you also meet four more friendlies who are so nice and caring that it helps put the episode out of mind. My intent is not to defend these nations, but ultimately its the individuals who give such thoughts free rein. If not on the basis of color, we have our own set of crazies spouting evil and discriminating in the name of religion, caste and let's not forget GENDER! We talk about uplifting backward classes and provide reservations. Correct me if I am wrong when I say that all it does is increase the divide some more? Don't we as 'open' category or merit students feel irritated because a 'reserved' candidate took a seat even though we should have made the cut based on merit? I know I have felt cheated at times. But that's a whole different conversation for later. I guess the point I am trying to make is that any discrimination is bad. Regardless of the form it takes.

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    2. Oh yes! We've made quite a bit of progress, but I guess every generation would crib about there being so much more to be done! Sigh!

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  12. When Casteism, classism is all so prevailant in our Country...why should any other country be any different? Toleration is something which has to be practiced. It is a common practice to blame some one for your own failure.
    Well written post...point to ponder.

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    1. Thank you for your comment Janu! Yes, I believe its not the nations which can be blamed. These thoughts stem from individuals and if not nicked in time, slowly spread across a community. Upbringing has to play a huge role to curb these views.

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  13. Beautifully narrated. Yes rascism exists everywhere. A classless, colourless society is an ideal.

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    1. Thank you DA! I wish and pray the day of an ideal divide-less society comes sooner rather than later!

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  14. It might take some more centuries for people to start understanding that their own way of living is not superior to others. There can be different colours of skin, languages and ways of living which can co-exist. I think we are a very young race who still has to understand this but we will get there. Removing that person from your table was an important step. At least now he knows that he was alone there.

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    1. You're right! The keyword is co-exist. I am glad the fight didn't get dirty and he left when he realized he didn't have much support. Though I doubt if it would have knocked any sense into him. Some habits die hard. For all I know, he must be spouting the same nonsense somewhere else!

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  15. First of all Deepa, I cannot help but notice how beautifully this has been written the language and its diction, you have a great command over it! And honestly, Although I don't comment, I try to read your blogs regularly and I see a great improvement in the way you write from how you used to. I really loved the blog and way it has been narrated till the end, message conveyed really well.I detest racism and I don't like to even discuss about it! End of the day we are all humans sharing the same planet well, coming from different backgrounds and place. No one has the right to claim that they are perfect or superior to the other :)

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    1. I am touched! Thank you Gayathri! Been a while since we spoke, hasn't it? :) I did see that you're posting quite a bit of poetry these days :) Good going!!! Thank you so much for your kind words! I wish more people would see it as something as simple as that! Just humans sharing the same planet! But unfortunately, with humans there's ego, claims over territory, discrimination and what not!

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