Or, you don’t. It’s your choice.
I’m going to tell you three of my own, honest-to-God, real-life, personal, New York City stories of live-together with racism and stereotype. Or, you can call it something else. It’s your choice.
I simply titled it Laugh 2 because I called the most recent story I told you Laugh 1. These three stories are so dry, down ‘n dirty, straightforward and unfunny that you might start suspecting my basic literary prowess. Heck, I seriously doubted it myself when I went through those little experiences; in fact, when they happened — one event at a time with a gap of a couple of years in between — the only thought that came to my mind was how to save my little brown Indian butt, and go home with a non-disfigured face (or in one instance, go home at all).
And I didn’t laugh.
I just thank God I did not become a post-9/11 FBI or NYPD statistic of hate-crime victims (or in one instance, a permanently disappeared U.S. citizen). I just hope and pray to God that, however insignificant my scare was compared to the grotesque, horrific, nightmarish and bone-chilling experiences so many people I know have gone through, none encounter experiences even as small as mine. I don’t know about you the rough, tough and diehard, man, I nearly peed in my pants. And a grassroots, 9/11 community organizer turned immigrant and labor advocate, I am not particularly known as a wimp.
How do I rank these stories? There is no way I could do that. So, like they write experiences on the resumé with the most recent cited first, I’m going to tell you my stories with the most recent one first. Is it the most stand-out one? Not sure. I leave it up to you to decide on the poignancy indicator of it.
Let’s just cut to the chase. I’ll be brief.
So, about this time last year, on one late morning on a slow, sunny, early fall day, I was waiting on a downtown NYC subway platform for the E train. I was going to college to teach an afternoon class. I had my trademark brown backpack on my brown back, I had a light jacket on, and I also had my hands in my coat pockets.
A woman — she was likely watching over me for some time — walked up to me, just before the train arrived. She smiled strangely at me, and said, “You’re not carrying a gun on you, are you?” Then she gestured at my hands in my pockets, and smiled again, as if she actually had doubts if I was carrying a hidden gun.
I was so surprised by the suddenness of it that I didn’t know what to say. First I thought she was just joking, however bad and stupid the joke was. But then I realized she was serious. The train came and she and I boarded the train; I now felt quite annoyed that she kept looking at me and my brown skin and my “Islamic-terrorist-looking” face and beard (she didn’t know I was an American Hindu, involved with the American peace movement, and preached global non-violence all my life). I realized she was quite nervous by the possibility that either my backpack or my jacket could indeed carry a gun. And then she walked up to me and repeated her question: “You don’t have a gun on you, do you?”
I had a little interaction with her after that — a non-violent one — and it was lucky I only had one station to ride on the E train. But that one-station, three-minute ride was more than enough. It was pretty long.
I am not CNN or Fox or some tabloid paper, and I don’t mean to make too much of a big deal out of it. But I’ve actually thought about the incident quite a bit afterwards, and in hindsight, I believe it could’ve been much worse under a slightly different set of circumstances.
Think about the incident happening on a Greyhound bus or maybe, a commuter train (I’m excluding airplanes because they’d have body scans and all). I very likely “look like an Islamic terrorist” with my brown skin and pronounced beard based on the profiling and flagging they’d had on countless innocent Muslims, South Asians and Arabs since 9/11. What if this crazy woman walked up to me there, challenged me if I had a gun in my backpack (remember my NYPD-NYCLU bag search lawsuit story?), and then perhaps called the “see-something-say-something” police? I know people who were picked up by the police and FBI and other law enforcement on such charges by “responsible American citizens.” I also know of at least one real-life story a young Sikh friend from New Jersey told me where a busload of Americans started heckling him on his way back home from Philadelphia, called him Osama, and followed him off the bus to the public bathroom, and threatened to beat him up black and blue.
Any of the above could’ve happened to me. That was really the scary part.
Glad in this case, it was “small and significant.” And I came back home in one piece to report it on Facebook the same night.
Funny? Not funny?
(to be continued)