January 24th, 2009
|05:31 pm - No Country for Indian Men|
So I stopped by a used car lot because I'm looking at getting a car. An older white man, probably in his fifties or later, came over and introduced himself. I told him my name, and he failed to hear it properly twice ("Neil? Funil?"), but I didn't care. I told him what I was looking for, and he started to show me some cars.
In gauging exactly what sort of car I was looking for, he then asked, "Are you going back to your country?"
Am I going back to my country? AM I GOING BACK TO MY COUNTRY? I don't look like a FOB, act like a FOB, talk like a FOB; why you gotta treat me like a FOB, man? I would be less confused if I gave you the impression that I was Fresh Off the Boat, but my English is unaccented. Are you completely unfamiliar with the concept of foreigners peacefully and happily coexisting with white folk in America for many decades now? I WAS BORN HERE.
It was certainly one of the most bewildering things that's ever been said to me. I'm reminded of the woman in Legoland who presumably assumed I was an engineer because I was Indian and then asked me whether they made a lot of movies like Juno in India. Just like her, this man meant no offense at all; his tone was inquisitive and genial. The subtext was not "When're ya gonna git back to yer doggone country, ya dirty furriner?" but "You're not from around here, so perhaps you intend to go back to the homeland in a few years, which will have some bearing on what car I show you."
Confused though I was, I answered politely, "No, I'm staying."
I've rarely encountered hardcore racism, but it's this sort of stealth racism that keeps me on my toes. I was once asked by a girl on the bus in junior high whether I liked being Indian. I didn't know how to answer since I had never not been Indian, so how could I know? It wasn't as if I had a choice, anyway.
It's like some people don't know how to interact with people of other skin colors, like we make them all awkward. And in their misguided good intentions, they end up saying the most inane things. We're just people, the same as you, you fools. Don't get all weak in the knees and addled in the brain. The man was very nice and friendly throughout, though, and aside from that question, he treated me like a regular person.
I should probably be offended—and to a mild extent, I am—but mostly, I find it hilarious. I can't stop laughing about it. Am I going back to my country? Am I going back to my country?
No, sir, I am not. Newsflash! We're here to stay.
Current Mood: amused
Current Music: Placebo - Pure Morning
*facepalm* Bless you for having a sense of humor about it. People are so ridiculous sometimes!
I probably have too much of a sense of humor about these things, which is why I'm no good during the periodic racism debates on the Interwebs.
I will keep that in mind, Nicole. You are full of useful information.
Heh. You should have made him feel awkward. That would have been fun.
In the context of you being asked if you liked being Indian, I have a story. When I was in high school, especially during the winter, there was a period of time where I was atold by someone (various someones) nearly every day, "crap, your legs are so white!" or "wow, why are you so pale" or my favorite "how are you so white?" Eventually, I would sarcastically answer something like, "OMG, I'm white!?! Really? Crap!" Or "why am I so white? Well, let's see. My mother is white, and my dad is white, and -- *gasp* -- somehow I turned out white."
(Similarly J got to say things like, "I'm tall? No shit?!?!)
Okay, getting off on a huge, somewhat unrelated tangent, but I do think there was a point somewhere in there originally. Hmm... what was it? Oh, oh. Yes. People are weird. They like to question and comment on that which is different, like skin color, even when it's meant harmlessly, because different is interesting.
And there was your
first random miniglik story of the day.
You should have made him feel awkward. That would have been fun.
My friends have come up with the following responses so far:
"I'm American and already in my country."
"No. Are you going back to yours?"
"Yes, but it's just down the block. So it shouldn't matter too much."
"I have my own country?! Am I king? Is this a reality TV show? Where are the cameras?! Where?!"
"In fact, I'm going back to your mom's house."
People certainly do like to say dumb things, don't they.
Why, why people gotta be such idjits?
You could always blink a lot and go, "Oh, man! Did Texas secede??? My folks totally failed to tell me!"
Hee! Yes, that is definitely the country he thought I was from.
Oh boy. *eyeroll* I love people, I really do.
|Date:||January 25th, 2009 01:53 am (UTC)|| |
Wow. I'm glad you have a sense of humor about it, at least. I'm simultaneously amazed that anyone can say that in this day and age, and sadly not surprised at all. There've been studies showing that some people hear an accent when confronted with someone they think looks foreign, even if the person doesn't have an accent at all.
Edited at 2009-01-25 01:54 am (UTC)
That's freaky! I didn't know that. How weird. I mean, I have no accent. Not even a regional one.
|Date:||January 25th, 2009 01:54 am (UTC)|| |
"No, Sir. I understand Texas joined the Union a while ago."
Re: Correct Response
When I was in third grade, one of my best friends was Filipino. One day we were talking about our families and stuff, and I asked her if she had any Irish people in her family -- because I had Irish people.
I don't know that I ever would have thought a third grader could look quite so puzzled as she did, which is really saying something.
I'm sorry people are stupid.
Ha! That's funny. I mean, it's an adorable mistake, and I don't think it would be considered offensive, but then again, my tolerance is higher.
|Date:||January 25th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC)|| |
Ooh! Ooh! Do you ever get the classic "You speak English so well!"? Because when I "out" myself as an immigrant, I sure do.
I've not gotten that one, heh. But I'm not even an immigrant! I'm a natural-born citizen!
|Date:||January 25th, 2009 02:08 am (UTC)|| |
OMG I HAVE NEVER GOTTEN AN ANIMATED GIF AS A COMMENT.
I FEEL LIKE I AM ON ONTD OR A NEWS POST.
(HA HA YOUR ICON.)
Jesus Christ, that is ridiculous.
In other news, I am TOTALLY going to start calling you Funil.
I think he also tried Tunil.
Well, see, you never know. Some of those foreign call-center workers have pretty good American accents now; you could be a stealth immigrant. Good thing he saw right through that.
People will make stupid assumptions about anything and everything. God bless America.
Aren't we living in post-racial America? GOOD JOB CURING RACISM, OBAMA.
I can't believe you said you're staying! Do you know how much paperwork that's going to require?
Dammit, Sunil. I'm officially dumping you for Kal Penn. Or Dev Patel. Or Anoop Desai. Such hot Texans.
I don't know this Anoop character. Is he on one of your reality shows?
This was brilliant, and I love that you find it hilarious. I'd probably blow up and start brawling with my friends...when you're right...the only thing you can really do is laugh.
|Date:||January 25th, 2009 03:06 am (UTC)|| |
But Sunil! Don't you know we're in a POST-RACIAL SOCIETY NOW!
That's what I thought too! But maybe that only applies to African-Americans. WHERE'S MY INDIAN PRESIDENT, WHAT WHAT.
But...but...you're already IN your country. I just keep circling back to that.
Helpful questions. He's doing it wrong.
Am I allowed to have a piece of this country? That's all right with everyone else?
Dude, that is not stealth racism. That is in-your-face, no shame involved racism.
Holy crap. Let me tell you something, I admire you for not walking out immediately after he said that. On the other hand, I kind of wish you had just b/c I would have wanted to hear that story too!
Is it really that bad? He wasn't, like, denying me the right to buy a car based on my skin color or anything. Just asking an honest(ly stupid) question.
|Date:||January 25th, 2009 04:07 am (UTC)|| |
Oh for ... *points to icon*
If life were a TV show, you would have had a really snappy answer. Sigh.
As a white blond girl, I have little experience with racism. The only odd thing I've run into, is that, apparently, by virtue of having blond hair, I am often told that I look like a number of other people, actresses and whatnot, that also ... wait for it ... have blond hair. Really, that's it. The only unifying theme is hair color. People seem to be able to overlook all sorts of other features (such as not being 5'8" or weighing 100 pounds etc.) in order to notice that two people have blond hair! They must look alike! It's a little bewildering.
I've also been asked if I'm from Canada. My older sister, while in Alabama, was asked if she was foreign ... "like from Germany or France." She had some problems communicating with the diner waitresses.
If life were a TV show, you would have had a really snappy answer. Sigh.
I know! Like Kristen said, Veronica always says the things you only think of an hour later.two people have blond hair! They must look alike! It's a little bewildering.
Hair color is very important, clearly
.My older sister, while in Alabama, was asked if she was foreign ... "like from Germany or France." She had some problems communicating with the diner waitresses.
Because she was speaking German or French?
The question I've gotten several times is, "What are you, anyway?" Um, human? Apparently I look ambiguous enough that some people just have to know which box to put me in. (Also, a few times people have asked me, "Are you ____ ?" At least twice, Indian guys have asked me if I was Indian, a black guy has asked me if I was black or mixed, and a bunch of people have come up to me and started speaking Spanish.)
How delightful that must be for you.
dude. I would have walked away. For real. I can't stand shopping for cars anyway because all kinds of sexist behavior comes out - not to mention racist stuff too and that comment would have put me over the EDGE.
When I was shopping for my first car, I was ignored by every salesperson in the dealership for 30 minutes. After minute 15, I decided to stick around to see how long it would take them to approach me. I then wrote a complaint letter to Honda corporate about the dealership.
That's how I roll! :-)
Did you get a response to your letter? I'm sure your experience is not uncommon.
I love the fact that you said, "I'm staying." It's an oddly poetic way of expressing your state of shock. I imagined it as the beginning of a Twilight Zone episode where, because you said that, as you left the strange, magical car lot, you suddenly became an immigrant, but an immigrant determined to stay.
For my first 12 years I lived in central Wisconsin, which at that time consisted of white people and Native Americans, period. If there was one Indian man living in Rhinelander, by late that afternoon it would be news in Baraboo, and reported word of mouth as though a twister had taken out a trailer park and might be on it's way here now.
After age 12 I lived just for the summers in Milwaukee, where my exposure to various people was vastly expanded. By 13, I never wanted to go home, but as I would return to the great white north I would see my fellow citizens very differently. They would talk about people "moving here," but what I noticed was that in this way of thinking they didn't, in fact couldn't, imagine that someone such as yourself could have actually been here all his life. It's out of sight, out of mind.
In Robert Di Nero's film The Good Shepherd, Matt Damon plays one of the first CIA agents and at one point, in order to get information out of an Italian mobster played by Joe Pesci, he threatens to send him back to his country. "My country? I've been in this country since I was three months old!" But the CIA can do it, so Pesci's character does what he says.
But he goes on a little diatribe, yes, a racist tirade, in the kind of colorful language you'd expect from a character played by Joe Pesci, but he identifies what the different ethnic groups "have." "The blacks have their music, Italians have family." That sort of thing. And he asks Matt Damon's uber-WASP character, "What have you guys got?"
And Damon turns to him and says, "America. The rest of you are just visiting."
It's a harsh scene, all because of the look between those two men at that moment.
While Damon's character is maliciously guarding his concept of America, this guy seems to be guarding his concept of America out of fear, out of being set in his ways.
Sorry for the lengthy comment. Your post made me think of all that though, so it is your fault for being such a good storyteller.
Thank you! I haven't seen The Good Shepherd, but I think that scene definitely applies. As well as your hometown experience. I had never really thought about it before, but I think the "America. The rest of you are just visiting" idea is probably ingrained into a lot of people, consciously or not. The Founding Fathers were all old white dudes, after all. And yet, the whole POINT of America is supposed to be the melting pot. It's on the Statue of Liberty! It's almost like the country wants to have it both ways.
I figure at that age, no amount of cluesticking will do any good anyway.
Um, what. WHAT? Whyfor so dumb, Car Guy? Making assumptions about immigration status doesn't seem like a great sales tactic, you ask me.
The funny/sad thing is that he probably didn't think he was doing anything wrong.
|Date:||January 25th, 2009 05:52 am (UTC)|| |
I wonder what made him think it was 'his country' more than any other children of immigrants?
It is definitely racism, though. It's not deliberate, 'I hate people who aren't like me' racism, but it's still racism. Of course, forty years ago you wouldn't have bothered mentioning this encounter to anyone, because it would have been so commonplace it would have been like mentioning a traffic jam at a notably congested interesection. So there's some improvement.
The best response would have been a non-snarky 'no - this is my country.' The funniest response would have been to say no, and ask, in a round-about-way, if the car is bomb-proof. :D
Of course, forty years ago you wouldn't have bothered mentioning this encounter to anyone, because it would have been so commonplace it would have been like mentioning a traffic jam at a notably congested intersection. So there's some improvement.
Yeah. Like I said, normally, I have it pretty good, so I'm always a bit startled when I encounter someone/something like this.