April 19th, 2009

Karen does Jim (not like that)

Making Asians Uncomfortable: This Fall on FOX!

My mom and my aunt and my cousins and I are sitting outside a Chinese restaurant waiting for a table to open up.

A bald white man with a couple bandages on the back of his head and tattoos up his arms walks up and says, "Oh, I'm going to have start speaking Punjabi now!" On our quizzical looks, he explains that he could see we were from India, and everyone in India speaks Punjabi. No, my mom corrects, it's Hindi that's the national language.

The man stands corrected. And then he says that he didn't want to say "Pakistan" because our faces would fall. When you mention Pakistan to an Indian person, their face goes like this, he says, making a face. "Well, it's another country," I say, intently reading my menu, not willing to engage with this weirdo. I'm waiting for him to naively ask whether we're going back to our country, as this appears to be some bizarre display of tolerance. He goes on about reading body language, how he learned about body language from his mother's responses to the crazy lifestyle of his youth (gesturing to his tattoos).

"There was this great Indian man," he says. "Ganjhi. He said that you have the right to protest, but not to use violence." Yes, we have heard of "Ganjhi." He continues, "When I saw that movie"—I roll my eyes behind my menu—"the British soldiers were beating on him, but he wouldn't fight back!" My aunt and mom mmhmm. "If someone beat on me, it would be on!" That Ganjhi was a pretty great guy. Did you know that if you know who Ganjhi is, that makes you an honorary Indian?

Then he tries to guess which kid belongs to whom—he's wrong—and tries to guess our ages—wrong again, pegging me at 25, my teenage cousin at twentysomething, and my 18-year-old cousin at 20.

The reason he stopped to talk to us, he says, is that he used to drive a limo, and with his long sleeves, his earlier lifestyle was hidden. He used to want to tell all his rich clients, "If you only knew." He once drove the boy king of Jordan! I do not understand what this has to do with anything. I am waiting for anything close to a rational explanation as to why he would come up and talk to a random Indian family for ten minutes. Is he selling something? Preaching? Did he have an Indian friend once and now feels connected to all Indians?

"You better keep walking," my aunt says and smiles, trying to get him to leave. He isn't fazed. He thanks us for letting him take a "minute" of our time. "You read your menus," he says to me and my cousin, attemping to ignore him. I'm not sure whether it's sarcastic or friendly. He tries to fist-bump my mom, who declines, and then my aunt, who accepts.

"Oh!" he says to my mom. "I know you said you're not Islamic, but Islamic women can't touch anyone but their husband!" He knows so much about brown people! He is truly a White Ally, as they say.

Since he shows no signs of leaving, we get up and move to the restaurant under the pretense of seeing if a table is ready, and he takes the hint, thankfully, saying that he needs to pick up some food for his friend. He again thanks us for letting him take up our time.

I didn't smell any alcohol on him; he was only a couple feet away from me. But none of us could figure out what the hell had just happened. What compels a man to do that? What goes through his head? What does he expect to get out of a strange, one-sided conversation with non-white strangers?

At dinner, my cousin wonders if we were on a hidden-camera show. And then we look out the window.

There he is, talking to some Chinese people.