In the times of Trump, and, closer to home – communal hatred increasing every day in India – what I am about to say is trivial. But I will say it anyway. Because it is my story. And because maybe someone will stumble across is just when they need to, and it will help them for a moment to feel less alone.
A few days ago I went out with a friend. It got late, and we were at a bar. While she enjoyed herself, I realised I had had enough and wanted to go home. She refused to leave, so I left her and went home. Then I felt worried and guilty. She was alone in a new city, exhausted and had one too many drinks for me to be able to go to bed with peace of mind. So I did what any decent friend would do (I hope) – I went back for her.
I reached the bar and located her flirting with the macho guy who I had already seen kiss 3 girls that evening. I asked her if she wanted to stay with him, and she said again that she just wanted to get rid of him and go home. So I asked her to leave, get away from him and his friends, who had now all come out of the club to form a semi-circle around us and watch this game of cat and mouse. At this point one of them went back to trying to talk me up, but I ignored him and tried to get my friend home with me.
Now things get really fun to watch. Macho guy comes up in my face and asks me “WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM?” I don’t respond to him, continue to try to talk sense into my friend, increasingly convinced that she must really not be herself if she does not see this nonsense and wants to stay and flirt with this dick. So I can’t leave her there by herself, right? Again, tall, blond, macho guy comes up in my face “WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM?” Now I am a joke, this loser, uncool girl who won’t let her cool, pretty friend have any fun. Its hilarious. I start to lose my patience, try to convince my friend louder to JUST.LEAVE.NOW! All the boys hear me – and one of them imitates me. And my accent. They all laugh. I walk away at this point, leaving her with them. I dont want them to have the pleasure of seeing me react in any way. As I walk away, they call after me and continue to laugh about making me angry. And call me “hot”.
In that moment, I felt so alone. So brown and they so white. So different. By staying, "my friend" became a part of "them". First there were a few minutes of rage. Red rage. And then came the tears. I cried as I walked back home, and continued to cry long after I went to bed.
In my 4 years in Germany, lots of people have asked me if “people are racist”. They don’t ask whether I have had racist experiences. They ask if people are racist. This question itself is wrong. It means we stoop as low as THEM. The racists. Because they do exist, of course. When I answer the question by saying that I have had very few racist experiences, some think I am naïve. Or in denial.
That might be true, to a certain extent. A lot of our experiences are coloured heavily by interpretation. So I give people the benefit of the doubt. It lets me lead a happier life. Because I chose to live here, and I choose this every day. So what do I gain by walking around always expecting to be discriminated against? When people are less than friendly, I chose to believe its their culture. When people are assholes, I chose to believe that they are assholes. Not racist assholes. But sometimes I run out of excuses.
What is this new kind of racism? Does calling someone “hot” mean its ok to make fun of their accent and therefore their heritage? How do they treat people who they do not deem to be “hot”? What kind of man bullies a woman repeatedly because he feels cock-blocked? What kind of friend does not leave even after this happens? Does alcohol justify this excuse? If I was (physically) stronger or more violent, I would have punched someone that day. What would have happened if a male friend or my brother were with me? Who would have come out on top of that fight (odds being 6 vs 1), and who would the police have supported? These are the questions spinning around my head over 3 days now.
I have been asked casually once by a close friend why I don’t try to “tone down” my accent. I think I have ranted this rant atleast 20 times. My accent is my own to keep, as long as its in my first language i.e. English. If I speak your language and butcher the pronunciation, please, correct me. But Indian accents aren’t seen as cute or sexy. They are comical and the butt of shitty sit-com jokes. Once I was even told by a near stranger that I sound like Apu from the Simpsons. Dont get me wrong. I adore accents and a good imitation. When its done within friends and with the right heart. But who I am kidding? This wasn’t about my accent. It was something much deeper, much nastier and more hateful than I will ever understand.
There are so many people out there who face so much worse. This silly little incident has made me waste so many tears, and it makes me wonder how people cope. Yes, grow a thicker skin. Fight harder. Change the perceptions. Bend, don’t break. Compromise. Learn to fit in. Stay clear of trouble.
Here is where naïve me meets angry me. When does the dialogue start being aimed at the perpetrators? Don’t be racist. Start with yourself, question your thoughts. Indians, before you complain, throw away that fairness cream and question your own biases.
I was lucky. A couple of close friends helped me figure it out by talking me through it. I did not write this post solely to be abusive. Trying to process this incident has been hard, harder than I expected. Especially when I think about how people in other countries get shot for being the wrong race. How little kids are bullied for being different. These are just words, and I should not let them affect me - a grown woman. But they did, I admit. But this luxury is not for everyone. People have worse problems with the same cause. And sometimes people cant share as easily as I can, or maybe they do not have friends who understand. I do not have any life lessons for them. I'm sorry. Sometimes life is shit. I hope it gets better. But you arent alone, remember that.