--by happyncheerful, posted Jan 12, 2008
I shudder at the thought of being a racist, but even racists hate the idea of simply discriminating against someone based on what they look like. What we hate, and how we behave, I realise, are two very different things.
He came over and stood at a polite distance; a few yards away from us. I buried my ice-cold hands deeper into my coat pockets, shuffling around to keep warm. There was only the slightest breeze in the air, but the arctic temperatures penetrated through both cloth and bone with biting effect.
As a Muslim, I strongly believe that God created us all as equals. Belonging to a faith whose foundations are built on accountability: it was the content of your heart that mattered, not the colour of your skin. So, discrimination was never a natural reaction. Instead it grew in me subtly over time, like a cobweb on a ceiling: strong yet invisible.
I craned my neck, looking for signs of our tardy bus. I half-listened to my sister, one eye keenly aware of our companion. Wisps of hot air kept time with her speech, as she animatedly recounted a recent event.
My family are Indian, and that simple fact, along with biased news reporting, might go a long way in explaining where my irrational fear of black men arose from. Despite being just one shade lighter than a black person, the Indians I know have a deep-rooted aversion to all things black. Publicly racism is scorned, yet privately Indians revere white people. They have an incomprehensible obsession with appearing whiter than they actually are. Fair women in particular, are the prized blooms of any Asian society. Personally, I think colonisation is to blame; more than half a century on from Indian independence, we still feel inferior to white people. It's no wonder then, as with all ladders of discrimination, that someone is confined to the bottom rung. In order to save their chocolate brown skin from being relegated there, Asians choose instead to continue this cycle of hate and discriminate against black people.
The N12 turned into Queen's Avenue*, and I greeted the glare of its headlights with a sigh of relief. The bus came to a screeching halt in front of us and the automatic doors swished open. My sister boarded the bus first, paid her fare and made her way to our "regular" seats towards the back. The man waited patiently a few paces behind me, so I took my cue and followed my sister onboard.
I dropped my money in the coin tray and mechanically called out my destination. I automatically held out one hand towards the ticket dispenser, but the bus driver failed to issue my ticket and I looked back at him in confusion.
"Kendell Town," I repeated.
"I haven't got change," he said unapologetically.
I stared at him incredulously. Bus drivers were notorious for keeping a paltry amount of change on board, but this was ridiculous. I stood my ground determinedly.
"Well, I haven't got change," I said truthfully, resolutely fixed to the spot. Ticket prices had already increased at 10% above the rate of inflation and for a student like myself, the cost of a short journey pinched me more than the cold. I was determined to return to the wintry walkway then pay more than my fare.
"Have you got change?" asked the bus driver.
I turned to see that the driver was talking to the man behind me. His wallet was open and he counted out his money.
"No," he said, almost to the floor, his eyes scanning a handful of coins.
But, before I knew what he was doing, he proceeded to throw down several coins, covering not only his own, but my fare as well.
The bus driver handed my money back, and I held it, my mouth open in protest. I would have given it to the man, but not only did that defeat the purpose of my initial resolution, but he had already moved to the back of the bus. I stared after him in amazement, as the bus jolted to a start.
Balancing myself with the handrails I shuffled to my seat, as my body swayed to the rhythm of the moving vehicle.
"Thank you," I said to the man, before sitting down.
He nodded nonchalantly like a duck on a lake; his face emotionless.
Living in a city where asking a stranger for the time is often met with a grunt, a long sigh and an inaudible answer, I had long given up on meeting altruistic people. But, I met kindness in the most unlikely place. That simple act rattled me, and my perception of the world.
Did it change the way I view young black men? Honestly, no. I had yearned to believe that I didn't discriminate against people based on their appearance. After all, I wear a long gown and headscarf everyday and find myself on the receiving end of the very same intolerance. My religion has always taught me that the only criterion on which we will be judged is our faith: enjoining good and forbidding evil. We should smile upon our differences, cover up each other's weaknesses and deal with justice and equality. My experience reminded me that I have yet to reach this lofty goal, but it also reaffirmed my long held view, that my fear is irrational. At the moment, I feel just as unable to rid myself of it as I am of ridding myself of the fear of the two-inch spider lurking in my hallway.
What I do know though, is that kind stranger gave me a gift that I long to remember forever. His random act of kindness humbled me in a way that I still can't fully understand or adequately explain.
Thanks for sharing....
My dad introduced us to some of his friends so we celebrated Jewish holidays, learned how to use chopsticks and ate in Chinatown, CA with his asian friends, etc.
One reason I really enjoyed living in CA for so many years was the diversity...I like trying all new foods, learning about their holidays, traditions, etc and now have many friends of different races, religions, etc....
Now, I consider us one global family and the internet has really made this possible....you meet and talk to people from around the world and again and again to discover though we may look different, talk different, live far away, etc, BASICALLY DEEP DOWN, WE ARE ALL ALIKE AND WANTING THE SAY THINGS!