OPINION

Hazed for a Sandwich

April 13, 2006
heartcrossings

I was at the neighborhood sandwich joint for a tuna sub for J and I. The teen that was taking my order stood there like a retard with a loaf of wheat bread smeared with tuna and kept staring at me. "Is that all that goes into it ?" I asked incredulously "Whatever-else-you-want-with-it" he slurred.

This is just the kind of pebbles-in-mouth-uniform-intonation mumble that drives me up the wall. "Isn't there a standard recipe for it ?" I asked. It had taken a good five minutes to reach a common understanding about the type of bread I wanted.

Customers were lining up behind me. The teen shrugged his shoulder and mouthed something that I totally lost. He was doing nothing to the tuna smeared bread. "I don't see anything labeled in there so how I can tell what you have ?" I said pointing to a row of opaque plastic bottles of dressing. He named all ten of them without so much as pausing to catch his breath.

J was following this with curiosity looking at the teen and at me by turn. She could tell Mommy was getting real mad. "You know what, since I can't understand a word of what you're saying and you don't have a recipe, just thrown in whatever you like and I'll pay you for your trouble." I said in obvious exasperation. The silence around me with pregnant with deep, undecipherable meaning. I realized I could hear only myself. J inched closer to me.

That shook his speech out of the slur-mumble mode. He actually said "Would you like some tomatoes ?" just like a normal person would. I was even given the typical how-would-you-like-it spiel. He was perfectly articulate now. The transaction was completed in mere seconds.

This is the kind of racial hazing I have been through many times before and am building an immunity towards it. I figure I can't be troubled by a high-school drop-out who is convinced he is not making as much he should because a colored female immigrant took his rightful entitlement away from him.

I guess it is too much to expect that he have any awareness of the Indian educational system, or know how kids there work their tails of for all the high school years to get through the competitive exams for top of the line engineering and medical schools. His notion of numbers and ratios would fail him if I told him that several million candidates compete for a few thousand seats.

Back in my time, failing was not an option because there was no diversity in career choices that paid the bills. We worked very hard to be where we are and the legal immigration channels that people like me go through in the US deplete us of the little life we've got left. If he had worked a tenth as hard as I had he could have been graduating from a top tier school in his country with employers wooing him with signing bonuses.

The fact that he and the system could not work to the betterment of his life has nothing to do with me would be more than he can comprehend. I feel strongly tempted to ask "Wanna trade ?" If he can stay at my job for more than a day, I'll give it away to him freeing myself to flip burgers from now until eternity knowing my life's real purpose was thus revealed unto me.

My only concern about the message J gets from being witness to such incidents. I don't necessarily want her to grow up with a chip on her shoulder.

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#1
Jawahara
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April 13, 2006
10:38 AM

Interesting article (btw, I used to enjoy reading your pieces on desijournal). However, I don't think I saw racism as much as cluelesness on the part of the sandwich guy, in this one. Perhaps the subtelty of the racism didn't come through in the article. He seemed to be the same type of young, somewhat rude, semi-clueless person who often work at sandwich shops. Perhaps you can elaborate.

#2
heartcrossings
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April 13, 2006
11:17 AM

The interesting thing about racial hazing (at least in my experience of it) is that it is fairly subtle. You just feel like you are being treated different for your color - being made to feel a little uncomfortable.

You wonder if you have read too much into the situation or if you are just over-sensitive. Yet time after time, you come back with that same feeling. You are not so sure any more.

Then there are those who are very warm and accepting of your racial identity and don't make you feel like an outsider at all. So I figure you can tell the difference between when you are being hazed and not.

#3
Suyog
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April 13, 2006
01:30 PM

I agree - there is a subtle difference somtimes. I have faced in airplanes most notably from the hosts.

#4
Lakshmikanth
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April 13, 2006
01:37 PM

ohh damn.. i am usually dumb in coming to terms with other people's subtleness...this means that there could have been many moments in my life where i could have been racially 'discriminated' in the US.

i should be more careful and agressive from now on.

#5
heartcrossings
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April 13, 2006
02:05 PM

At the risk of generalizing, I have found desis to be slower and/or more unwilling to recognize racial hazing. We seem to prefer giving the other person the benefit of doubt despite a bunch of contrary evidence. It makes us feel better about ourselves, take credit for our generosity of spirit perhaps. Or maybe we are way more tolerant than we need or should be.

#6
Jawahara
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April 13, 2006
03:35 PM

Racism, especially institutionalized and ingrained racism is subtle, mainly because people can't get away with overt racism any more. Well, in most places, at least :-). However, that does not mean that every rude and/or clueless action is racist. My only question about this article was not that there was no racial hazing in this case but that it wasn't immediately apparent to the reader.

#7
Ruvy in Jerusalem
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April 13, 2006
05:07 PM

Heartcrossings,

It honestly didn't strke me that you were being hazed. What you described was the typical behavior of the have dazed, stupid foodie whose brain needed waking up. Having supervised such people as a Burger King manager in the States (and having fired a number of such idiots), he honestly didn't sound as if he was aware that you were alive, much less of a different skin color from him.

#8
Ruvy in Jerusalem
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April 13, 2006
05:09 PM

That ought to have read half dazed...

#9
deepti lamba
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April 13, 2006
05:29 PM

Good one Ruvy, most of the teens here are halfm dazed. Even the kids of my friends grunt or plain ignore me when I happened to visit.

Initially I found it to be plain rude but then realized that they were being cool.

If I ever behaved like them my mother would have whooped my ass.

HC, I've come across racial discrimination a number of times but shrug it off as its a bad reflection on them.

#10
Heartcrossings
URL
April 13, 2006
06:37 PM

Ruvy and Deepti - You guys tempt me to vent about the insouciant, brain-dead teen phenomenon :) What's up with that anyways ? Bad parenting comes to mind but wonder if there is more.

#11
Q
April 13, 2006
08:08 PM

I am terribly sorry heartcrossings, but where did you get your sense of entitlement? Just because you memorised tomes of books doesn't make you better than any dazed-kid here. Doesn't mean people ought to bow down to you wherever you happen to pass.

You did what you did for your self-interest; same applies here.

And the white kid probably doesn't care about serving brown-skinned females - what are you gonna do abt it?

#12
Heartcrossings
URL
April 13, 2006
09:03 PM

My sense of entitlement comes from working hard each day and earning an honest living. Too bad the kid does not want to serve brown-skinned females because there's a lot of us browns, blacks and intermediate non-white colors out there and he's not getting our business with that kind of attitude - there's too much choice out there.

And guess what some of us coloreds are employers who could easily pay that kid double or more what he makes flipping burgers. What he is doing is bad for business is in an ethnically diverse neighborhood.

#13
Vikas Chowdhry
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April 13, 2006
09:44 PM

I find your comments ironic because we desis are second to none in practising our own brand of racism. One only has to see the attitude of desis in the US towards Blacks or pick up any matrimonial ad by NRIs where one of the first prereqs seem to be "fair".

So in my view it is a classic case of pot calling th e pan black.

#14
Q
April 14, 2006
02:19 AM

Alright heartcrossings, you've laid the choices out very well; the kid took his choice, who are you complaining to?

And Vikas, desis don't apologize for being rascist - and don't understand that it is a problem - and they aren't that PC yet.

And heartcrossings, Would I work for/do business with/employ a black guy? Sure. Would I marry a black girl? Not so sure. Am I a racist? Don't know.

#15
Ruvy in Jerusalem
URL
April 16, 2006
06:06 AM

Heartcrossings,

I honestly do not know. I'm going to take a stab at it, though. Teens seem almost as half dazed here, paticularly the secular ones.

I suspect that acting as if you do not care about the world going to hell around you is the "cool' behavior for American teens these days. I suspect this is true because secular Israelis imitate Americans slavishly and that appears to be the way the secular Israeli teens behave.

I'm very glad I do not supervise these idiots in America anymore.

Not too long ago, I was in charge of teaching a bunch of secular Israeli teens some of the basics of patrolling the neighborhood for terrorists. They're not stupid kids and the show of not caring about anything is just that, a show.

I might have been ignored as just another pain-in-the-ass adult had I not been explaining military tactics and asking for validation from their older cousins and brothers in the army.

But, given that this is Jerusalem, and the neighborhood I live in (for the moment) is one of the most strategically important in the city, I was shocked that these kids did not know more about the strategic significance of where they were walking.

I am very saddened by the dumbing down and virtual collapse of education in this country.

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