A personal reflection written for JRN 2500: Perspectives on the News.
On one of the days immediately following 9/11, my dad hoisted an American flag to the second floor window of our house. Flags were incredibly accessible in those days. For less than ten dollars, you could affirm your unwavering loyalty to a country and feel included in its culture. He even taped a smaller one onto the tinted glass windows of our minivan. As Indians, we didn’t want anyone to misunderstand where we stood on the nation’s issues. And for a few months, we were all Fox News. We’d crowd around the TV and watch the F14s—or whatever they were—impress everyone with their acrobatic skills. All the commercials about unity and American strength in celebrating diversity made me feel loved. They made me feel that America is a country of love and understanding and that I can be Indian and still gain a discount on sharing the sentiments of my lighter-skinned friends.
Sometime that October, my dad was walking home from the bus stop. He left Manhattan early that day, because it was a half-day at work. As he walked, a group of teens approached him from across the street. At first, he didn’t pay any attention to the words they threw at him. But then they began to follow him. One of them demanded to know where bin Laden was. The others jeered, calling my dad a terrorist, suggesting that he go back to Arabia. Dad was harassed that day. He was so shaken up. When we talked over what happened that evening, I told him he should have carried a flag with him. He looked at the television and sighed.
Recalling how I felt back then, I admit that the reason we bought flags and talked about politics and the heroism of democracy wasn’t our support for America. Don’t get me wrong; we love America. My dad has always talked about the educational opportunities and the religious freedoms one has here in contrast to where we came from. But the show we put up post-9/11 was not an expression of love and support but a mask covering the fears of being exposed. If I wished anything about the people who bombed the buildings, I wished they weren’t Arabic. I wished badly that they were anything else—anything a safe distance from my skin color. It made anyone olive-colored criminally suspect. Their vague resemblance to us was enough to convict us. But why? We suffered too. My parents work just blocks from where the towers stood. My dad came home with his hair and clothes bleached with dust. We have our red badge of courage.
This started my thinking about race and the illogic of ascribing identity to something so arbitrary. I tried to rationalize the attempt to identify one’s innocence or anything else about him by his race. Several questions kept me from doing so. What is it about a color that inclines one to behave in a particular manner? What’s the reasoning behind the assumption that one’s ethnicity determines his beliefs? One reason I’m given is the correlation that shows a tendency between some groups of people and violence. But is it really that simple? Then what’s the explanation for the link between the two? Is there something genetic about it? Answers to such questions never exceed pseudoscience.
People categorize others by race along with by age, income, social status and demographics. Among these categories race is by far the most imposed and determining factor on the perception of one’s personality or beliefs, even though it is the most unrelated. Whenever one hears about a bombing or shooting, the most essential trait of the perpetrator (unless he is white) is his ethnicity. In the days following the Virginia Tech shooting, several reports popped up of slashed tires on cars belonging to Korean Americans.
There is no logical connection between Seung-Hui Cho’s ethnicity and his nihilism. So I must conclude that racism is irrational. If racism is irrational, then the cure to racism is education. Something I learned in my English class about postmodernism gave me a lot of insight into labels and words in general. The idea is that labels, names—really anything for which there is a word—are constructs of one’s interpretation of reality. Nothing exists except that which is named or labeled. No real reality—no objective thing—exists except that which one prescribes. I think this would help someone understand the nature of labels and ideas. When one talks about “authentic” blackness, for example, he assumes that there is one monolithic standard against which people measure up. But the problem is that there exists no such standard. His preferences determine how he thinks about black culture. That’s why the word “authentic” doesn’t exist in postmodern vocabulary. In the same way, there is no real monolithic version of any given culture or race. So we should give up generalizations and stereotypes about race.
This reasoning has already been adopted in many other areas like religion, moral values, and political ideologies. And while I strongly disagree with some of the tenets of postmodernism and think some of the values that it undercuts are universal and some truths really true, I think it is accurate when it addresses culture and race. I think that what people lack are a foundational understanding of words and the connection between these and the reality that they attempt to reflect. So I think that an appropriate education of these would dispel much intentional and unintentional racism that occurs in the United States.
About Finney Raju
A literature major who enjoys reads in religion and philosophy of mind, is a law-school hopeful. In his spare time he spaces out and plays guitar. He is excited at the thought that persons other than himself can understand his works.