Crossing the road, I see a brown man putting on a forced smile. As he walks towards me, the white driver of a yellow cab on Columbus Avenue shouts, “Go get some eyes and a white skin…you piece of shit.” I stare at the white cab driver for a few seconds with a blank look on my face, my eyes almost ready to pop out in disgust. I shake my head and walk on, only to turn around to notice the brown man walking away shaking his head as well. What could have led to this racist slur? I don’t know. Is he so mentally deranged that he doesn’t realize what he is saying? Does he no longer have a conscience, after last November? Or, are mean, cruel, and offensive comments now automatically validated? I feel defeated, as a Bangladeshi, a woman of color; I feel ashamed, most importantly, as a human being.
I feel my insides burning as rage seeps through me. I want to say to that man, “You look like a white pig to me.” I want to say that he should look around the street right now and realize what a diverse city we live in. African-American, Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Arab—we are all here right, this very minute, in this very square. When you walk on a street in New York, chances are every other person you pass is from another country, an immigrant, a person of colour. This is New York, for Christ’s sake!
That cab driver’s world has become narrow-minded and closed off. I want to tell him to move back in time to Nazi Germany; he would fit in perfectly well there and that clearly the present is the wrong era for him. But, I stay quiet. I am still too shocked to produce words, just like the brown man who crossed the street and also said nothing. Nothing about him appeared “foreign,” except his skin was dark; is that what it has now come down to? Will that determine others’ assumptions of which country we are from or where we belong? Is this also a sign that decency is slowly dying?
I feel depressed and enraged at the same time. What reality was the cab driver living in? What kind of world does he think he is a part of, or bringing his kids up in? I know what brought this on: I had never seen outright racism like this in New York, before November.
I try to humor myself with scenarios in my head, because there is no other practical thing to do: the racist white man is actually still a five-year-old, a mean bully, a child without restraint who doesn’t like that another boy in class has gotten high marks on a test, or has a bigger toy car that he has brought to show his friends in school. This boy has drawn some attention to himself and, obviously, the mean bully, being who he is, feels jealous. So, what does the mean bully do? He tries to demean him. He spills his drink on him, breaks his toy car, and hurts the other boy, but in reality the mean bully secretly wishes he had the bigger toy.
That is the mean bully’s defense and his only way to make himself feel better. Yet, at the end of the day, his life doesn’t get any better. He goes home and feels awful. He grows up, and spends all his life in bitterness. This is not the only time he will be mean and throughout his life, this moment will repeat. At one point it’s no longer the color of someone’s skin, but anything that makes someone different—disabled, female, fat, skinny, tall, short. Hate is all the mean bully has learnt, and years later when he is old and disheveled, he suddenly remembers the boy in school. He reflects on who he has been all his life and maybe, just maybe (because I need this glimmer of hope right now), finally sees himself for what he is.
The white driver’s life doesn’t get any better after his racist outburst. Does he know that? He makes that choice to lash out at someone because he can. And who do mean bullies lash out at? It’s always the nice guys. To me, it’s a horrible world.
I never thought that I would have to see this day in America when someone would be ostracized and demeaned publicly just because of the color of their skin. I refuse to believe America was always this narrow-minded, but some people have become so shameless and emboldened now that they think they can get away with treating someone badly.
As I write this article, my American friend messages me that she will be there for me at a time like this. Call me naïve, but I would like to believe that people like her represent America, because what are we left with if we are no longer good or compassionate as human beings?
At a time like this, when the country is so divided that people feel it’s okay to be cruel to one another, it is easy to get disheartened. Yes, there is a hate. But, for every act of hate that I see, there is also more love and unity now. And that is what I am going to focus on.
I have to remember America for all that it means to me. The racists and bigots do not represent America, at least not from what I have seen in my years here.
We have to think about the future, our communities, and our future generations. Our job as humans is to be humane first. We are forgetting that basic value. That is the only way forward in this world and as an outsider America to me is a country of tolerance, warmth, and love. I desperately hope that it can continue to be that safe space for me and for anyone who is different.
Sanjana Sadique is a first year MFA fiction student from Dhaka, Bangladesh. In her past life, she used to work as a human rights lawyer. An optimist and a dreamer, she quit law to write children’s books and has published two books in Bangladesh. In her free time, she writes non-fiction pieces and continues to live in a world where good always overcomes evil.