Best way to act in the face of discrimination:

Sant Jarnail Singh Khalsa Bhindranwale:

"If we speak to someone with hatred and try to assert our superiority, it will create hatred in the minds of everyone. So long as we have the spirit of love...is there any power on earth that can subdue us?"

(post taken from sister Gurminder Kaur's blog)

I thought my days of experiencing racism and discrimination were over...well, at least blatant discrimination. Yesterday, I learned I was wrong.

Now, growing up in a small town, I experienced racism regularly. My elementary school memories are tainted by a racist principal. I recall two incidents very clearly:

1) Three atlases were stolen from the school library. These were very nice, leather bound and I’m guessing very expensive atlases. Now, I have never been an avid geography fan, and as a child I was happy in my little town (thinking it was the world) reading Sweet Valley High and Babysitter’s Club books. Yes, it’s pretty amazing I pursued a higher education. Anyway, back to the topic…the principal pulls myself (I was in grade 6), my sister (who was in grade 3) and my brother (who was in grade one) into a classroom and said, “We’ll understand why you took the atlases…you don’t get to see to many nice at home and you wanted to have something nice”. That incident still incites a spark of rage in me when I think back to it.
2) Again, in grade six, our principal was giving a lecture about the importance of fitness. Our class was lagging in the number of laps we had run during our “running” unit of physical education. So, he was telling us how we had to worry about our weight, especially girls, and he proceeded to go through all the girls in the class telling them if they had the body type to worry about getting fat. I won’t even go into the ramifications of impacting a girl’s self esteem by saying something like that. He then came to me and said something like “oh women in your culture always have to worry about weight when they get older so you will have to for sure”. Interesting how he didn’t say that to the other “white washed” East Indian girl in the class. I have to say I felt a bit of triumph when I ran into a classmate last year who he had said would not have to worry about her weight…and she was at least sixty pounds overweight. Does that make me a horrible person? Yes. But, that’s the kind of impact that comment had on me.

The point of all that? I know what racism feels like and I know when I experience it.

You tell me what you think of the following incident:

Yesterday, on my way home from work, I went to Metrotown to find a wallet. I am in desperate need of a wallet, and my sister had told me that I would find great wallets (since the GUESS store has closed down) at this little bag shop. My mother also needs one so I thought I would go there and look around. I look around the shop, and then I notice there were some wallets on display behind the cashier’s counter and they were more the style I was looking for. I guess they were there because they were the “designer” wallets. First of all, I have to say there were two clerks in this tiny shop who literally stood there and stared at me while I was looking around. I felt uncomfortable, but shrugged it off. Then, this Caucasian lady walked in and one of the girls goes straight to her and asks her if she needs help. I give them the benefit of the doubt and think ok she just forgot to ask me. I go up to the counter where both of them are standing. Neither of them makes eye contact with me. I ask to see a wallet behind the counter. One of the girls sorts of waves me in another direction and says, “oh, they are all in this stand here”. There was a little stand on the counter with some wallets in it. I start looking through them, and I’m thinking what I want is not here…it’s back there. Meanwhile both of them are standing there with their arms crossed watching me, but never making direct eye contact. I say to her again, I’m looking at that particular wallet…it’s not here can you show me that one? She again motions to the wallet stand and says, “they’re all there.” At this point, I’m pretty annoyed, and look at her waiting for her to show me where it was or show me the one behind the counter. Her and the other sales clerk are still standing behind the counter just staring at me. I can feel myself getting mad, so I just turn around and walk out after making some comment about their customer service. The lady who had been helped before was standing behind me, and I guess she walked out of the store too even though she was intending to purchase something. She comes up to me and says, “that was horrible the way they treated you…you should report them to the owners…if you want my number I’ll give it to you and I’ll back you up. I’m not purchasing anything from there again.” So, I know it’s not just me who is being paranoid. I was just SO gratified that someone else felt that I had been mistreated simply because of my colour or race, that I immediately felt better, thanked her and said it wasn’t necessary. I felt so violated and awful that I got back on the train without buying anything and returned home.

And now I’m spitting mad! I should have done something about it! WHY should I feel thankful that someone treated me as a human? I am a human. I deserve to be treated that way! The clerks probably forgot all about it or didn’t even think anything of their behaviour. I understand people have bad days. It takes quite a bit for me to make a scene about poor service. I’ve had jobs where people spat at me because of the job I was required to do. I understand rough days. But, I do not understand and from now on will not tolerate discrimination.

It’s like the day when my sister and I were shopping in a popular clothing shop, and we asked for the price of a sweater. Turns out we had misunderstood a sign because of the way it was placed and the sweaters were more expensive than we thought. My sister and I are standing there and discussing if we want two or just one, and the sales clerk says to us with an openly disgusted look on her face, “well, if you can’t afford two, then put the other one away. We don’t bargain here.” Ok, buddy you’re the sales clerk and I’m the shopper. Do you see me working at a minimum wage job? Elitist attitude? You’re going to get it if you treat me like crap just because of the colour of my skin. I think things like that. I never say them because I’m a strong believer in two wrongs do not make a right. I usually just walk away. But that’s how these comments and incidents make me feel…dirty, shameful, resentful, and just horrible in general.

So, if you’ve experienced something similar, don’t be like me. Calm yourself down, get out of the shocked frame of mind… and most importantly take action! Don’t reduce yourself to verbal insults, etc. Take the extra step and go above that person’s authority. Make others aware of it! Boycott the store. If it’s happening at work, find out what your options are. At times, you will hear me become frustrated with the level of political correctness we have to adhere to these days (for example, teachers in Washington state are now being asked not to use red ink pens to correct tests because the amount of red on a student’s papers make them feel inferior to other students who do not have as much red…so they are starting to use purple ink because purple is not associated with being wrong!). However, I also think that if you are being mistreated, blow the whistle…make a ruckus, and be heard. You are not a shit disturber. You are standing up for your rights and deserve to be treated like a human. From now on, I’ll be keeping track of these incidents here and taking action.


4 comments:

SS said...

Bhaaji, I read you blog often and it is always great and an excellent learning tool. I've been remiss in never leaving a comment and now I feel guilty as you left me one. Marfi.

Keep it up and keep posting.

SS
http://solarider.org/blog

PS. Check out my Sikh pictures at

http://solarider.org/blog/index.php?s=sikh

and at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/solarider/sets/649134/

Confused Khalsa said...

no need to be sorry brother ji, just let me know how bad stuff i post is every now and then :)

many thanks for your time.

Vaheguru

ss said...

Bhaaji, there's no bad - it's all good.

I need to start posting more comments everywhere ;-)

GurFateh

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for sharing. I think its is important to speak out, but in a polite and controlled manner...with the aim to awaken the other person's consciousness to what they are doing. If you dont't see God in all then you don't see God at all. Walking away and being frustrated and angry is not good, we must forgive and understand that the other person has just that much understanding..knowledge.