Stereotypes: Black Muggers, Brown Terrorists; a Young Liberal’s Challenge

by Curran Dhar

2014-05-23-10168197_10151966188332132_8827411258487239017_nI slammed myself for being a racist the second after I felt the impulse to walk away from the sight of two African American men. They stood huddled together in my view on the approaching subway car at the Wall Street train station. I first imagined they would jump me if I sat in “their” area, so my impulse was to run to an entrance of another subway car. I then scolded myself. After all, how could I fear them, since I too have been a victim of racial profiling and even once called a “brown terrorist?” I pushed myself to just walk into the train where they stood.

When I entered the subway car, a man obstructed my path with a concealed weapon in his sweatshirt. He used it to push me backwards. It was the same man who I feared earlier. He was indeed dangerous. I looked to my left, but it did not provide a safe route away from the danger. Two other men who were on the train blocked my path to escape. A fourth man emerged—the same man who stood beside the original man. Before I knew it there were four muggers and one victim. The men cornered me against a wall and demanded that I give them all of my possessions–my iPod touch and my wallet with the $80 I had saved to buy a gift for my mother.

At first, it was irresistible to fall into the trap of identifying with people I previously would have considered obnoxious Americans—the kind of people who would not have thought twice of running in the other direction of the two black men I saw on the subway. Initially my new allies in thought were the kinds of people who would have safely fled to another subway entrance without any self-scolding. Shouldn’t I now be one of them? As the old saying goes, “a liberal is just a conservative who has not been mugged yet.” But I now have my own saying: A true liberal realizes that individual experiences are not an excuse to be a racist. I am proud that I criticized my first impulse at the sight of the black men, and am now even more disgusted by the idea of holding a race of people accountable for the actions of four immoral men. Why? First of all, I abhor people who immediately associate me with Osama Bin Laden because of my brown skin, as I am Indian American who has been mistaken for an Arab or Muslim terrorist.

Two years ago I was traveling to Florida with my friend, Ian, and his family, who are all white. We were all going through the security check when I was pulled aside from the group and asked to participate in a “random” security search. I obliged, and of course they found nothing but apologized for the delay. During the course of the search I clenched my fist and thought to myself how racist the white security guard was for picking me out of the group at “random.” His apology for the delay also seemed like a nonchalant version of saying “sorry I mistook you for a terrorist.” It felt humiliating to be treated differently than everyone else. Ian’s family looked the other way and said nothing, while Ian joked “Random my ass.”

It is also too easy throw a stereotype into the equation of a fight when the color of one’s skin has nothing to do with the battle. I saw this on the soccer field in a school match. An opponent tackled me maliciously as we were both trying to get control of the ball. I got up and went face to face with him as our tempers rose, and after a couple of seconds he told me that I was “just a brown terrorist.” I don’t believe he realized the gravity of what he had just said, but to him it must have seemed like a petty way to attack me.

I don’t think the liberal stronghold on my perspective is totally tied to my encounters with racial profiling. I was raised in the liberal enclave of downtown New York. I also have two Indian parents who have friends of several different races. My attachment to liberal family values has remained strong. No matter what happens it seems impossible for me to escape those hard-core liberal roots that discourage racist thinking and provide the foundation of how I see the world.

Curran Dhar, a graduate of Poly Prep Country Day School, transferred to NYU after two years at Gettysburg College.

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