By Emran Hossain
She jumped off the sidewalk and veered across the street, followed by her dog.
Although it was broad daylight, I was lost and had approached the 50-something white lady about directions to find my way back home.
I scared her.
Thankfully, her dog befriended me. I talked to it as I would my own pets. He came to me, waved his tail and sniffed his master’s fear off me.
She finally relented, and trembling with terror but seeing her happy four-footed companion, she then did her best to guide me, a 30-year-old Asian, a Bangladeshi.
This unpleasant scene occurred in mid-April and I’ve barely gone for a stroll ever since.
But two months later, I did travel to a party in a Maryland house that looked like a mansion to me. There I met an Ohio coed who told me I looked like an Indonesian to her. Why?
“For your eyes,” she replied.
Huh? I was taken aback that on very first appearance anyone would pre-judge another in such a fashion and then speak it aloud. Just what do Indonesians look like?
“Like you,” the coed said with a circular logic of obliviousness.
Why didn’t she first ask me my nationality? Why did she need to go for a guess? Why that lack of care or thought?
Perhaps she and the scared woman busy themselves only with their own happiness, based in their narrow perception. Making mistakes with something as serious as someone else’s identity can be fun and happy. It can be a conversation starter. My guessing Buckeye, for example, might soon giggle and apologize for her gaffe, trying a different gambit in chatter: “Your eyes are beautiful,” as she tried to tell me later.
That’s it. Yeah, right. I should have felt proud of her fake compliment, and, thus, I’d just be happy. Why waste time? You only get two days off in a week; half of that is almost over by the time you hit this Maryland party. You will labor for the next five days in the office. You’re a working stiff and you don’t often get the chance to party in such a swank house. So ignore any sleights. Eat, drink, dance, chat and forget that the ditz you met never even cared to ask who you are. Don’t be silly or emotional. Enjoy the company, dive into that big blue swimming pool. Have fun!
Your foot-in-mouth acquaintance hasn’t a clue she might have offended. She’s too busy paddling in the water for a few hours and then stuffing her maw with a hunk of delicately grilled pork.
I didn’t want to be rude but I wouldn’t let it go. I found her and asked her, “What about the beauty of eyes? How do you define that?”
She waltzed off, too concerned about partying to be serious for even a moment. Be smug, don’t risk any conversation that might be uncomfortable, might ruin your happy time, her actions told me.
As I’ve observed before, Americans seem to me to be obsessed with preserving superficial pleasantry. Why risk your own happiness? It seems to be this nation’s theory of individual freedom that it’s your right to stop thinking about anything outside your interests.
So, as the older white woman had, some Americans can think that a skin color different than theirs somehow threatens their personal safety. I don’t get it: Bad people come in all shades, right?
And so do good people − and meeting them is fun for real, as I also was reminded recently. I made friends with a bunch of wonderful folks during my recent visit to the University of Missouri in Columbia − students who naturally dream of a happy world free of war, racism and exploitation.
And on campus I met another white woman around my age. She listened to my terrible English without raising her eyebrows even once. She sought to understand the content of what I said.
As part of a wonderful night, a group of us went out and found a jukebox. I followed in her swift, soundless footsteps. She plugged the coins in so I could hear my favorite songs:
Don’t let them fool ya,
Or even try to school ya! Oh, no!
We’ve got a mind of our own…
− Could You Be Loved, Bob Marley