home Asia, Essays, North America, Racism, Society Who’s Yo Savior, Biatch!

Who’s Yo Savior, Biatch!

A few months ago I was standing in line at the post office talking to someone on the cell and every now and then I used an Urdu word.

Sometimes when I speak Urdu, I say an English word with a FOB accent, especially if the conversation is funny. At the post office I was having most of my conversation in Urdu (a rarity), and then I pronounced the English word “Actually” as “Eckchully” because that is how South Asians speak English.

The guy in front of me was a Hispanic guy with three kids. He started talking to his kids, and they started snickering. I didn’t strive to hear what they were talking about, but they didn’t try to hide it.

I heard the words “Saddam Hussein” and “Al-Qaeda” and “Osama bin Laden.” Then the guy made some comment about Africa.

Great, I thought, a geography-challenged bigot.

My first thought, I kid you not, was this: that is not a white person, so it doesn’t matter. There is a reason why I hold white people to a higher standard.

Through most of my life, its been white people who’ve enacted most of acts of ignorance upon me, whether it was throwing molotov cocktails at mosques while we played outside, or calling me and my boys sand-niggers, or shooting at my family members after 9/11. So when a dude who was darker than me displayed the same kind of ignorance, and did so openly to his kids, I was a little confused, and wanted to let it slide.

But then he made the Africa comment.

I decided I was going to talk to him (I don’t know why that comment in particular triggered it; it wasn’t any sudden identification with the African continent). I took a long look at his children and I imagined all three or four of them growing up to be as misguided about American pluralism as him, and it made me all revved up inside.

So I patted him on the back.

“Excuse me,” I said very politely. A little too politely, I felt.

He turned around and gave me a look.

“Why are you calling me Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden? Especially to your kids?”

He looked at me for a minute and blurted out an honest answer, “You talk like them.”

Technically he was right, of course. Urdu and Arabic are related languages. And it could have been worse; he could have said that I looked like them (which I don’t, as my nose is infinitely larger).

“What do you know about what I talk like?” I said. “My parents speak Spanish and I lived in a Spanish speaking nation. I grew up speaking Spanish. You are Mexican right? Would you like it if I compared you to…” I trailed off because I wanted to hear what he was going to say.

“Yeah, but you talk different! You sound like Bin Laden.” He and his children laughed again.

By this point I was so angry that I went on the offensive. “Have you heard your English, man? I think mine is better than yours, no?”

He put down his head and shut up.

I had won by turning into the bigger loser.

Later, I remembered a fight my father had once gotten into with two white boys outside of a Pizza Hut when I was a kid. We had just moved to America. The white boys had mocked Pop’s accent because he said “Peeza” instead of “Pidt-za.”

I remembered those white boys for a long time, especially when we went to eat out. Thinking about that story, it occurred to me that this man’s children will go to post offices many times in their life, and they will remember only some bad-mannered brown guy dissing their father’s English. They won’t really remember who threw the first stone; they won’t remember that their father was imparting bigotry to them. They will remember only someone who humiliated their family member for not speaking English well.

I felt bad. For all I know that was the only time in a week that the father got to spend with his kids – and I ruined it because I wanted to enlighten him.

It was a good reminder why self-righteousness is asinine; and why I’m glad that I’m instinctively turned off by it (even my own). It is not noble, or humane, to tell someone they are wrong (or even to discuss their short-comings with others). My life wouldn’t have decreased in value had I not said anything, and I certainly am not responsible for the social well-being of others.

We should only be saviors to ourselves.

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Ali Eteraz

Ali Eteraz is a writer and lawyer. He has lived in the Caribbean, Pakistan, the Middle East, and the US. His personal website is here.

12 thoughts on “Who’s Yo Savior, Biatch!

  1. Pingback: Who’s Yo Savior, Biatch! « Ali Eteraz
  2. Pingback: Who’s Yo Savior, Biatch! « Searching for Crabshells
  3. Feels weird posting on your blog but here I go…

    1) I like this post. I like your personal stories better then essays, and I like personal counternarratives on race even more.
    2) I think it’s GREAT that you spoke up. Don’t ever not speak up. It’s the not speaking and not interacting that leads to the perpetuation of bigotry.
    3) Sure one perspective the kids might have are, ‘damn that brown man talked bad about our dad’ – BUT maybe you saved some brown kids from getting teased osama comments on the playground. At least, the hope is, the kids remember that our brown voices arn’t silenced. Sure, your life may not have increased in value, but the life of others in th future may have.
    4) Brown on brown words is never a good thing, especially when both sides perpetuates the dominant white badness. You shouldn’t have said what you did. You’re smarter, you could have done it better.
    5) But sometimes, the only way to communicate with a bully is to use his tactics.

  4. First, I’d like to say that I enjoyed the story. I think its definitely a lesson learned and I am glad to see you are aware of your actions.

    Second, I disagree with point 5 from Taz. “But sometimes, the only way to communicate with a bully is to use his tactics.” I personally think the bully is using these tactics because he is already unaware of the stupidity, ignorance, or hateful in them. Plus, I feel like the one of the story’s point was exactly this: do not stoop to their level.

    Finally, I would like to bring up that you “hold white people up to a higher standard”. While I wholeheartedly agree that racism by whites (in the US, because thats all I really know much about) is more powerful and has greater weight in society compared to racism between minorities or against whites, I do not think white people should be held to a different standard. Racism is racism, no matter who commits the offense. The trouble is (as I recently found out in a discussion at a bar) that many white people do not want to recognize that they have the power through no fault of their own. And that their racism, ignorance, and intolerance, in today’s society, affects minorities (and the thoughts of other whites for that matter) much more than a minorities bigotry against whites or other minorities.

    So while I agree that racism by whites is different, I cannot agree that white people’s standards must be different.

    But stay vocal, I commend you for speaking up. And keep doing it because it is the only way we can be heard.

    And to echo your last line which i love…”Do yourself a favor and be your own saviour.” – Daniel Johnston.

  5. “white people do not want to recognize that they have the power”

    Privilege:

    1. White Skin Privilege: Shop without store security bird dogging you for the duration of your store visit.

    2. Male Privilege: Walk the streets on hot day with your shirt off.

    3.Het Privilege: Walk the streets holding your sweetie’s hand without fearing assault therefor.

    While no one says we have to abandon the above privileges, it is meet and proper to:

    1)be grateful

    2)fight to share them

  6. Speaking as a white (English) man, I do think we (white people) should hold ourselves to a higher standard, because we do have privileges.

    Likewise, Arabs should hold Arabs to a high standard, and so on.

    Racism is a universal temptation, and everyone has to watch out for the times when we succumb to it. Ultimately, almost everyone thinks that people who look like their own family are “normal” and everyone else is at least a bit weird.

  7. Urdu and Arabic are related languages.

    Eckchully, no.

    Urdu is an Indo-Iranian language, and Arabic is a Semitic language.

    Arabic is more closely related to Hebrew and Aramaic (Semitic languages both) than it is to Urdu.

  8. Isn’t Urdu script closely related to Arabic script?

    I mean, obviously, the origins are ultimately different, but as I understand it, these two languages share some things – both in terms of script and in terms of words.

  9. That’s such a painful story because I really want to believe that in 2008 people aren’t that ignorant or rude. What a disgraceful role model that man is to his kids.

    My daughter is 10 and I’ve always told her to look at how someone acts not how they look. The outside really doesn’t tell you much.

    I had an experience when my daughter was 3 and it still angers me when this topic comes up. When we went to a mall,I used to attach a child restraint to her wrist and mine so that she couldn’t run off and get lost.

    We were in Wal-Mart one day and there was a mom pushing her baby in a carriage while her 2 older children walked next to her probably around 4 and 6 years old. One child asked,”Why is that little girl on a leash?” Before her mother could answer the other child asked,”Would you ever do that to us?”

    The mother looked at us as if she wanted to spit on us and in a loud voice said,”NO! I would never do that to YOU…I actually LOVE you!”

    I was stunned. Without missing a beat my confused daughter asked,”You don’t love me Mommy?”

    I think steam was coming out of my ears. What a thing for a mother to say!!!

    Prejudice comes in all forms and they’re all wrong.

  10. I both agree and disagree with you. “One should not stoop to their level”, thats right. But that does not mean that one should not react.

    A lot of times Ive experienced that a friendly approach does change attitudes. (Not always, I know.)

    Anyway, keep up the great work.

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