Sunday, August 6, 2017

" I am not Mrs. Patel"

I was watching an episode of Last Comic Standing recently and a joke said by an African American female comic struck a chord with me. Kimberly Clark, a young and upcoming comedian said, “There were two Black kids in my school. Me and Keisha. Or as everyone called me- Oops I thought you were Keisha!” I laughed uproariously at this joke as it reminded me that very often people of one race think that all people of the other race look the same.
Few days back, I went to my son’s school to pick him up early. As soon as I walked into the office to sign him out, the lady at the desk said, “Good afternoon Mrs. Patel, what is your son’s name?” and I was a little bit annoyed as I am Mrs.Verma, not Mrs. Patel. (I have nothing against all the Mrs. Patels out there; I just want to be addressed by my name and not somebody else’s name!) My mind was on overdrive and I was thinking, “Do not just presume my name because I look a certain way, ask me who I am. As far as I know there are no Mrs. Patels in this school, I know all the Indian parents; we have a Mrs. Desai, a Mrs. Mohan, a Mrs. Singh, a Mrs. Mehta, where in the world did you come up with Mrs. Patel?” However, I gave her my sweetest, most saccharine smile (I usually smile at people who annoy me as it annoys them that I did not get annoyed – does this make sense?) and I gave her my son’s name who was called and I took him home. The lady at the desk did not even say she is sorry for getting my name wrong! Another time, when my son was younger, I went to pick him up from his preschool and the teacher brought another Indian boy his age to go home with me and I was shaking my head thinking “that is the wrong child; I need my son, not my friend’s son!” 
I remember, years ago, I was walking in the mall with an Indian friend and the checkout lady at Sears said, “Are y’all twins, so pretty - both of you, so gorgeous” and I was really surprised because my friend is a shade fairer than me,

she has a Mumtaz type nose ( cute, small and pert) as opposed to my Sridevi kind of nose (long, sharp and pointed), her eyes are really big and popping, my eyes are smaller and her hair was curly and at that time I had straight hair. “Oh well,” I thought “at least she called us beautiful, thank god for small mercies!”
I work at the reference desk at my local public library and once somebody asked me “Don’t you work at the bank on Two Notch Road” and I said “No,” he persisted, “Do you have a twin sister?” and I replied “No, none that I know of!” He would not give up and I told him that I can barely keep up with one job, how in the world can I work at the bank too and manage my house and three kids??? One of my friends at work thought she saw me at a department store nearby, pushing a baby in a stroller. (Could not be me, my kids have grown up, I am so done with babies!) 
At first, I was very sensitive about people confusing me with somebody else. I think all of us like to believe that we are unique, distinctive human beings and that there is just one of us in this whole wide world. Then, when I thought about it, I realized that even I cannot distinguish between Chinese, Japanese and Korean faces and I am certainly not racist towards Asian people. My Caucasian friends love me even if they cannot identify me or think I look similar to another Brown person. They have cared for me when I have been sick, they asked me to lay low post 9/11 so I would not be a victim of hate crimes, and, I can count on them for help and support. Therefore, I do know that the ability to not recognize faces from different races is not a racist or a hateful attribute. It is just a fallacy of our minds and how our brains have been wired. That being said, there are some people in every race who do like to treat you in a dismissive and derogatory way on purpose, who want to make you feel like you are insignificant or that you do not matter. We should not worry about these people as there will always be some bad/rotten apples in every race.
Psychologists have done studies and concluded that people recognize faces from their in-group but not their out-group, in-group being the people they see and socialize with daily and out-group being the people they do not have much contact with. For example, out-group members may associate specific facial features with a particular race or ethnicity, but they do not notice the subtle variations in skin tone, eye color, or hair texture that in-group members recognize. This phenomenon is also called the cross race effect. After reading about these findings I have stopped getting offended if people think I am someone else, it really does not bother me anymore.
It was interesting to read in some blogs out there that some African Americans get confused between Matt Damon and Leonardo di Caprio. An African American day care provider told me that she gets confused between a couple of blond and blue eyed three year old girls in her care. I have a White friend who wrote on Facebook that when Obama became president, her daughter said, “Mom, look, Oprah is our first lady now!” and they all burst out laughing, and certainly Michelle Obama looks nothing like Oprah.
It is appalling and a testimony to really substandard news reporting when a TV station puts a picture of the very much alive singer and songwriter Seal when they broadcast the news of Michael Clarke Duncan dying or when the E! News channel gets confused between Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, I can clearly see, they look nothing alike! The way things are now, how can we rely or depend on identifications done in a police lineup by a different race person? I wonder how many people are in jail because of these misidentifications, it makes me despondent to think about all those wrongfully convicted people behind closed bars.
The world is getting to be very diverse now and I hope that the more familiar people are with other races, the more they interact with each other and socialize with each other; hopefully, with time, they will be able to tell each other apart. If only people took the time and effort to really look and see and not just glance, the cross race effect could be negated. Maybe it is naive of me to hope for that since our worlds are polarized by race and birds of feather flock together but I do wish it would/could happen. Maybe it is just a wishful thinking on my part, but I do wish that the whole world could be one big in-group.
Meanwhile, it is heartwarming to see that Caucasian moms can pinpoint their adopted Chinese kids from a sea of similar looking faces because they love their kids and know them well; their loving faces are deeply imprinted in their minds, hearts and souls. I am a pretty liberal mom and I have told my children they can marry outside their race but one thing is for sure, their partners will have to pass a test I conduct, the test being, acknowledge my child correctly from a picture of similar looking Indian faces!

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