Growing up between black and white in Baltimore

Source: Al Jazeera

After my family immigrated to Maryland, I internalized the racism that could be turned against me

In February 1968 the Kerner Report, commissioned by President Lyndon Johnson to examine the causes of urban riots, warned that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” The report was duly ignored, even as its predictions were borne out just a few months later, when riots broke out in hundreds of cities after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.

My family emigrated from India to Baltimore in 1969, the year after a week of deadly and destructive riots swept through the city’s poverty belt. Over the next 20 years we lived in Baltimore County, which envelops the city. In the 1970s, we were the only nonwhite family for blocks, except for two other Asian households. Because my father was an engineer and my siblings and I excelled in school, we were able to benefit from the model minority stereotype. While early on we had to confront open racism, we were accepted into white culture over time. This contradictory experience meant I internalized the racism that I could be subjected to.

The worst racism was reserved for those who lived in the black sections of the city, then being hollowed out by what the Rev. Donte Hickman, a pastor in Baltimore, described as “deterioration, dilapidation and disinvestment” in an article in The New York Times. My family and I usually faced milder discrimination stemming from ignorance, such as when a friend asked, “Do you really eat monkey brains?” while we watched “Indiana Jones and the TempleofDoom.”

But explicit racism was not unknown. In one neighborhood, minor frictions with our neighbors escalated into a white mob outside our home screaming at and cursing us. The family next door egged our car and abused our dog. Eventually my mom had to escort us to and from school because white kids would attack us. Occasionally another kid called me “n—–,” though I found that yelling, “You’re stupid — I’m from India” usually resolved the situation. But one “friend” repeated the epithet so often that I couldn’t chalk it up to ignorance, leaving me feeling debased and humiliated.

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