This blog has been dormant for more than five years. I wish I was revisiting to share something more uplifting. Yet, share I must, for the thoughts swirling in my head need an outlet and it is in the relative obscurity of this blog that I might be able to freely express myself.
I have been living in Europe for the past 13 years, and save for a couple of stray incidents, I have lived in a cocoon where questions of identity haven’t cropped up. I haven’t been judged negatively on the basis of my country of origin or the colour of my skin. Unfortunately that changed today.
Me and my wife were on the train from Basel to Zürich. The train coach was half-full. When the ticket-checker arrived, and I looked up from my laptop to show him our tickets, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a family of five (occupying the seats right in front of mine) searching for something. Given that they had three small kids, I presumed that one of the kids must have dropped something and paid no further attention. The ticket checker left, and I went back to my laptop.
A few minutes later, the lady of the family suddenly came up to us and asked me if I had taken her wallet. I replied in the negative before I could even process the question. As I gathered my thoughts, I asked her why was she asking me that question. There were other people in the coach, and as I looked around, I realised that all of them were white. The horribleness of her question, nay accusation, was beginning to dawn on me. She claimed that she was asking us because we were first sitting in the seats behind her and then changed to the seats in front of her. In her “evolved” mind, thieves probably stay at the scene of the crime after committing the crime. I invited her to search through our belongings and told her in no uncertain terms that her behaviour was offensive and inappropriate. In a coach with multiple passengers, she only questioned the two non-white passengers. She didn’t take up my offer of searching our belongings (after discussing with her husband), and went back to her seat. She didn’t apologise, and more importantly, she didn’t question anyone else in the coach.
She left, but she left me feeling as small as I have ever felt in my life. My education, my values were of no consequence in that exchange. The only thing that mattered was that I was the only non-white person in that coach, and therefore I could be the only one who deserved to be accused of thievery. I realised how it feels to have your personality distilled to those superfluous aspects that you can’t control.
Her racism, I could still stomach. What was harder to stomach were the accusatory looks her two young daughters kept giving me and when the train finally did reach Zürich, before they got off, her youngest, a boy not older than five, threw me a look that both broke and enraged me. Should I be incensed at that kid for judging me on the colour of my skin, or should I feel sorry for him for his parents have taught him no better? Was I vain, or was I foolish for hoping for an apology from the lady even as the family got off the train?
It’s been a few hours, but I can’t shake off the incident. Is this how people feel, when they are singled out because they are visibly different? How do they deal with it?
I know from which country that family was, but I am not going to name it. I am not going to pre-judge , for that would mean that her diseased ideology would win. Perhaps, that’s the only way I can process this incident. To ensure that I don’t distil individuals down to attributes that are outside their control. That I respect their individuality and don’t look for commonalities based on any pre-conceived notions that I might or might not have. To be better, and to strive to be better, and to stand up for those whose voices might get crowded out because they are different. To help them celebrate their difference, for it is these differences that make life interesting and worth living.