In 1973, I was barely 12 years old and beginning my second year of life in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. One afternoon, right after school, my father, the late Daddykins, dropped me off at the local library. I was returning a book a few days late. I ran into the building and handed the book to the clerk at the counter.
The native Tanzanian rifled through the pages, looking for the tag with due dates. Then he looked up and told me that I was late and that I would need to pay a fine. I was prepared to do that. But I was not prepared for what came out of the man’s mouth right after. “You Indians,” he said, his eyes piercing mine. “You’re all thieves.”
I struggled to make sense of what I’d heard. The reaction of the gentleman to the minor infraction stings even today, four decades later, long after all my positive experiences in Dar in the many years that followed. I remember being frazzled as I got back into the car to tell my father about what had just passed. He was livid. But as he drove out of the parking lot, he told me that I should just let the insult glide off my back, that he simply couldn’t change the world.
Last night I read about the incident on campus at USC. As Rini Sampath—an Indian-American and the first woman student body president—walked back from a friend’s apartment, someone leaned out of a fraternity house and slandered her. "You Indian piece of s—t!" he shouted, tossing his drink in her direction.
Slurs and epithets—whether they come from a place of hurt or anger or misunderstanding—are like boils on the body. They heal, yes, they do, but they pock and pit the skin, leaving scars by which to gauge our place in the world.
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