So we got cable hooked up this weekend (it was cheaper to get cable + high-speed internet than to get our usual low-speed internet for a 9-month period). G turned it on so I could see the picture quality (crappy) and we happened to land on the season premiere of The Mindy Project. I only watched a couple of minutes (once the commercial break came on I remembered why I don't watch TV on TV) but I was struck by how unusual it was to see an Indian-American female lead character of a sitcom on a major TV network. I'm certain its never happened before---the only Indian female I can ever recall playing even a small part on television was that girl on ER for a bit (and I she wasn't American).
I was even more struck by how Mindy Kaling would be perceived by a 13-year-old Indian-American girl. I can only imagine how much hope it would've inspired in me at 13 (when all I wanted was the fair skin, blond hair, and blue eyes of the Wakefield twins that I envisioned as the epitome of beauty) to see someone looking kind of like me jump off the screen not as a stereotype, but as a successful, strong, sexy, and hilarious everywoman. I believed (because I was told this, directly and indirectly, by every student and teacher in my school) that my ethnicity doomed me to be the uber-smart, nerdy, unattractive, and boring girl with the weird name for the rest of my life (or until I, you know, "went back to where I came from" which befuddled me because why would I move back to Brooklyn?).
I think beauty pageants are ridiculous, and I had no idea Miss America had even happened until I saw a friend link an article on facebook about how Nina Davuluri would never have succeeded in beauty pageants in India because her skin was too dark. Unfortunately clicking that link led down a scary rabbit hole to multiple articles displaying the horrific racist (and uneducated) tweets and responses to her win. Now I know that most minorities aren't the least bit surprised by this, as Anandi points out in her post. But I, clearly naively, was shocked. Not by the fact that people may hold these opinions---I've heard and experienced plenty of anti-brown sentiment, especially post-9/11. What shocked me was that a lot of the "tweeters" were young girls and boys. Given the ubiquitous infiltration of Asian immigrants into every major and minor city in our fair land, I'd wager a bet that most of them shared sandboxes, juice, and germs with an Indian-American kid at some point in their early childhood education.
This proves to me, beyond a doubt, that simply exposing our kids to "diversity" is not enough. Anyone who thinks we live in a "post-racial" world has never read the comments of any article that mentions our country's president. Love and acceptance may be a default for young kids, but as they grow up, they are listening and watching what their elders say and do. And some of them are hearing explicitly racist viewpoints from their parents and family. Or witnessing exclusionary behavior where somehow only people who look like them are coming around the house and being invited to birthday parties. Saying nothing is not enough to counteract that. We have to talk to our kids about race. Answer their questions, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. State our beliefs. We have to spread the message of acceptance and love, because the other side is clearly spreading theirs.
I've seen some people argue "well its only a few ignorant people, the majority of people are not like that". I call BS. To quote that disgusting analogy, racists are like roaches---you see one, there are a few hundred more hiding in the baseboards. You don't have to "say racist things" to be a racist or to show your kids how you really feel. You can turn away when someone is trying to talk to you. You can "forget" to send an email inviting participation in the PTA. You can "be too busy" to schedule a playdate, as noted in this post, which incidentally made my chest hurt in fear and anger that this could happen to my boys in a couple of years.
I had hoped things had changed drastically in the 30+ years since my classmates in the deep south told me my skin was dirty, and informed me that my father must own a convenience store and that I must eat monkey brains, and asked me what tribe I'm from and whether I live in a teepee. Nope. Racism and ignorance is alive and well, and we still need to talk about it.