An ugly and jarring reminder

klansign

There it was, posted on a light pole outside my house — a flier that made my heart skip a few beats.

“The KKK Wants you. The Loyal White Knights Neighborhood Watch.”

I’ve seen several of these fliers around in Atlanta intown neighborhoods. Two others were posted in front of homes I know are owned by people of colour.

I called the Southern Poverty Law Center — which tracks hate crimes — yesterday to find out whether this was a sign of Klan resurgence. The intel folks there assured me there was nothing to worry about. Turns out that the KKK is trying to capitalize on the current immigration crisis with a recruiting drive. Apparently the group has been spreading their message of hate in other states as well.

I called the two numbers listed on the flier. One call went to the Richmond, Virginia, area. The other, to North Carolina.

Both times, I got a recorded message. The first was a diatribe against immigrants that urged shoot-to-kill orders along the Mexican border. The second was a racist rant against black people. Niggers, it said, have IQs barely above mental retardation.

I have lived in the South for a majority of my life. I know well the brutal history of racism.

As a brown woman from another country, I have felt racism’s sting many a time. I’ve been called a sand nigger, a camel jockey, an injun. I’ve had readers of my stories tell me to go the hell back to the dirty, stinkin’ place I came from. They’ve called me Osama lover. Some have even sent me death threats.

But something about these fliers made me stop dead in my tracks.

I spoke with my friend, Valerie Boyd, about it last night. We talked about how — despite the hatred, bigotry and discrimination that still exists in American society — we were (fortunately) never victims as our parents were.

Val’s parents grew up in a Jim Crow South. My parents grew up under the British Empire. The movie theater near my mother’s childhood home had two drinking fountains. One was for Europeans, the other for Indians and dogs.

We talked about how the Klan burned crosses in the front yards of black people. The fliers, Val said, were the crosses of our generation.

I am by no means making any comparison here. But that’s how it felt when I first saw the “KKK” in front of my house. I felt the Klan was sending me a message: We know who you are and where you live. And we don’t want your kind here.

The Southern Poverty Law Center assured me I should not be scared by this routine canvassing attempt. But to me, there is little that is routine about what I heard on the recorded messages. They were another reminder to me of how far America still has to go.

Even with a black man in the Oval Office, even with America on the verge of transforming into a minority-majority nation, racism is alive and well.

Perhaps it will take many generations to eliminate racism. Until then, it behooves us all to talk about ugly things in the open, to make sure the brutality of the past is never repeated.

 

 

 

 

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Rest in Peace, Madiba

Nelson MandelaThe world turned dark today.

Nelson Mandela flew away. To a better place than this world.

My memories take me back to when I was a child in India, to class IV current events class, where I first learned about the cruelty and viscousness of apartheid. And then to my days at Florida State University, where I protested apartheid and urged divestment. The demonstrations over investments in South Africa matured me in so many ways. To February 11, 1990, when Mandela was released from prison. I could not take my eyes away from CNN, tears streaming down my face. It was as all the world had been freed. To the day in 2010 when I finally visited South Africa. Soweto and Robben Island were my two top destinations.

I stood in Mandela’s cell. Tried to imagine…

What a tower of a man he was. His name was synonymous with words that describe the very best of mankind. Courage. Virtue. Goodness. Strength. Love. Dedication. Honesty. Conviction. Fortitude. Brilliance. Soulful.

In the next few hours, days, weeks, I am sure I will read countless pieces on Mandela. But really, there are no words to describe the loss to the world.

Goodbye, Madiba.