S&R Literature

S&R Nonfiction: "Sand Nigger" by Ashok Rajamani

So last Thursday I went, by myself,  to the post office to buy some stamps.  It’s early summer here in New York City.  Which means our city weather is in a schizophrenic state, not knowing whether to refresh us with spring breeze or scald us with relentless sweat-stewed heat.  On this special day it was the latter.  This afternoon, it was as if a citywide furnace had farted unseen fire into faux imported Manhattan air.   As always, I was in my standard June uniform: a white tee and khakis, accented with two-dollar flip-flops.  Looking just like your average Indian American boy walking in the Big Apple.  During the summer. Which as anyone of Indian descent might know, often feels like August in Calcutta.

Three blocks away from my destination, I saw two older, balding Black gentlemen strolling down the sidewalk.. Nothing special.  They were both conventionally dressed, in polos and shorts.  Walking past them, I now saw a group of white men and women, maybe four in total.  Oh. Damn it all to hell in a hand basket.  Wouldn’t you know, these folks looked like they just left the set of Friends.  The same show that gloriously depicted an all-white, melanin-free New York City.  Twenty-something, upper-middle-class privileged nightmares who probably just graduated from Boston University and were now living it up in the big city.  With their yuppie crapola, and with their wannabe-hip hairstyles and with their irritating young-professional attire and with their John Mayer music in their ipod’s.  I didn’t understand why they weren’t at their 9-5 jobs.  Lunch breaks, I guessed.

They were rather loud.  I was surprised such mannered-looking young white professionals weren’t using their indoor voices outside.  I slowed down as I wanted to see if they were going to talk about their favorite sushi restaurant or any other such stuff.  To my surprise, I heard something completely unexpected.  Chandler was pointing to the two Black men, and started laughing.  He then turned to his brethren and with a grin,  proclaimed rather softly – but loud enough for me to hear: ”I have a great joke to tell you!”

Monica and Rachel huddled in closer to hear him.

“What’s a nigger?”

 Proof that skunks fuck monkeys.”

The whole group started laughing. Each and everyone of them.  I kept walking past them, but soon turned around the corner, and stood still for a second to collect my thoughts. I was in the shade.

Now, I wasn’t shocked by what he said. I’ve heard worse.  I was shocked, instead,  that this was told by Chandler.  That this was told in New York City.  That this was told in 2011. Mostly though, I was shocked that every single one of them laughed.

But there was a reason the joke itself didn’t shock me.

I’m from a small town in the Midwest.  I was called Nigger often.  Well, not exactly.  I was called Sand Nigger.

It was an all encompassing term that was used on Indians, other South Asians, and Middle Easterners.  And I heard ‘Sand Nigger’ often, since I lived in the heartland for nearly seventeen years.

However, I never did know of any Indian-specific epithets until I came to New York City. Dot-head was one.  Towel-head was another. Those made more sense to me, since Sikhs do wear turbans and Indian women do in fact, often often wear red dots (tikka) on their foreheads.  The dot-thing, of course, lent itself to two replies that are supposed to help differentiate between Indian Americans and Native Americans.  I found out about these in 1990.

Here’s how they go:

Comment: “Hey I met an Indian!”

Reply: “Dot or Feather?”

Alternate reply: Reservation or 7-11?”

Ultimately, I found a bevy of new Indian-names beside the ‘Sand Nigger’ moniker from my homeland.  Such as:

‘Dot-head,’

‘Towel-head.’

‘Curry Queen’ (for whites who lust after Indians)

‘Curry in a Hurry’ (name of an Indian fast-food joint in Manhattan, but it could also be a name for a marathon runner of Indian descent.)

There’s also a name I consider the most loathsome, as it’s employed by my own people: ‘ABCD.’  Stands for ‘American Born Confused Desi.’ (Desi is another name for Indian, for those who don’t know.)  The term ABCD was created by Foreigners of Indian descent who were born in India.  It’s stunningly insulting: how are we confused? Does enjoying The Olive Garden mean we can’t also enjoy Bollywood?  But I suppose this is their retaliation for the number of Indian Americans who call them ‘FOBS’ (‘fresh off the boat.’).

Astonishing, really.  Here I was, heading to the post office soaked in sweaty congestion, but instead I discovered a ‘Friends’ posse who have made me consider the names I’ve been called.  And as we can see, in addition to ‘Sand Nigger,’ there’s ‘Dot-head’ and other lovely names to vomit at me.

I do, indeed, love the cornucopia of epithets thrown my way.

However, I’ll stick with being called ‘Sand Nigger.’

Feels like home.

www.ashokrajamani.com

 

 

3 replies »

  1. I’ve actually used, “dot or feather?” before. I guess I should have known it was offensive, but I just thought it was lazy-think shorthand. I guess I’ll need to be more thoughtful. I hope you take no offense, as the only race I truly hate are those pak—-vulcans, yeah….vulcans.

  2. From Canada down into the northern Great Lakes, where, er, feathers are common, there generally isn’t much confusion. American Indians are usually called Natives … and in the northern Great Lakes its so white that an Indian-Indian is a rare sight. There isn’t much confusion, which is not the same as there not being much racism.

    I can’t speak for today, but in Russia during the late 90’s (and Russia is racist enough to make Alabama blush) there would be classified ads for apartments that said, “Caucasians need not apply.” Of course they were referring to actual Caucasians from the mountains whence white people took their name rather than crackers, but it still made me laugh.

    And how did white people take Caucasian?

  3. it always surprises me how insecure folks must always resort to racism. i guess that;s all they have to work with 😎 in particular Russians. i mean they are part Mongolian, part Norse, and part everythig else that came through their lands. how one could extract “purity” from that is beyond me…lol