July 28, 2020

What my Mum Taught Me about White Privilege.

When I was about 10, my mother gave me a lesson in using my privilege.

I didn’t know it at the time, but what she modeled has framed how I live my life.

It was about 1977 and my father and I drove to John F. Kennedy International Airport to collect my mother. The breeze from the open car windows was more of a hot breath than a cooling fan. I didn’t mind—that was normal back then—I was just excited to see mum. She’d been in London visiting her parents. We often went together, but this time it was a solo trip.

When we all finally reunited, the talk flowed—fast and bright, like a flock of parrots. On the drive home, mum told stories about the flight. It was a different time in the world, yet the same.

As a green card holder, mum had to go through immigration. “I was next in the queue,” she said, “when I heard an immigration official giving an Indian woman the third degree. There the poor woman was, exhausted, with tired and grumpy young children clinging to her and this officious official was giving her a hard time.”

Something had to be done.

“Excuse me,” said mum in her English accent. “Why are you being so rude to this woman? She’s just had a long flight. Do you really want this to be her first impression of the United States?”

“Well,” mum continued, her voice becoming more indignant as she got further into her story, “then he wanted to hustle me through so I’d stop making a scene.” I said to him, “It’s not me you should be helping like this—it’s that poor woman and her children who look at the end of their tether.”

At that point, the official wound his neck in and finished processing the South Asian family.

My parents always stood up and were counted. They couldn’t stand bullying or mistreatment. Their race and background put them in a position where they could speak up and make a difference—and they did.

I was exposed to this all my childhood. I didn’t even really see it as anything unusual; it was just the normal warp and weave of my life. When you had it in your power and you saw something wrong, you called it out. You just did. Without realizing it, my parents’ actions made me into someone who also stands up.

How are you shaping your children? How, as a society, are we shaping our children? There are many ways to change the world a little bit at a time and many ways for us to educate ourselves and act. One way to change the world is to be aware of the messages we are sending our kids.

Yoga is a big part of my life, and it teaches us that we are all connected. It encourages us to stop seeing someone as “other” and start noting our similarities as well as appreciating our differences.

It will not surprise you to hear that my mum was the type of person who genuinely reached out to everyone. She would get the cabbie’s whole life story by the end of the ride.

“After all,” she would say, “we’re all in the same bloody human predicament.”


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