Apr 24, 2019
I grew up in a world where no one on the screens looked like me. If they kind of did, they drove a cab and were played by a white guy with a poorly done makeup job. When kids made fun of me, they referred to this, thinking they were making me feel bad by asking, "does your dad drive a taxi?" He did, but I was smart enough to see what they were getting at. They'd also do the Apu accent, which was the only other frame of reference they had for brown people. In 2001, they stopped thinking I was a curry-smelling cab driver with a funny accent. Instead, they started seeing me as a threat to their safety, a terrorist to be exact. There were people that looked like me on the screens now, but they were always shown to be the bad guys.
More important than the teasing I received from the kids was the treatment I got from the adults. There were some who made comments in public. There were also those with badges, who pulled me and @sikhknowledge out of our flight to frisk us again, right outside the airplane door. Then there were those who quietly boarded, not daring to get involved.
I always hoped there'd be some cool Singh on the screen that would teach the kids that bushy beards and headwraps meant more than a punchline or enemy combatant. As I discovered the art within me, I realized that I had the opportunity to be that guy. As friends told me stories of being mistaken for Humble The Poet and getting preferential treatment for it, I realized that we all can be the heroes we're looking for.
Things don't change overnight, but they are changing. This picture isn't important because I'm courtside, it's important because my niece texted me during the game to tell me that she sees me. Hopefully, on a schoolyard somewhere, kids are seeing other kids with turbans and assuming they're poets, sports fans, comedians, artists, goofballs, intellectuals, and everything else we are. Representation matters, so let's stop complaining about the lack of it, and start using ourselves to put more of it out there.
#BLESS 📸 the homie @richardweitzla