Racism, 911, and Miss America

Neil Newton: Blogger and author of the novel “The Railroad” on Amazon.com

Two things happened recently to make me review my views on racism. The first was a post by a muslim friend who lamented the attacks on all Muslims shortly after the anniversary of 911. The second was the crowning of Nina Davuluri as this year’s Miss America and all of the blowback on the internet from some of my fellow Americans who clearly could benefit by a dose of reality.

Before I go on and become self-righteous I will give my Muslim friend and Miss Daviiuri my respect for taking the spiritual high road and not responding in kind to the mindless garbage that littered the internet regarding both Muslims and the acceptance of an Indian American Miss America. My muslim friend used her deep spiritual values to show that Islam and terrorism are not related and to affirm her spiritual connection with Christians and Jews and, I assume, the rest of humanity. Ms. Davluiri simply did her best to ignore what she must have expected would happen: that some dogs will always howl at the moon whether there is a reason to or not.

I am not quite so advanced. I do not believe that the message of brotherhood preached by almost all modern religions is going to make a dent in the thinking of the truly dense. Kindness is a not a currency they deal in and you’ll never get through to people like that by defending religious principles. Look at it this way: it is very likely that these people belong to one of the religions that teaches universal tolerance. If they can’t understand their own religion without help they are probably a lost cause.

Our history is full of just this type of thinking and, in retrospect, it has led to some of our stupidest decisions and the greatest examples of unnecessary suffering that our country has seen. We need look no farther back than World War II for what I consider the best example of this reactionary behavior. As I hope you’ll see, this historical event bears a striking resemblance to the issues that are the subject of this article.

At the height of WW II, a decision was made to gather up all Japanese Americans and put them into internment camps. Most of these people had roots that spanned years in the United States. Many had been born here, with property that had been in their family for years. Japanese American farmers on the west coast were probably the hardest hit. While these solid Americans languished in camps for no valid reason, living severely limited lives, all that they had worked to build for long years was lost forever. The justification for these decisions was that it reduced the possibility of spying by the Japanese government.

What was bizarre then and remains bizarre now is the fact that millions of German Americans in numbers far greater than their Japanese counterparts were neither imprisoned, questioned or even detained. This is not to say that German Americans were any more likely to be spies for the Third Reich than the Japanese were likely to be working for Hiro Hito. The point is that it is highly doubtful that any of these Japanese American were spies.

And so I draw the only conclusions that is possible. We as a race are primitive people. We respond to threats not with intelligence and cleverness but with the fear and anger of a child. The point is that Japanese don’t look like the dominant American racial type; they simply look different than the standard European American. Therefore they evoke in the more primitive parts of the brain a reaction of “otherness” and they become evil or “evil” whether they are or not.

This is not thought. Nor is it even an effective internal defense against enemies domestic and foreign. It is like dogs barking at a strange and unwelcome noise in the middle of the night.

For those of you who think that all Muslims are terrorists or, worse yet, think that our current Miss America is a terrorist, I won’t ask you to consider the firm religious principles that most of us learned as children. For a moment, just concentrate on the threat that has faced this nation in terms of terrorism since the early nineties.

Here is the question I have for those speak without knowing the truth. Do you feel that you don’t need to know exactly who your enemies are, as long as you cast a wide net that includes people who don’t look like you and talk like you and, therefore, irritate you? That you don’t have to know who is going to come after you and the people you love. Let me suggest to you that you are naive and dangerous. The wasted effort you spend on your hate distracts us from the real enemies and help open us up for the biggest sucker punch in history. We are all responsible for keeping alert and being aware of where terrorism grows and terrorism strikes. When you beat your breast and talk about people who mean you no harm, you introduce noise into the signal, making it that much harder to convince people to be looking in the right direction when the next attack comes.

Not all Muslims live in the Middle East or North Africa. There are millions of Muslims who do what we, as Americans, do: go to work to keep food on the table.  Their circumstances vary greatly, some living in small towns where a Mosque is the largest building. Others live in enormous modern cities such as Rabat in Morocco where medicine is on the cutting edge and doctors are some of the most highly educated in the world. If you believe statistics, a small minority of Muslims are terrorists. This means that focusing attention on the majority of Muslims is more than a distraction. If displaying your hate is more important than zeroing in on actual terrorists, you need to get out of the way.

And now on to our newest Miss America. What is absolutely ludicrous is the fuss over the victory of an Indian American woman in the latest Miss America contest. A number of tweets were made regarding the new Miss America, saying that it offensive that she was given the crown so close to the anniversary of 911 because she is a “terrorist”. There were also remarks that expressed anger because the Miss America contest was not a “Miss India” contest and the daughter of immigrant’s children is not American enough for this hallowed tradition.

Our new Miss America is descended from Hindu parents. Many of you will no doubt cringe when I say that she was born in the united states and that she is America as you or I. Consider this: if our new Miss America had come from another country where religion and customs are vastly different from ours, but was of standard white European stock, no one would have batted an eye. The only conclusion is that if someone reminds us physically of “others, we forget that our country is full of people who are second or third generation immigrants, many of whom are very European looking; despite the fact that they come from different cultures, we accept them as Americans without reservation. This is the basis of the American dream and the foundation of the formation of this country. Should the American dream be snatched from some immigrants, and their children, if, due to the roll of the dice, they happen to look different than our American standard?

Hindus have not been known to be terrorists. Their economy is linked strongly to ours and, in my experience as a New Yorker, these immigrants have gone out of their way to work hard to train to become doctors, computer professionals and to work in a number of other industries. The idea that Ms. Davuluri is a terrorist is ludicrous; there is nothing in her religious or ethnic background to support that.

I will admit again to not taking the moral highroad myself and reacting in anger. But when I tell you my experiences, perhaps you’ll forgive me.

On 911 I was in New York City, my home until twelve years ago. Though I live in another state now; it is still my home and always will be. That day I spent half an hour in the subway less than two blocks from the World Trade Center as the buildings went down. I am not a hero in any way; I am lucky because being in the subway spared me from seeing some of the worst of the tragedy. By worst I mean what people I know experienced: the dust cloud that enveloped all of lower Manhattan. The falling bodies from the Twin Towers. Finding dismembered bodies lying on the streets.

I say this to explain my anger and what I am about to say. I am convinced that I was lucky to have made it out alive. At my side was someone who I worked with. He was not an Indian American. He was from India, doing the same kind of computer work I did. I won’t go on about him as a person. I didn’t know him that well. But that is the point. Had the towers fallen to the east instead of straight down, they would have found me and Sanjay together, both dead and sharing a small space with a mixture of other New Yorkers. In the realities of nine-eleven our remains might have been hard to separate and we would have shared eternity together. His wife and my fiancé would have had to grapple with the realities of the situation.

These are the moment when you see the truth. If there is anything that requires all our thought and consideration, this is it. This “terrorist” colleague of mine would have shared my fate. The bottom line is that our loved ones would have lost us and their pain would have been the same.

And so I reacted when I heard these reports of stupid rhetoric. My Muslim friend got to hear some of my anger and for that I apologize. She and Ms. Davuluri are right; someday our spiritual values will convince everyone of the realities of universal tolerance; that will be the day the world changes. For me, I am more practical, waiting for enlightenment to come.

If I ever met Ms. Davuluri, I might say Namaste to honor her heritage. But, in the way of New York, I would probably greet her with a regulation “Yo!”; I have lived and worked with too many kinds of people to see her as anything but a New Yorker. I am a New Yorker as well and the fact that one of my people won that contest makes me as happy as the Yankees winning the world series.

Congratulations Nina


Neil Douglas Newton: Author and Blogger


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