By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: Things are different now. There is no way to go back to the way things were before.
Our nasty secret has escaped. It has metastasized, grown tentacles, begun to leech good, kind, respectable citizens of their positivity. People have begun to meet these cancerous beings on the street, in the store, online.
We thought we could hide it. We did so well for so long. We passed laws and took down signs and shared seats on the bus.
We proclaimed that we were the world.
But the secret didn’t want to lose. It didn’t want to die. It needed its primary food sources—fear; ignorance; lack of education—in order to survive. It survived. And thrived.
It thrived in nice homes with manicured lawns. It thrived in gentlemen’s clubs. It thrived in back alleys and on the highway.
Some wondered why we couldn’t all just get along.
The secret didn’t want them to.
The adage states that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The more we fought against the secret, the harder it fought to exist. To multiply. To infect well-respected community members and low-income residents. The secret found those with contrived grudges and sincere concerns. It appealed to them all.
And now, two weeks after we’ve undergone a democratic process that we all agree works in theory, the secret has begun strutting down the sidewalk. It makes neighbors eye one another instead of offer a friendly head nod and a cheery “Good morning!” It declares that humanity, courtesy, manners no longer apply. Physical differences permit the antithesis of all that is good.
We like to think that, as a nation, we’ve made important strides in race relations. In point of fact, we’ve only just begun to dig deep enough to face the fact that the need for positive race relations exists. We’ve just realized that race relations are like any relations. They take hard work and many years.
When people look at me, what do they see? Brown skin? Dark hair and eyes? Do they see a girl who enjoys pecan pie or red velvet cake or buttermilk biscuits or sweet tea?
That sounds like a lot of food-related loves. But I grew up in the South. South Carolinians, like others in that region, enjoy a good meal.
Wait a second. Enjoy a good meal. That sounds a lot like people from India, where my parents grew up. But how can that be? Doesn’t belonging to a different race guarantee that I engage in completely alien likes and dislikes? Indeed, an alien lifestyle?
Perhaps I’ve miscalculated something somewhere. Different races. Different. Differences.
White South Carolinians love a good meal; Indians relish delicious food.
White South Carolinians enjoy a good story; Indians excel in spinning yarns.
White South Carolinians turn social niceties into an art form; Indians live and breathe by a social code.
White South Carolinians believe in protecting one’s own; Indians always preach family first.
How can this be? What race am I? The secret would have me believe that I am what the mirror dictates. But when I mine my memories and my heart, I don’t unearth a skin color.
I find a life. A regular, ordinary, skin-color-free life.
The secret whispers into the ears of those who don’t want understand the immigrant experience, who have never had to undergo the excruciating process of leaving behind all that is familiar in order to move to that which could be better.
The secret pokes into the hearts of those who forget that blood runs red under skin that appears in all different shades.
The secret assaults the common sense of good-hearted people, duping them into believing the lie.
The lie that race dictates differences.
Two weeks ago, many mistook our democratic process for permission to permeate the lie.
Now there is no way to go back to the way things were before.