Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Quick: What's the first stereotype that comes to mind when you think of Bangladesh? And no cheating by flipping to The Onion Atlas of the Planet Earth.

If you don't know any stereotypes about the country, or maybe if you're not exactly sure where it is on the map, you're like I was a few short months ago. Innocent.

Today, there was a shouting match in my English 12 class.

Two groups of students disagreed with how the play "Master Harold" ... and the boys might continue, if it were to continue. One group suggested anger leading to murder. The other group opted for reconciliation. Guess which group was boys and which was girls.

At the end of class, after the arguing was over, there was one thing I was angry about.

"I love it that you guys were so heated about this," I said. "I mean, it made me think you actually have something to say about a work of literature. But one thing I cannot tolerate is that racist remark I heard."

In the middle of the argument, out of left field, some kid had said to another, "Of course you think there will be violence. You're Bangladeshi."

The kids here, because they are kids and they live in dorms, have all sorts of inside jokes, put-downs, and ridicule that they heap on each other. Absolutely nothing is sacred. But eventually it has to come to a stop. Someone has to teach a little political correctness.

I held the kid who made the comment after class, told him that he'd have to come up with a punishment for himself, something that the rest of the class would take seriously and take as a warning not to make the same kind of comments in the future.

"Think about this," I said. "You're high and mighty here. You come from a family with money, with status. Next year, when you go off to college in a foreign country and you're in the minority, no one will care about those things, and you'll hear all sorts of comments coming your way. How's that going to feel?"

If he goes to the U.S., for example, many people won't even know if he's Indian or Pakistani or Bangladeshi. If he's Hindu or Muslim. Some might look at him and think, terrorist. How will it feel?

Some stereotypes are rooted in truth, but most result from fear or hatred or stupidity. As far as I'm concerned, though, I'd rather not know certain ideas about countries and people. I miss being innocent.

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