They Called Me a “Spic”

jzovechkin2

Over the past week, my friends and I have been playing on a new roller hockey court that isn’t too far from my house.  Prior to that, we’ve been playing on a relatively unused basketball court (pictured above) for months, which has been fun for recreational hockey/pick-up games, but we really wanted to play on a better surface and actually use a puck instead of a ball.

We finally found a roller hockey court where a good number of people play at.  Although competitive, no one plays a rough game, there are people of all ages, and unsurprisingly, everyone is White.  Except for me (also pictured above) and my brother.  Being the only person of color at a hockey court isn’t something new to me.  When I played for an in-line roller hockey league in high school, I found myself getting self-conscious about it when people, including my teammates, would poke fun at my first and last name.  I remember one time, a couple of kids I played hockey with called me a “a stupid Afghanistanian” when I was carrying my hockey gear off the court.

I find myself operating under White gaze a lot, if not always, especially when I’m playing hockey with people I don’t know.  I can’t help but think about how they perceive me, a brown-skinned man, playing a sport that is filled with predominately White athletes (at least here in the United States and with what we see in the NHL).  If my friends and I are playing hockey on our old basketball court, I don’t feel like I’m going to be judged if I’m wearing my Pakistani cricket jersey or my Egypt and Turkey soccer shirts.  I don’t worry about it because I’m playing with my friends — people I know.  But when it comes to going on this new hockey court, I feel that if I wear a jersey that says “Pakistan” on it, people will be gunning for me or treating me in a rude way.

Maybe I’m thinking and assuming way too much, right?  Wrong.  Yesterday, before I went to the new hockey court, I swapped my red Egypt soccer jersey for a red Nautica t-shirt.  I figured, “I don’t want to deal with people giving me smack about my shirt saying ‘Egypt’ or making some stupid racial slur or whatever.”  I got to the court, laced up, and said “hi” and “what’s up” and “how’s it going, man” to all of the people there.  Everyone was friendly, conversational, and pretty much just wanted to have fun.  So far so good, I thought.

Since there were so many people, we played with line changes, and I think I played at least six shifts the entire day.  I ended up doing really well too and scored four goals.  When everyone packed up to leave, my friends and I said “good game” to everyone and that was the end of that.  Fun day, right?  Well, today, my friends and I played at the court again and a friend of mine told me, “Oh man, I have to tell you something.  When you scored your second or third goal yesterday, this kid on the bench said, “f****** spic!”  My friend said he was going to say something, but before he could, someone shouted at him and said, “yo, watch your language!”

It kind of messed up the rest of my day.  I’ve noticed that some people at that court try to play more aggressive against me (as opposed to others), and it could be because I stick-handle really well and they’re just trying to steal the puck from me, but then there’s another part of me thinks it’s because of my skin color.  Playing hockey for a long time in my life means I’m familiar with how the frustration and aggression levels can rise when you’re on the losing team or not performing as well as you would like to.  When you factor in a brown guy scoring most of the goals for the other team, would it be wrong to assume that the frustration could build into a racial slur?

The word choice of the person who delivered the racial slur just shows us even more how racists don’t even know who they hate.  It shows how ignorant, childish, and idiotic they are.  I am familiar with the racial slur, I know it’s directed towards people of Hispanic descent, but since this is the first time I was called it, I decided to run a few online searches just to read about it’s origins and use.   Reading about it just made me angrier and I don’t think it’s appropriate to share that information here.

I don’t care if people mistaken me for another race, there isn’t anything wrong with being Latino, Asian, Arab, or anything else.  What is offensive is when people use racial slurs — there is simply no excuse for it.  It’s offensive, it’s racist, it’s flat-out wrong.  If he thought I was Arab, he would have used another racial slur; if he thought I was South Asian (which is what I am), he would have had a racial slur for that too.  The point I’m trying to illustrate here is that I refused to wear a “team Egypt” soccer jersey for the sake of avoiding ethnic/religious stereotypes, but since I’m brown-skinned, I ended up getting stereotyped anyway.  How do you hide your skin color, right?  Thank God that I don’t wish I could hide my skin color, but what about the people who do wish they could hide their skin color just for the sake of avoiding conflict?  Maybe there are times when I do feel that way.

If there is something positive that came out of this, it’s that it reminded me that people of color face similar struggles.  I would say that most people assume I’m Indian (which is correct and incorrect at the same time, lol), but there have been a few people who mistook me for Latino, Arab, and even Greek.  When I hear a racial slur that is used against other people of color, it not only angers me, but also makes me think about the struggles they experience.  There are so many different stereotypes applied to all of us and they are experiences that we all share.  Most of the time, when I’m sharing some of my experiences with racism with a fellow person of color, I feel comfortable because I feel like they can empathize and understand where I’m coming from.  This person who used that disgusting word may have thought that it was “ok” or “acceptable” to use it, but I doubt he understands how hurtful it is.

I try to stay positive about it all.  At least someone on the bench told him to shut up, right?  Much Love to everyone who has experienced any form of discrimination, hate, or racist bigotry in their lives.  Keep your chin up, friends.

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12 Comments

  1. Aynur said,

    June 13, 2009 at 7:31 am

    Yeah, at least someone told him to shut up. If it was me I would’ve went over there and smacked him. :p

  2. iMuslim said,

    June 13, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    I feel that the exaggerated use of the N-word in hip-hop culture has made the use of racist slurs ‘cool’. Yey for society devolving.

    Btw, most S.Asian people assume I am Pakistani, when I am in fact Gujarati, just based on my looks. I guess you being called Indian balances it all out, hehe. :)

  3. laura said,

    June 13, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    I am of multi -ethnic heritage …and no one knows what I really am..Which I find infinitely amusing…I went to Greece and everyone thought I was Greek..or Spanish …or Italian…or Indian…I am tan skinned with very dark, curly hair…brown eyes and have been called every racial slur known to man…I consider the source…and find that even those who profess to not be racist…including those with skin -not white… have said racist things in my presence and then justify it by saying…we don’t mean you…you are different…LOL when we see our similarities…and not our differences…when we love ourselves no matter what or who we are…only then can we love another human being completely and celebrate our uniqueness..all of humanity.
    Love and Light to you,
    Laura

  4. otowi said,

    June 13, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    I kind’ve agree with iMuslim. I am a high school teacher and the words I hear kids use can be pretty bad. However, these kids are so thoughtless about it that they often do not even realize the significance of what they are saying, they just think it is the cool way to speak, and they often do not mean the true insult, they are just trying to be cool and tough and “in”. The adults have a constant struggle to get these kids to think before they open their mouths that how they interpret their words is not necessarily the same as how they are going to be received. They think nothing they say is a big deal, they’re just words, they’re just playing, everybody says it.

    I think that person who corrected did a great thing, and you were probably being insulted because you were playing well and if you were white you still would’ve been insulted, being called a ‘mick’ or something else. It is really sad. Among the teenagers at my school, being white really isn’t cool among boys, so they always try to use the language that they think makes them less white somehow, but they also do not understand the privilege they have by being white because they really are unaware of the hidden prejudices in our society. Most of these kids have never seen overt racism and often do not believe it exists. But their darker-skinned friends know better.

  5. Chiara said,

    June 13, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    I have to agree with the assessment that you were primarily targeted for your playing ability, and because the other side was losing. The choice of the particular epithet/racial slur was secondary to being angry at you scoring.

    The person who did the correction, did do a great thing, enacting the potentially positive role of the bystander, in the bully/bullied/bystander triad.
    You also acted wisely in wearing a neutral jersey (great equipment by the way). There is proud, and then there is just provocative (although it should be considered provocative to wear any of the jerseys you described).

    For what it’s worth when my nephew was working on his first career shutout (final score 8-0) an opposing player gave him 8-10 upper cuts to the groin with a stick between my nephew’s legs, while all referees turned purple blowing their whistles and descended on the offender–a 9 year old girl!!!

    My personal favourite story (in an ironic way) of misidentification is that of Rohinton Mistry, famous Indian-Canadian (Gujarati, Parsi Zoroastrian, now Toronto area) writer who was travelling post-9/11 (2002) on a book tour and was harassed at every airport even within the US until he finally stopped his tour. Brown + facial hair = terrorist.

  6. RCHOUDH said,

    June 14, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Asslamu alaikum

    Don’t worry Insha’allah at least the racist got told to shut up! It’s terrible how closet racists can let loose their inner racism suddenly. What’s worse is when they don’t own up to the fact that they were being racist (at least the racist you encountered did have the sense to shut up)! I recently got into an online argument with these nonMuslim Indian racist who was spouting some disgusting insults upon the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). I and another Muslim commenter tried in vain to convince him/her that insulting other people’s religion/culture never facilitates dialogue and instead creates more animosity and resentment towards others. This person refused to listen to our reasoning so finally I called him/her a racist right wing conservo douchebag and left the conversation hanging. I was pretty upset for days but now I realize with people like that it’s best to avoid them once they reveal their true nature.

  7. ~ OS ~ said,

    June 17, 2009 at 5:50 am

    I was definitely going to agree that here we can try and think of the positive aspect: someone told the rude person to watch himself. It makes you feel GREAT when someone sticks up for justice. Alhamdulillah!

    And I’m sure you’re right that the frustration about your being such a good player intensified any inherent racist feelings the person may have felt towards you.

  8. Chiara said,

    June 17, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Edit above:
    …(although it should NOT be considered provocative to wear any of the jerseys you described).

  9. Xey said,

    June 18, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Assalaamu alaykum.. Interesting blog you have here. Linked to it from Racialicious. What always gets me is how people in our generational group (i.e., born in the 70s and 80s) can even hold any sort of racist ideas. We’ve grown up being surrounded by people of all backgrounds, learned about so many things, and generally been socialized in an environment that SHOULD facilitate undertsanding and open-mindedness. Yet, there are so many young adults who are racist or otherwise prejudiced. Parental influences, I think…

  10. Cris said,

    June 18, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    I’m sorry. I’m sorry that even though there are plenty of positive points to bring up, that small bad one still hurts a little.

  11. Chiara said,

    June 18, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Xey
    I once participated in creating a curriculum for multicultural tolerance for a Grade 7 class (age 12 approximately). The research showed that by then they were well indoctrinated by familial attitudes but still amenable to change. It would have been better to start in the much younger grades, which is done more now in schools, especially because of concerns about bullying. Unfortunately, as I learned in child psychiatry all too well, the dominant influence remains the family.

  12. brokenmystic said,

    June 19, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Greetings everyone,

    I apologize for not responding sooner. I’ve been busy and preoccupied with some other things. Thank you all so much for your comments and thoughts. I appreciate the kind and supportive words too :)

    @ Aynur – LOL, I wouldn’t have gone that far, but I definitely would have said something to him if I heard it.

    @ iMuslim – Nothing wrong with being Indian, Gujarati, or Pakistani :)

    @ Laura – Thank you for that beautiful comment. I can empathize with your experiences. It’s a real problem when people stereotype and generalize based on a person’s skin color.

    @ Otowi – Thanks for your perspective. I agree, I think kids feel comfortable in certain environments to say those kind of things. I’m sure that he was expecting people to laugh after he made that racial slur. It’s probably the most unsettling thing when racism has been made acceptable. And you’re right, if I was White, he would have still insulted me. I’ve noticed many times that during sports, people try to degrade the opposing team. Sometimes, they’ll make fun of a person’s physical appearance or their height or their weight, but if they’re of a different race, then it’s much easier to put them down.

    @ Chiara – Yeah, it seems that the racial slur was secondary and a result of frustration. I’m so sorry to hear that about your nephew! That’s crazy! Congrats on the shutout though, that’s some solid goal tending!

    @ RCHOUDH – wa alaykoum salaam. Thank you, and I totally understand how you feel. I’ve been in group pages like that before where people spew out anti-Islamic nonsense on the internet. It was actually with some non-Muslim Indians who didn’t really listen to what I was saying because they were too busy making personal attacks against me for being Pakistani. These people were just idiots, and I don’t associate them with all Indians (there are Pakistanis who make anti-Indian remarks which are just as immature and offensive). It takes a couple of days to shake it off, and I agree, it’s worse when people don’t own up to it. I think that’s one of the most frustrating parts — they get away with it.

    @ ~ OS ~ – Welcome, friend! Thanks for the comment. It is somewhat comforting that someone actually stood up and said something.

    @ Chiara (again, hehe) – I agree with you :)

    @ Xey – Yeah, exactly. You would think that people would stop using these nasty racial slurs considering that we live in such a diverse world, but it’s still there. The area I live in is predominately White and non-Muslim, so to some extent, it didn’t really surprise me. Still, having attended high schools over here, I know how poor the school system is in addressing diversity and race issues. Many times, I heard racist things in my high school and the teachers wouldn’t even say anything (even though they heard racist statements).

    @ Cris – Thank you, I appreciate the comment. A lot of these comments (including comments from Racialicious, where this post is cross-posted) have made me feel a lot better.

    @ Chiara (yet again, lol) – Great points, thanks for sharing. I think multicultural education should take place in the house as much as in schools.


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