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.