Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Hidden Figures

I must open this by saying that I am rather partial to African Americans. Perhaps because in part I am a woman of color. Perhaps because the people of the state I am from--Kerala bear a strong resemblance to black folk. We could easily be cousins if you take clothing and language out of the equation.

Maybe it is because my dad who was always made to feel conscious about his dark coloring from the time he was a child can pass for an elderly black gentleman.

He is 82 and gorgeous.

Or perhaps it is simple because they have and continue to suffer so much.

At any rate, when I watched Hidden Figures after all this time, I felt good, yes. Those women were rockstars. And got their due recognition.

But I felt sad too. Quite sad.

These women, especially, Katherine Johnson were near geniuses.

As were indeed most of the women working there as computers. They were all obviously more than merely smart.

But Ms. Johnson was a genius.

That she could use her genius made me happy.

That she had to suffer indignity made me sad.

But it was not just that.

I got thinking that this woman of color, this genius one in a gazillion woman had to prove herself to be a genius so that she would be accepted finally into a club of smart enough white men, yes but otherwise ordinary NASA engineers. That only because John Glen said quite inadequately, "Ask the smart girl to check the numbers," was she invited to the launch room of the Friendship 7 mission that without her would not have happened.

What am I missing here? Are we to feel grateful that Kevin Costner's character was sometimes sensitive towards her? Appreciative yes, but not enough that he could give her work that made full use of her genius? That in the end he gave her a string of pearls and a strong handshake?

This remarkable woman had to show her super human math skills every day, solving gargantuan problems every hour only to be finally, reluctantly accepted into the fold of these otherwise ordinary people (white men) with skills far inferior to her own.

And for that acceptance we are supposed to feel grateful? Uplifted?

Fuck that.

And isn't it so even now? Why must a person in the minority--a woman, a person of color, a foreigner, new immigrant, anyone like that have to be ten times as good as a mainstream person only in order to be accepted into their fold?

Does this mean that if you are a minority, a woman, a person of color, a foreigner and if you are smart, good at what you do but not a hundred times times as smart as the mainstream person, and not a genius, sorry.

You're out of luck. Try another club. You cannot belong to the smart enough but otherwise ordinary mainstream club?

Different standards, yes. And how glaringly different!

Women, even today must work twice, three times, four times as hard as men just to stay in equal positions. God forbid if they show the slightest inclination that they love their family life or reveal the slightest hint of softness.

This must mean their careers mean nothing to them. They are weak women.

Why must a man of color go to lengths to prove that he is NOT a violent person. Why is that the standard assumption. He is black. Must mean trouble.

Will this ever change? It is 2018 and we are still having women's marches protesting the same old shit. Over and over. Our bodies are our own! Really? It is 2018.

Black men still get stopped in cars, boats, roads, planes. For one reason alone. Their race.

What is wrong with us?

Will we change?

One ray of hope remains that I have seen.

Elementary school kids are discussing segregation, race. They're having underground railroad simulations. They talk about MLK JR. and Rosa Parks.

They are feeling bad as a result of the discussions, the simulations.


My 8 year old was so riled up when we watched Hidden Figures. He was jumping in his seat saying how bad it was--the colored toilets, the discrimination, the unfairness. All of it. His face turned red and he was angry.


Dare I hope that this is the future?

If one day these kids shake their heads at us it would be a win.

If they wonder at the absurdity of a world where judging someone on the basis of anything but their humanity is wrong, then it will have been a win.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Facebook DO NOT

I am on Facebook to promote my book.

I used to be on it years ago to find friends who had been lost to me for years. At first it seemed like such fun to find people I had lost touch with. (as an aside, I still think its the best place to locate people you cannot find otherwise.) 

However, it quickly became apparent that the old long lost friends had no real interest in staying in touch beyond "Friending" me on FB. I could seldom get them to meet or speak one on one. They had been lost for a reason. Many of those relationships had petered off...

In terms of my book, the marketing gurus say a fledgling author ought to have a Facebook presence so I revived my dormant personal account and launched my book page last year. I only post on it if there is something about my book that needs to be said.

For some odd reason though, or maybe because Zuck sends these radio signals to people on FB, I feel the need to check it everyday. I only stay on for five minutes and scroll the newsfeed. It's an addictive place that. Everyone has something to post right and it keeps adding more stuff. Videos, pictures, forwarded news things.

And like one possessed I keep scrolling.

Until I shut the laptop with a bang. Shudder, shake off the effect of the signal and go about my day.

The other day I went on as usual pushed by that strong unseen force from Silicon Valley and saw the feed. FB magically has given me over 400 friends. I know them all in some way I suppose, people from my past, old friends, colleagues, cousins what have you.

That day what affected me the most were the joyous pictures of groups of friends hanging out. I see them everyday and usually they wash over me or I feel happy for them etc and keep scrolling on.

But this day was different.

Unfortunately this time this Facebooking session had caught me at a bad time.

I was staring at those pictures questioning my ability to make new friends. I am picky. Granted. And all my old pals live miles away. The ones who get me, whom I get, those with whom there is an ease that only comes from years of knowing one another.

And I realized for the umpteenth that I really don't have a group of women with whom I can hang out for a drink. That with two kids and an uber busy husband with whom I get precious little time anyway, this kind of hanging out would be hard or the fact that I don't care for bars and such I didn't consider.

There were then the pictures of my Indian friends at these Indian functions and things with friends, all smiling cheerfully as if the sun was shining only for them. I don't do temple and Indian functions there as a rule. It doesn't come naturally to us as a family, it's not how we grew up and what doesn't come naturally, we don't do.

We have made these choices and yet I felt bloody awful. Like an absolute failure. To not even be able to conjure up a handful of pals to be cheery with is a sign of bloody failure.

I let myself feel down in the dumps for a while. Cursed FB and shut it down.

Why oh bloody why did I do I check this evil thing? Its not a FOMO per se. Or maybe it is another symptom of just that.

FB I have come to realize is like fashion mags which I totally banned from my life years ago.

It makes you feel bad about yourself. Looking at air brushed pictures of Twiggies of all ages made me feel bad about myself so I stopped looking at them magazines.

Looking at "friends" who always seem to be surrounded by their loving pals makes me feel bad about myself.

And therefore, I am going to stop looking.

So strong is the force of that Zuck signal that when I decided to write this post, instead of going to the blog site, I went to FaceBook. Blast and dang.

Sod it Zuck, I am done. From now I am not bloody looking.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The value of a second language

My sons know this house rule well.

Only speak your mother and father tongue at home. English outside and when people who only speak English are present (this one is more abstract since they can not speak English if its a private thought they want to express like I need to poop now! No one needs to hear that.)

The question of language.

A second language for all.

My kids speak three. My mother tongue, my husband's mother tongue and English.

They aren't geniuses. It's just that they have been exposed and they have had practice.

Yes culturally it is important. Which makes me so sad because so few second generation Indian kids speak their mother tongues. I have had friends who have told me with relish how their kid doesn't even understand their own mother tongue but goes to French or Spanish immersion school and speaks fluent French or Spanish. Ok so they have the second language. Kudos. But why the relish regarding this blatant ignorance of your mother tongue? Are they ashamed of their own language? Think it is unimportant that if their offsprings carry names like Kamlesh Vaswani or Radhika Ramanathan, have a head full of black hair and brown skin that they will never feel the need to understand their origins or have some fleeting knowledge at least of their rich cultural past?

Makes my blood boil. These kids will in their late teens, when identity becomes an issue a subject of discussion, suffer as a result of this highly avoidable ignorance and lack of pride.

Now I believe it is harder for immigrants. To keep your feet on both boats as it were. But it is important. Keeping some link to your heritage so later on when racial identity is an issue, you are able to embrace your ethnic roots and your American-ness with equal ease and have the best of both worlds.

But what do I know. I stand on my soap box and preach.

Immigrants aside, it is my humble opinion that it would do the mainstream American child a world of good to learn a second language from the elementary years for obvious brain development and if not for more lofty reasons then at least so they learn not to butcher names and words in foreign tongues. I have found anyone who speaks another language, any language, pronounces our names and foreign words in general correctly for their tongue is exposed to different sounds. Sounds that do not exist in the English language.

That lack of knowledge accounts for all the people who say I-raak or Aaf-ghaa-nis-taan. Ugh.

Pet peeves I suppose but really, if you are relaying the news, learn how this is pronounced. Or to the average person, you have heard this word correctly numerous times. Please make an effort.

Levity aside, it would get the American kids on par with most of their world cousins, since most of them speak multiple languages.

Now for the practical aspects of a second language.

Kids say whatever in public. Just whatever. No filter right?

My friend who is from Europe took her son grocery shopping once. The child set eyes on a rather heavy set woman walking by and commented in a loud voice about her appearance. In English.

The woman was understandably distraught. And she started to cry. My friend was mortified. No sense blaming the kid. He was about three. My friend corrected him, apologized to the woman and left the store in a hurry.

I told her, if only her child had known his native tongue, well, she could have corrected him etc but there would've been no harm done.

I had my own chance several times to thank the language gods but the biggest one was when my older one was about four.

We were at a restaurant just the two of us waiting for our meal when a young girl, kid really, slip of a thing, walks by. She was, as many kids of that tween age tend to be--overdeveloped in the chest area. And seemed very aware of it. Poor child.

My son watched her for a while, turned to me and asked in a rather loud voice.

"Why are her breasts so huge?"

In his defense, we had discussed how breasts grow on girls when they are older. Understandably he saw a young un endowed with what should only belong on an older person. And hence a very scientific question. He was curious. Not being lewd. He was after all four.

She heard of course and walked on without a care.

And thank you language gods cause my son had asked me the question in Tamil.

Of course I shushed him, congratulated him for asking me that in Tamil. And I went on to impart more knowledge on the subject.

There are other ways an extra language comes in hand. We can gossip about strangers in public and we do. We wonder about them like the Simon and Garfunkle song except they won't know. We aren't obnoxious. Just able to be curious without worrying too much about it.

And no one is the wiser.

And also I can scold them. In public without worrying that someone will think I am Cruella Deville.

My threats tend to be dire and are not for the faint of heart. Luckily my sons are used to my rantings and take it without skipping a beat.

If some of those are translated, well...let's just say the authorities wouldn't be too pleased.