A lesson on forgiveness.

I studied Ammu’s visage where she sat opposite me, chattering away in the booth we selected at the back of the bustling Bangladeshi restaurant under the pretense of privacy – though truthfully, it was to avoid the disapproving gaze of those we’d firmly deemed as “nosy Bengalis.”

Prom night discussion lay on the table. It seemed like ages ago that I chose to spend the better part of my senior year of high school attending to irate customers eager for their cheeseburger fix at Shake Shack in order to save up for my dream prom dress, but I digress. The conversation wasn’t about me. It was about my older sister, Prima, and her inability to attend this so-called pinnacle of the golden years.

Hearing that phrase attributed  to the four-year period of prevailing awkwardness, horrible clothing fads and questionable life choices that is high school is really sobering once you’ve reached your late twenties. I’ve experienced several more iterations of these periods of time when all is supposed to be going swimmingly well and carefree, and in hindsight, I don’t think I ever knew what the fuck was going on.

The topic of prom stemmed from a conversation that began with forgiveness. My father, a permanently contrary man of nearly seven decades – with the years of long-held grudges etched on his face to prove it – had once prevented my sister from partaking in a number of life experiences common to the average American teenager. But then again, as Bangladeshi immigrants hailing from an overwhelmingly conservative culture, the usual rules don’t apply here.

Here in New York, the “average” teenagehood just doesn’t exist, not when so many variances in lifestyle appeared from one diverse community to the next. As the eldest child, there was an endless number of things my sister wasn’t allowed do. I vividly recall the outbursts and steady flow of tears when she hit roadblock after roadblock for seemingly nonsensical reasons other than the age-old justification, “manush ki bolbe?”

Of course, she was simply furious when I came along and partook in the same activities she missed out on and more – nearly effortlessly at that. When I think back, it’s a wonder that at nine years old, my parents allowed me to get a second ear piercing and a year later, bleach my hair a different color. At twelve, I conned my way into purchasing an electric guitar for no rhyme or reason apart from desiring one at a whim – one which my poor mother, who only worked a minimum wage retail job and whose only weakness were her children, purchased at my behest.

It was returned days later, but the initial act was done.

Sometimes I wince at these memories, and at times can still feel the years of buried guilt gnawing at me. Do my preteen behaviors speak volumes about my own character, or my mother and father’s parenting? Would speaking these memories to existence make others think ill of me, or is it an honest homage to my childhood experiences?

Well, bringing us back to forgiveness. It’s been years since prom. When my sister finally attended college, she wasted no time in exploring and threw no caution to the wind. First to dorm, first to study abroad, first to gain financial independence away from my dad – and it showed.

The man was a domineering character throughout my entire life. My childhood certainly shaped the lens through which I view the world, though I’m fortunate enough to have gained a decent sense of self-awareness. One of my deepest fears, however, is miscalculating the impact that such a volatile upbring has had on my interpersonal relationships, as well as the one I have with myself.

In recent years, my family chose to forgive. After my dad suffered a major stroke in 2014, his health saw a steady decline and all other components of his life followed. Growing up, I knew him to be a workaholic: in 2017, he was forced to retire from the travel agency he spent the last 20 years pouring his heart and soul into, as the company was shuttered in the wake of the industry’s pending doom. Left with no choice and seeking new sources of comfort, he turned to the same people from whom he had long withheld those very same things: my mother, my older sister, my younger brother and myself.

I have never ceased to be amazed by the effects of passing time and its ability to diminish havoc once wreaked upon our hearts. Combined with genuine goodness and an aptitude to empathize, a trait my mom and myself admittedly share in copious amounts (much to my chagrin) its’ natural progression leads to just that: the capacity to forgive.

For some, forgiveness isn’t always an option, particularly when there is a blinding, white-hot rage involved. However, it isn’t until once experiences the strike of tragedy – be it betrayal, death, heartbreak, or an event that leaves one completely blindsided and at an utter loss in what to do – that we fully realize why we need to forgive: for ourselves. Because choosing to cradle each of those feelings close to our heart and refusing to part ways with the hurt serves only as a disservice to ourselves.

We forgive not to let the offending party get away scot-free, but to allow ourselves to heal and move on. All else aside, we only have ourselves at the end of the night. Forgiveness is a core tenet to self-healing. Forgive – but never forget. Allow every curveball to serve as life experience and truly reflect and learn, otherwise the hurt never wanes.

Yesterday, I was racially profiled by the police in my neighborhood.

I was dressed in a dark blue shirt, rolled up at the sleeves and buttoned over an aztec print red crop top. I was wearing black leggings, navy blue and brown oxfords, and carried a mini backpack on my shoulders, just spacious enough to carry the new J.K. Rowling book, my wallet, and a few makeup essentials.

The only thing I hadn’t voluntarily put on was my brown skin color.

I arrived at the train station just a few minutes early in meeting a friend, whom I will refer to as Jen. I glanced at the the cops that were stationed in front of the other entrance of to the subway. The uptown six train had just stopped moments before, and masses of people were exiting the station. I was the only one there at the time not heading out or upstairs to a train. Through a gap in the crowd, I met the eyes of one policeman, who held my gaze briefly before tearing away to look at something else. I noticed that the others were determinedly avoiding looking at me.

I felt uneasy.

In the back of my mind, I already knew what was going to happen. Since I wasn’t going anywhere at that particular moment, it hadn’t happened yet. Jen arrived only five minutes later, although it felt like I was waiting a lifetime. By then, I had convinced myself that it wouldn’t happen, that I was being paranoid.

We strode towards the turnstiles only feet away, and I was in the middle of pulling out my Metrocard when it happened: a man clad in a navy blue police outfit unfolded his arms and approached me.

“Excuse me miss, we need to check your bag.”

My heart sank. I felt the heat rise up in my cheeks, humiliated. I followed the man to the check station, where I dumped my bag unceremoniously onto the table. I started to open it up, and the security stopped me.

“You don’t need to open your bag”, he said shortly. I pulled the rope that seals the bag shut, and he proceeded to rub some sort of cloth over the bag. I’m no expert in security checks but I have no idea how a piece of cloth identifies whether there is a homemade bomb or drugs concealed inside a small backpack or not. A few seconds later, I was free to go. The cops thanked me graciously and bid me a good day.

Fortunately, my sunglasses were able to hide the tears of fury and indignation that had sprung to my eyes. It had struck a nerve when they thanked me; I only snatched my bag back and stalked away.

I felt targeted. I was reeling with the injustice of what had just happened and the feeling of despair that there was nothing I could do about it.

Jen had been carrying a handbag much larger than my backpack. Although sharing part of the same ethnic background as myself, her eyes represented a nationality that set her apart from the targeted demographic.

Why do I believe that this was an act of racial profiling and not a “random” security check? Simple: this isn’t the first time I was stopped. On another occasion about two years earlier, I was in my train station accompanied by a friend who is Caucasian. He was wearing a large sized backpack, I was carrying a purse. The police happened to be randomly checking bags that day. Guess which of us was lucky enough to get searched?

As I am typing this out, I realize with a heavy heart how easily disregarded my story will be, simply because it isn’t a story. This is something that happens to people of specific backgrounds on such a regular basis that it has become the norm. It is widely accepted that this can and will happen; that is the ultimate tragedy here.

I was browsing the website Reddit the other day, and a photo that was on the front page caught my attention. Submitted into the subreddit “r/funny”, the photo in question was taken by a Sikh male heading into a security checkpoint at an airport. The photo in question:

Image

Highly amusing at a glance, but when you get to the core of the issue, it starts appearing less humorous. This is real life for many, many, many people.

A more serious example: Seema Jilani, a Muslim and American doctor, experienced blatant racism at our very own White House Correspondents Dinner. Jilani, a physician at Afghanistan married to a noted journalist, shares a story that sends across one message: it is become increasingly apparent that no matter your profession or social status, your level of patriotism or lack thereof, one can and will be identified by one factor and one factor only: whether or not you fall into a certain category that is doomed to be discriminated against forever.

My personal issue may seem infinitesimally small next to much larger problems occurring in the world, but it all starts from the beginning. These are mild examples of the ongoing issue of racism and discrimination in a country that exhibits much more deep seated events like this one.

Change is a word that is often thrown about by people, especially when they experience something shocking for the first time. What exactly is change? How can we make it happen? How can we make people understand the pain of being racially targeted, when millions of people just like myself will never experience what I did because they are a different skin color from me? How can I stop the tens of thousands of men and woman, young and old, from being stopped at the police station, frisked in the street, for no reason other than being who they are? How?

I initially intended to relay my story as calmly as possible, but it ended up turning into something of a rant, so I apologize that. But really, I am open to suggestions for change. Anything.