White Neighbors in Trump’s America
“My name is JT”, my dad introduced himself, shaking the hand of our new neighbor; a tall white man with a plump wife that I can only describe as being Ms. Puff in the flesh. The neighbor leaned back as he laughed, “No kidding, I’m JT, too”.
And thus began a pretty adorable friendship between my dad, a bearded, brown skinned, turbaned Sikh man and a stereotypically white male. Unlikely? Not technically if we’re approaching life with an open mind. Unlikely in the reality of Trump’s America, oh yeah, for sure.
My family and I had just moved in to this high end, wooded town in eastern MA after moving around the US. We had just moved from the bay area, and to be honest, the neighbors here in this White town in MA were already more friendly than the dominantly Asian town of Foster City, CA. Weird, isn’t it?
The neighbors had already called us for a lovely dinner during summer, where the wife Karen served us some absolutely delicious rhubarb pie, something I had never had before. I was a little self conscious at the time, not so much that I was nervous, thought it was a little obvious that cultures were clashing. My brother has not yet learned to eat formally with a knife and fork, as it simply isn’t required in our Indian culture. My mother does not speak fluent English. So needless to say it was a little awkward. My sister made instant friends with their daughter, though, so that kept the conversation going.
Fast forward numerous other dinners at our house or theirs, them giving us the annual gift for Christmas, them being invited to my father’s birthday, and JT (the white JT not my dad JT) playing football with my dad and brother in the front yard. My father and JT had formed a pretty solid friendship by now, often helping each other build things around the house, picking up the car from the mechanic, lending each other snow blowers during the winter.
They call themselves JT squared. Come on now, that’s pretty cute. Bromance. Neighbormance?
Fast forward to Trump’s election where he was repeatedly joining the words Muslim and terrorist. Truth be told, I can’t remember which Islamic terror attack it was that set this series of events off, but it was recent. After the attack, the local mosque in my town was vandalized and received a threatening letter from God knows who. My family isn’t Muslim, but we Muslim sympathizers. As in, we are sensible humans that know that not all 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet are eager to kill others. My family is often mistaken for being Muslim because of ignorant bigots not knowing the difference between a Sikh turban and a hijab. To many racists, we are brown and that’s all they need to deem us “terrorists” which we have so wrongly been called before.
During my time in Waterford, CT, when I would wait to be picked up from the high school, I would get very very nervous. I’d be hoping that my mom would pick me up, because she can pass for a dark Italian or a fair Hispanic. I was scared to be picked up by my father, who would take special time off of his job as a scientist just to do so. Why? Because on various occasions, the football players would shout Osama. Because the girls would stare at him, giggle to themselves about it, and whisper amongst themselves. Because the teachers would meekly look away or think of him as less until he introduced where he worked. Because the local policemen would pay “special attention” to him until we drove away. We lived in a time and place for 12 years where we were not welcome. Not in the school, not in the neighborhood, not at the beach, not at the movie theater, not at the library, and especially not at the mall where a collection of hooligans of all ages would make ape noises and yell the world bomb.
My father was outside talking to his other half of JT squared. The two were discussing the clear and sudden threat that was posed to our family because of overly “patriotic” racists sending out menacing messages to local Muslims. My dad told JT about the real possibility of hooligans coming to our house and hurting the family. After all, my sister walks home from school every day and most of the town knows that our house is owned by brown “Muslim looking” people. I believe the whole “killer clown” situation was also in effect at that time, where idiots looking for trouble would peep into people’s windows in the town dressed as scary clowns. It was then that the neighbor JT changed my entire perspective on some white people.
JT became concerned and told my father that he owns a gun that he keeps in his drawer, and if anyone were to try to attack us, he would be able to take them down before they got to us.
That might not seem like a big deal to you. White guys in rich towns own guns all the time. But it is a big deal to me. That someone from the outside could have so much care, so much respect and concern for foreigners that he could offer to shoot down those who try to invade or attack us.
Whoa. You’d think that’s what any good neighbor would do. But no. I can’t say that for our bay area neighbors. I can say that our Waterford, CT neighbors might have laughed a little if we got robbed or attacked or threatened. I can’t say that for any place I’ve lived or seen but here. This white man was willing to shoot for us. This white man was willing to stand by us as if we are his own family.
I understand we are supposed to live in an open and accepting time of great equality and unity. But honestly, that just isn’t the truth everywhere you go. The chances of you buying a house in a totally racism free neighborhood is actually semi slim. We were never invited for dinner when we lived in CT or CA. Some neighbors actually avoided us in NY.
I know there are others out there like JT, those that are all too happy to create friendships with people from different backgrounds, and that makes me very happy. This isn’t revolutionary. But it struck my heart because for the first time, I feel safe.
I feel safe because for the first time, my Muslim looking family and I live in a neighborhood where people look at us and aren’t part of the plan to attack us or drive us out. For the first time, I live in a neighborhood where the people around us are willing to stand by us or die trying.