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Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Day My Skin Came Off

In this piece, Sonny Suchdev, an activist and member of Outernational, a progressive 5-member band, writes about the time he crumpled to pieces in a New York subway after having his turban ripped off his head by a stranger.

When I was in the fifth grade, a classmate yanked off my dastar, my turban, on the playground one day, perhaps because it seemed funny to him. I will never forget how I felt walking around school the rest of the day with the black cloth of my dastar hanging off my joora, a Punjabi word for bun, because I didn’t know how to put it back on. Humiliated. Enraged. So so alone.

Now seventeen years later it’s the same [stuff].

I’m riding the F train like usual in Brooklyn when dozens of kids – perhaps in junior high – get in my subway car on their way home from school. The train is bustling with adolescent energy.

As the train stops at 4th Avenue, I hear a boy yell “Give me that!” as he and his friends run out the train door. The next thing I realize, my dastar has been yanked completely off my head. My uncovered joora dangles, and I am in complete and utter shock. Everyone on the train is staring at me. Other kids from the school are both laughing and shaking their heads in disbelief. Not knowing how to react, I stand up quickly, look out the doors of the train car and see a group of young boys of color running down the stairs. Startled and confused, I pick it up my dastar from the grimy platform and get back in the train....

I get to a corner of the platform and break down in despair, remembering fifth grade vividly, feeling so angry and exhausted from living in this country. The twenty something years of this shit is going through me at once – the slurs, the obnoxious stares, the go back to your countries, the threats, the towel/rag/tomato/condom/tumor heads, all of it. But somehow pulling off my turban hurts more than anything. Maybe it’s the symbolism of my identity wrapped up in this one piece of cloth that, like my brown skin, I wear everyday. [Link]

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