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The Sentencing of the Rutger's Boy. In the End, Still a Cookie.

Margarine challenged my reality.On Hey! That's My Hummus! this past week, we discussed Dharun Ravi's sentencing. Ravi is the the college freshman that set up a webcam to capture his roommate's tryst with another man. A few days later, his roommate Tyler Clementi, killed himself. In the year after Clementi's untimely death, a court case surrounding Ravi's invasion of Clementi's privacy and bias intimidation has been underway. The trial concluded in March and sentencing last week was meted out to Ravi, who will be serving 30 days in jail and performing several hundred hours of community service. Interestingly, Ravi has not issued an apology. Even more interesting, he and his parents maintain that he has "no problem" with homosexuals and that he was not raised to be homophobic.

All this is fine, but I'm wondering if Ravi's parents have considered what it means exactly to raise someone who is "homophobic." Is there a standard curriculum? Specific words that need to be spoken to ensure your child has a deep distrust of anyone who operates outside of their own heternormative experience?

I think the real problem between Dharun Ravi and Tyler Clementi started way before Tyler ever entered into Dharun's life, and I think that problem is that little consideration was given in Ravi's world to the idea that while some bigotry is cultivated intentionally, most bigotry arises from omission.

Exit Stage Anywhere

I was having dinner at a relative's home when an aunty-ji's started lamenting that one of the girls in her daughter's high school graduating class was six months pregnant and how mortifying it was to watch her walk across the stage. Years ago, I would've kept my mouth shut because, you know, who cares if someone else is being judgmental. I would've ignored the statement thinking that I was, sadly, only the boss of me. Having tasted the power of motherhood and being the boss of other, albeit tiny, humans, the part of my brain in charge of self righteousness has expanded thereby affecting the other parts of my brain charged with speech. 

 "I'm sorry, Aunty-ji, but this was a problem beCAUSE…?" I pulled up the pitch of the last syllable just enough to convey the right amount of condescension but not enough to offer reasonable proof of intended condescension. Don't be jealous, this isn't a talent I developed. Rather it's a genetic gift that I inherited from my mother who I would like to formally nominate here and now as the inspiration should there ever be an "X-Men" character named "Condescendo". Anyway, back to the Aunty-ji who had a problem with the pregnant girl walking across the stage. 

The upturned note on my last syllable escaped her hearing and she responded quickly, "No, that's fine that she graduated, it's very good, but what is the reason for her walking on the stage in front of everyone like that?"

 "Like that?"

 "Yes, she doesn't need to show off like that."

 "Show off… being pregNANT?" From now on, I will use the previous notation of caps and italics to denote the use of my X-Men like mutation. I continued. "I'm sure she wasn't trying to show OFF, Auntie…maybe she just wanted to graduate? If she passed all her classes, she has the right to do that, doesn't she? Was the boy who got her pregnant walking across the stage also objectionABLE?" 

 "No, no," Aunty-ji was visibly shaken, "I just don't think people should make a big deal of it, no?" 

 She then turned pleadingly to the rest of the Aunty-jis present who, by the way, didn't thankfully include my mother. Had she been present she would have been glaring at me with incredible disdain at that moment. The glare, of course, because I had dared to use a kryptonite-like antidote to question the discriminatory and judgmental statements made by someone significantly older than me. 

That antidote? Logic. 

Excuse me, I mean, loGIC

The words formed in my mind quickly… Aunty-ji, the only one who seems to making a big deal of this is… YOU…. But I didn't say that. Because, though she was not present, I knew that my mother in addition to her Condescendo mutation also possessed the "I Will Kick Your Ass Even in Absentia" gene, which wages a power that I, despite my life being statistically fifty percent complete, have no idea how to combat.  

One of the other Auntie-ji's quickly diffused the situation, "Well, my mother was younger than that girl when she had her first baby, so it's really not that big of a deal, na?" 

That Aunty-ji, by the way, has always been damned awesome, but would definitely have killed her own daughter before she let her walk across a stage for a high school diploma six months pregnant. When I mentioned in the latest podcast to Mike that I, being intimately familiar with the Indian-American community, highly doubted that Dharun Ravi's parents had ever even discussed homosexuality with him, Mike very correctly pointed out that this was a big generalization. Sure, it was. Just because something is a generalization, though, doesn't mean it's a lie. 

Generalizations mean that things happen more often than they don't. They get bad press because there are exceptions. Still, while exceptions to the rule may exist, they are usually few. Pregnant girls walking across stages are offensive to Aunty-jis because Aunty-jis cannot fathom that a seventeen year old pregnant girls could graduate from high school, have a baby, raise the baby while in college, then marry someone who's probably not the baby's father because, let's face it, we all watch 16 and Pregnant and some of those dudes are bottom of the barrel. The presence of a pregnant teenager on a high school graduation stage forces Aunty-jis and Uncle-jis to recreate their reality. 

 Alternate Reality 

When life outside of our conception of reality confronts us, we have a choice. Challenges to what we believe, who we choose to accept and what we consider normal place a burden of proof upon some people that they find untenable. I can only make sweeping generalizations about South Asian parents because I have some. Having to prove why their reality is the only one worth considering has been a tall order for my Asian parents when both of them did with their lives exactly as their parents instructed and expected. Essentially, my grandparents having raised my parents in an essentially hetergenous culture never really experienced a reason to offer proofs for why their reality should dominate others.

Butter or Margarine? It's Still A Cookie.

This leads to me to a final and maybe controversial point: refusing to accept another's existence, or refusing to acknowledge diversity by ignoring its existence is not much different than bigotry based on superiority. It's like how my sister in law uses margarine to make chocolate chip cookies and I use butter. In then end, they might be made differently, but the end result is essentially the same. (Except that BUTTER RULES, AM I RIIIGHT?!)

Am I insisting that we should raise our sons and daughters to have children before their 18th birthday? No, I'm using this example to illustrate that the culture within a family like this affords little dialogue beyond the "our kid is a college graduated engineer-lawyer-doctor" perspective. Sorry, gay liberal arts majors, but thems the breaks. 

"So whaAAT," I hear my mother, an Aunty-ji herself, say in a tone that is horribly reminiscent of la-la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you, "So what if we do not want to talk about the gays and pregnant teens and the boy who is now a girl? Why do we need to talk of such things at all? My children are not gay and pregnant."  

Well, Mom, let's say one's children aren't gay or pregnant or history majors. There's still a distinct possibility that your children will encounter a gay or a history major or a pregnant teen or, my God, a gay, pregnant, teenaged history major!

What will they do when that happens and you have not talked to them about it? 

Will they fill in the blanks with what they've observed about how human beings as a collective treat the unknown? 

Will they tweet invitations to view a webcam so everyone can watch their roommate "make out with a dude"?

Let's Get Okay with Awkward

Dharun Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail essentially for invasion of privacy, and that seems fair to me. The real problem with what happened at Rutgers, though, is something that cannot be prosecuted or hashed out in a legal system. It rests solely upon every individual's commitment to educate young children regarding the value and importance of compassionate behavior when they are confronted with the awkward, different and unknown. 

A reality that rests upon avoidance of the the awkward conversations is antithetical to evolution and growth. The sequestration of teenaged mothers off stage and gays in the closet seems harmless, but is not.  Avoidance is a silent killer, creating the greatest of dangers because intellect, like nature, abhors a vacuum. The mind will eventually be made up. I think it's best if we do our best to leave just enough space for someone to make a good decision, but that not so empty that they make the wrong one. 

Reader Comments (13)

Our mothers are obviously related. I thought that I would be immune from becoming my mother since I don't have children but my first year teaching, one day I suddenly heard my mother's voice come out of my mouth. I have now since mastered her silent look. You know that look. At family events like you have described, the look says, "Please close your mouth now before you bring further embarrassment upon the family."

As you know, holidays in my mom's home were filled with a variety of folks from all kinds of backgrounds. As an adult I thanked my mother for exposing me to so many people who were different than I.

When I got my first real job out of college, I was living in San Francisco. My mom called one day to ask about my weekend plans. She then asked, "You're going out with a bunch of gay men? How will you ever find a husband hanging out with gay men?" I told her that I just wanted to go out and have fun and they were my friends. Next thing she asked was if I would be joining her for coworker's ceremony. It would have been a wedding but weddings were not legal for lesbians. Oh yeah. They aren't now in California once more. And yes, as I answered my mother's question, I did indeed roll my eyes.

I am thankful in some ways that my parents divorced. Tolerance and acceptance became a part of my dad's life much later. If he had been around during those years, I would not have met so many great people. It's all about exposure.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

"while some bigotry is cultivated intentionally, most bigotry arises from omission."

Yes! THIS! Sometimes silence can be just as loud. And harmful.

This post was a reminder to seek out where I'm being silent with my own kids.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkristen

Also, generalizations may be sweeping, but they are a lot like cliches - annoying, but true.
Your last two sentences pretty much sum it all up best: " The mind will eventually be made up. I think it's best if we do our best to leave just enough space for someone to make a good decision, but that not so empty that they make the wrong one. "
Yep. Yep, yep.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSybil Law

While I completely agree that saying nothing about diversity and different choices is as bad as teaching out and out bigotry, what strikes me about this case is that Ravi didn't (and I supposed STILL doesn't) think that secretly filming another human being in a private, intimate act was wrong. I have to wonder if the fact that he was gay was what made the difference or if younger people simply have no concept of privacy.

And? Butter. Always.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

Maybe he had compassion, was well-educated and aware of differing lifestyles and just didn't have the same understanding or privacy or boundaries that other people too. Some people are like that, and it doesn't mean that they were brought up without enough education or exposure to the world.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAvitable

This is a test. Hi.
P.S. I'm totally aware of how many times I erroneously used the possessive s in this post.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Great post. Love that you called you aunt out on that. Part of me thinks the sentence is fair but part of me once to see more justice for Clementi. Sadly he took his own life and that was his choice. But society needs to change so being gay isn't actually a common reason for suicide.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCorey Feldman

@Faiqa And I no better than to start a sentence with And but I do it all the time. Sometimes its fun break the rules.

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCorey Feldman

@Kailyn: Exposure is key. It builds immunity. :-) My mother is an extremely tolerant and accepting person for everyone else but her kids. And while I don't parent the same exact way, I get why and I understand.

@kristen: I try to ask myself this question, too.

@Sybil Law: I'm glad we agree on the butter. I think generalizations serve their purpose in that they establish parameters of discussion.

@Megan: It may have been Stephen Covey that talked about the "personality ethic" versus "the character ethic" or perhaps Dale Carnegie. Some people think having a good personality, being considred good by others and being well liked is a value system. But those are statements of personality not character. I think Ravi had stated that he didn't want to apologize because it would seem insincere. What he doesn't realize is the as long as he feels sincere that's what matters most.

@Avitable: Of course. That is as much of a possibility as it isn't. Most importantly, it has nothing to do with the point I'm trying to make. Why are you here?? Don't you have a piece of bacon to make love to?

@CoreyFeldman: I really think that changing society begins with everyone, right? People calling out their aunts is a good start, right? And using "and" is a great way to start a sentence - I do it all the time!!

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Writing. I recognize it. Now send me some fiction dammit.

May 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRW

Awesome post, Faiqa. When people (whether they are family or complete strangers) are not challenged to see things from a different perspective, the hetero normative (in this case) perspective will continue to persist. I've been writing a lot about this lately too.

And, I had a conversation w/ my mom recently that was very similar --> she was talking about her boss and how she didn't like her, but instead of telling me about what her boss did at work that she didn't like she started telling me about her "alternative lifestyle" (her words): She was in a heterosexual marriage, but was living wither her girlfriend in a separate apartment with her girlfriend's teenage drug addicted daughter. As she was telling me all this information I interrupted her and asked if any of this had anything to do with the fact that she didn't like the lady. She admitted that it didn't, but nonetheless she wanted to make it clear to me that this "alternative lifestyle" was not something she approved of. Why even bring any of that stuff up, I asked her, which she didn't really have an answer for.

It's like when someone says "that black guy is a dick!" Does his blackness have anything to do with him being a dick? No. Okay then, why mention his skin color? Strange indeed.


May 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJared Karol

I'm honestly surprised that anyone would be surprised at a pregnant high school student, as it's happening so often. We have TV shows about pregnant teenage girls and many high schools now offer some kind of daycare program. I'm not condoning it, but it's much more normal now than it was in the eighties when my mom graduated pregnant with me. I feel the same about homosexuality. It's 2012 and people are still shocked at "different." Avoiding subjects and making them taboo could very well lead to this, but our society makes reality show after reality show about "different": little people, large families, teen parents, drag queens... Everywhere one looks, one is faced with these things. So why in the world are people still so unaccepting?

I have a theory that people who hate other people for their sexuality or life choices are secretly battling the same demons in some way; people hate most in others what they see in themselves. I'm sure there are other factors, because nothing is black and white, but let's take a look at elementary school bullies. They prey on smaller, weaker kids, and most of the time it turns out that someone is bullying them (usually at home). Small wonder.

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLiz

The aunty-jis. They make me edit my words. Online and in person. It's stifling. And it's intercultural. I loved this post. I'm back from the depths, finally, and can't wait to reconnect. Powerful post, Faiqa. You make a very heavy subject into an excellent read without cheapening the weight of it.

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

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