On November 7 We Go Back to Pretending


2008 was a traumatic year for me. During that election season the veneer of civility was ripped off American politics and society. Republicans and Democrats showcased our worst fears to the world. As a brown person in a black and white polarized political sphere, I wanted to run and hide.

Conservatives were afraid that with a black president their interests would not be represented.

Liberals were afraid that another election would be stolen by the electoral college.

Perhaps there is no way to encourage a true democracy in a two party system. Maybe the only outcome is partisanship.

In our fear, we turned on each other. There’s a reason it’s called the White House some t-shirts said. Obama supporters were accused of resorting to race to end any argument. Social media made it worse: people, my friends, on Facebook and Twitter revealed how deep the divide was. We held our collective breath.

When the young Obama family addressed the nation from Grant Park, I gave a sigh of relief. The vitriol was over. He proved that yes, a determined group of people could make voting history. We all went back to our daily lives, smiling, pretending as though the racial, social, and fiscal concerns we had painted onto the two candidates had vanished.

Reading my Twitter stream in 2012, I’m in  time warp. Only this time the rhetoric has – incredibly – increased in viciousness. What’s our boy president done today? Someone from a self-identified rightist group tweeted. I’ll spare your our exchange. The fact that the person used ‘boy’ a term with historical significance dating back to slavery and lasting into the Jim Crow era to describe a sitting president confirmed for me that we are not finished with the underlying issues of the first presidential campaign.

I don’t mind talking about issues — I want to talk about the issues. Let’s talk about drone strikes or bailing out banks or why Guantanamo is still open.

Let’s stop insulting one another. Because like or not, whether it’s Romney or Obama on November 6th, on Wednesday, November 7th, we all still have to live together.


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From Barack to Mohana, Why America Still Has Difficulty with Foreigners

I’ve been blogging for a few years: I’ve been Indian my whole life. Most of the early part of this life, (as you’ll learn from reading parts of FROM DUNES TO DIOR, my latest release), was spent in America.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 28:  Fireworks streak b...
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 28: Fireworks streak by the Statue of Liberty in celebration of the anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty on October 28, 2011 in New York City. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

On most days, I dress and sound like an American. “I’d think you were white if I couldn’t see you,” a friend joked last week over dinner.

I forget that the Internet doesn’t know all this. The Internet, the oft touted vehicle of democracy, has another side. Only this one makes it easy for people to jump to divisive conclusions.

My avatar is of a smiling brown faced woman. Put that together with the name,  either Mohana Phongsavan (married) or Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar (maiden) and this is what you get from someone who only knows me through my online presence:  oh i just realized from her name that English may not be her native language.

This was in an email, about, but clearly not intended, for me. The email gremlins (jinns in the Middle East) made sure it didn’t reach the person for whom it was intended.

Needless to say, I was less than thrilled. Especially since the piece of writing she was judging me for was better than most of the other people who had posted on a certain topic.

I slept on the email because I didn’t want fatigue to taint my fury. The next morning, I was no longer angry. But I didn’t want to be pushed around. For the last year I’ve been standing up for myself in various ways and I added my reply to her onto my list of assertive moments.

Here’s my reply:

Sorry, what exactly was reflective of a non native speaker of English in that preview?

By the way, I am a US citizen, lived there since I was 5, and have a Phd from the University of Florida. None of which apparently didn’t train me enough for your high giveaway standards.

Are you always so charming or is it just people with foreign names who experience your best?

She wrote back, swiftly, and apologetically, in the style of most politicians:

I owe you a huge apology….. This email was meant for someone else and I had just harangued her for her bad grammar and spelling so when i saw the errors in that paragraph I couldnt resist pointing them out to her, so it was meant in more of a joking way, nevertheless, I do not know who wrote the intro to that post and I apologize making the assumption that it was you. Trust me we do not have high standards for our giveaways, (as is apparent in the intro post) and we are continually making errors. I take full responsibility for this email and hope it will not reflect poorly on XXXX.

Was she really apologizing or was she more concerned about reflecting badly on her business partner?

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve no idea. But in either case, I shouldn’t complain. What else can you expect in a country where people still disparage a sitting president for everything from his nation of origin to his father’s religion? For a nation started by those fleeing religious persecution, and then built by immigrants from all walks of life, from all over the world, life in the famed ‘melting pot’ proves less than cordial.

“Jen” (no, I’m not making that up, that’s her name, as bland as vanilla) reminded me we still have a lot to work on.


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