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Die, Parminder Nagra, Die[i]

Ronan Knuckles
If Ronan becomes a political pundit, this should be the photo on his book cover.

Ronan and I made a whirlwind five-hour trip around Brooklyn. On a rainy Friday afternoon we went to the doctor, where he charmed the pants off of everyone, smiling the whole time. We then headed to Brooklyn College, where I am currently enrolled in their MFA program in Television. He rolled around on the floor while I talked with my advisor about courses next semester and transitioning into production courses. As we left, a fellow student, a gorgeous African-American woman, kissed him on the lips. “He’ll want black women forever now!” she whooped.

Overall it was an easy trip, because Ronan was so well behaved, never crying, never frustrated; he seemed to enjoy taking in everything around him and flirting with anyone who would make eye contact. So I was quite pleased as I settled into my seat on the 2 Train back to Park Slope.

Ronan started babbling almost immediately. While he hit every other benchmark early, he didn’t start babbling until about two months after expectations. We weren’t worried about it since he did everything else early. He is babbling a lot now, making up for lost time.

His favorite sound is “Doi.” He will play with toys and babble, going “Doi Doi Doi” repetitively. When he is tired or annoyed, he will babble during his crying at a very rapid pace, which is so cute I end up laughing at his pain, which is a terrible thing for a father to do.

On the train home from Brooklyn, he was babbling somewhat quietly, “Doi Doi Doi” to himself, fairly tired after a long day of stimulation. Plus I had to get some staples at the grocery store before we headed home, so we had a while to go before he could relax. I was hoping that the gentle rocking of the train would lull him to sleep. That was not to be.

Ronan’s babbling, still quiet, attracted the attention of the man next to me, a young African-American man with long dreadlocks. He smiled at Ronan, and Ronan smiled back. They were flirting with each other while I closed my eyes, fairly tired myself with twenty pounds of baby and five or ten pounds of diaper bag strapped to me for five hours. As I closed my eyes, I heard Ronan babble again:

“Doi! Doi Nagra!!”

Now, if you’re not familiar with the Brooklyn terminus of the 2 Train, it’s predominantly home to West Indian and African-American communities. Ronan and I were the only white folks in that car. So when a baby white boy makes a sound disturbingly close to something a Ku Klu Klan member would shout, it could cause some problems.

I immediately opened my eyes and looked at Mr. Dreadlocks. Instead of smiling he was looking at Ronan with a fair amount of confusion. Mr. Dreadlocks didn’t make eye contact, just stared at Ronan in what I assumed was disbelief. To be helpful, Ronan repeated his babbling, but at a much louder volume.


So it came to this: As I became “That Guy” who had trained his kid to shout racial death threats on the subway, I immediately started to think of what to say if someone started something by confronting me about my baby’s odd babblings:

It’s only a baby. The problem with that is that while a rational person can understand that a six-month-old can’t control what comes out of any orifice, let alone his mouth, an irrational person might not accept that explanation. The irrational conclusion would be that I’m teaching him to say such things, so it’s all my fault.

The baby is actually talking about Parminder Nagra, star of Bend It Like Beckham and ER. The problem with this explanation is two fold: One, few people know the name Parminder Nagra, even if she was the more interesting actress in Beckham and many people watch ER. The other is that I like Parminder Nagra (as an actress, I don’t know her in real life) and I didn’t want to appear that I’m not okay with racism against African-Americans, but racism against South Asians is just fine.

Fuck Off!! The stereotypical New York answer, this could be considered fighting words, and probably wouldn’t end well. I dismissed this almost as soon as I thought of it, especially since no amount of explanation would make this course of action okay with Terry.

What the hell was that? If anybody said anything, I decided, the best course was to just laugh it off. Hopefully they would laugh with me.

Of course, I was just being a panicky white boy, and by the time I had thought of all those answers, everybody else had forgotten the whole thing. Ronan looked to me for attention and I made some entertaining noises for him, and soon he was asleep. Most of the people on the subway car either enjoyed his laughing (and his quiet exit into dreamland) or had ignored us in the first place.

The whole thing made me think about how racism is learned, often primarily from your parents. I was probably the only one (besides, perhaps, Mr. Dreadlocks) who had made something out of the nothing words coming out of Ronan’s mouth. But because of my own fear and racism, I immediately tried to think of ways to deflect the content of Ronan’s nonsensical words. In doing so, if Ronan was older, I could have given him the message that black people are to be feared.

I remember my own confusion the first time I realized that black people existed. When I was two or three, with me in my car seat, my mother stopped at a gas station. I looked over at the attendant, who was black, and said, “Look, Mommy, that man’s chocolate,” upon which she completely freaked out, thinking he would be upset or something. He thought I was very cute, wasn’t offended, and we drove off. I didn’t understand was the fuss was about, but I was impressed that she was so upset. I was a little scared that she was so scared.

This trip was a good lesson that I have to be careful about putting my own irrational fears before Ronan, lest he pick them up too. I know that on some level I can’t control that, and I will make mistakes, but hopefully if I’m aware of it, there’s less chance of him growing his own fear of people who don’t look like him.

Or maybe he just doesn’t like Parminder Nagra as an actress. He’ll just have to make up his own mind.

[i] This is German for The Parminder Nagra, The.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 22, 2007 10:34 PM.

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