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If You's Brown

Get Down! Get down! Get down!

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Travel season is winding down and parents are busy shopping for school supplies. Indian tourists are glad to be done with travel; the experiencethis summer has been disconcerting. But back to school doesn't quite get usaway from what ruined summer vacation in the first place: backpacks.

 
The recent bombings in London, a whole spate of them, were brutal and reckless. The events made everyday life more fragile. That was no doubt their purpose. Londoners, like the citizens of Madrid earlier, realized that life could not go on as usual. Since the terrorists were brown, of South Asian origin in particular, their appearance became suspicious. As the terrorists had recruited backpacks as accessories for their crime, backpacks became suspicious as well. Put the combination of the two together, and you have now a definition of what suspicious looks like.

Incidents were reported in major cities all over the world of police rounding up suspicious looking people, or raiding their homes. In most cases, these were brown men. In New York, police pulled over a sight-seeing bus in July in the middle of Times Square on the suspicion that terrorists were aboard. It became clear very quickly that the dark skinned men, British citizens all, were ordinary tourists. The mayor quickly apologized. But the image of the five South Asian Britishers kneeling on a public street with their hands tied behind their backs has been alarming.

Now the whole city is sensitive to brown people with backpacks. This in a city where people have gotten used to ignoring people talking loudly to imaginary friends or those who forgot to tidy up their zippers.

 
New York takes pride in permitting all sorts of abnormalities to pass for normal. But now, we have antennas pointed at a new identity, suspicion has taken on a new face.

There are plenty of apologists for this behavior. Many think it is the inevitable norm and we should just get used to it. We are well past the racial profiling debate. It is not about stopping black men on highways and streets, but a caliberated precaution to assure safety for everyone.

The Brazilian man shot by London police two months ago turned out to be innocent. He was also entirely un-suspicious. Initial reports carried fantasy stories by the police that he avoided them; that he wore an abnormally heavy jacket in the hot weather; that he fled from them; that he jumped a turnstile, all turned out to be untrue. He was simply shot because someone on the force decided that this is what the target looks like these days. To top it all, LondonĀ¹s Police Commissioner warned it could well
happen again and again.

Big Bill Broonzy's blues told us some time ago, 'If you was white, you be alright, you was brown, stick around (But as you's black, oh, brother, get back, get back, get back).'

Perhaps things haven't changed any for blacks, but he might well now croon, 'you was brown, get down, get down, get down.'

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Arts & Entertainment | Entertainment | Magazine | September 2005

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