Source: The Washington Post
I was raised by parents who were, relatively speaking, very open-minded. First-generation Indian-Hindu immigrants who moved to New York in the early '70s, they nested in Smithtown, Long Island, a middle-class suburb that was as average as its name. "Diversity" in our well-manicured suburban cocoon meant attending bar and bat mitzvahs and even then, Jews were always the majority in my honors and A.P. classes. In my high school graduating class of five hundred students, approximately ten weren't white.
There were many benefits of growing up in Smithtown: a well-stocked library, excellent public schools and neighbors with robust "family values." The downside, I understood much later in life, was the sheer absence of diversity. There was nothing to challenge us, spur debate, or force us to interrogate our way of life. Not only was a there a lack of ethnic diversity but also of family structures, professions and diversions. Without a black family in the neighborhood, African Americans never entered my consciousness except when reading books like Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" or Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" in English class. There were no outlets for entertainment like a solid community theater or a local gallery, and "going to the mall" was the default diversion for spending Friday nights. So it should come as no surprise that my parents and I never spoke about Muslims, the religious group most at odds with Hindus since Mughal rulers conquered India in the 700s until the mid-19th century. The lack of Muslims kept my parents from feeling the need to "teach" me about the Hindu-Muslim divide, an omission for which I am grateful.