My introduction to US literature was “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I read it soon after my family lived in Namibia, where my dad was one of the first Indian diplomats on the ground after the end of apartheid. We were the first non-white family to live in our neighborhood in Windhoek.
Those days we were warned that dogs went after “coloreds” like us. I bear a scar, now nearly invisible, from the one time we went too far on a walk, past the houses that “knew about us” when a boxer knocked me over and mauled me on my arm, missing my face by inches. I was eight.
What I remember about that is the white family that lay nonchalantly back on their lawn chairs watching their dog maul a hysterical child. When it was over, the man whistles and the dog returned to him calmly.
I had nightmares for weeks about dogs and being faceless. When I was told the dog was put down, I cried alone at night. I knew he had done nothing wrong. Today, I view dogs with a mixture of fear and love. I learned about racism and dehumanization in Namibia.
So when I read “To kill a mockingbird” though I had never lived in the US, I understood it. I couldn’t finish the video of #AmyCooper. Something about the aural contrast of this reasonable black man’s voice, and the fake hysteria of her voice brought back those memories.
It surprised me not at all that she treated the dog as violently as she treated the man. Nor did it surprise me that many cared more for the dog than for him. In our Windhoek neighborhood I am sure the sympathy lay with the dog not the brown child. Nobody blamed the white owners.
To kill a mockingbird is still apparently the best way for an Indian girl to understand the US, even after nearly two decades in this country.
I am glad she was held at least somewhat accountable. I am also so angry that the kind of dehumanization that I first learned about from a dog bite in a country just emerging from apartheid at eight is still so rife in the US, my home for much of my adult life.