The controversy over Jerzy Kosinski’s novel The Painted Bird remains, but for me the central image of the novel still holds: A birdcatcher paints one of his flock in bright colors; seen as foreign by the other birds, it is attacked and killed.
This is the image that occurred to me after reading a news story about a Kentucky girl, adopted from Kazakhstan, and the torment she suffered:
Terry Clarke said he thought his daughter might catch some grief over being a University of Louisville fan. He said he never thought her race would be an issue. But Milena describes the treatment she has received from teammates as “awful.” She said it began in seventh grade, after she played her sixth grade season without incident.
“I was called a ‘chubby chink,'” Milena said. “They would say, ‘you are a slow Asian, you shouldn’t be playing.’ They would call me a ‘gook,’ and I had to look that up. I didn’t know what that meant.”
In an interview with WDRB, Milena described racially motivated harassment in basketball practice, in the classroom, in school hallways and the cafeteria. She said she took her complaints to coaches, who initially told her that she needed to “take it,” and to “be a leader.” In fact, the complaint states that these admonitions were delivered in front of her alleged harassers “in what appears to be a tactic to embarrass Milena and discourage her future reporting.” Eventually, teammates would make fun of her Russian Orthodox religion, and coaches would tell her not to pray in her native Russian tongue, which she and her parents took pains for her to learn to give her an appreciation of her native culture.
When she played with an AAU team in nearby Huntington, W.Va., she said her problems worsened. Some members of that team, including some African Americans, came to watch her play in the Russell gym. Milena alleges that her teammates’ attitude toward her hardened, and she was the subject of ridicule that included the N-word and suggestive taunts.
Thoughts on the various debates of preserving culture, language, etc. in light of this story? Do we think things will get better for her? How long before she ends up here with us?