Racism Not Always Black and White

Racism is not always black and white, Atlanta murder case shows.

ByABC News
February 12, 2009, 12:27 PM

June 25, 2008 — -- Atlanta jurors have found an India-born businessman guilty of masterminding the murder of his black daughter-in-law because he feared the mixed marriage would smear the caste-conscious family's name.

Chiman Rai, 68, was convicted on seven charges, including felony murder and burglary. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

According to Associated Press reports, two women arrived at the apartment of Rai's son Ricky and his new wife, pretending to deliver a package. A 300-pound hit man then choked Sparkle Reid Rai with a vacuum cleaner cord and stabbed her a dozen times within earshot of her 6-month-old daughter.

This case, which turned from a simple murder investigation into an alleged hate crime across two communities of color, highlights the complexity of race relations in a country that has often framed its prejudice in black and white.

But racial intolerance, sometimes in the form of violence, is increasingly more inclusive. Experts say that such bias is nothing new, although the national immigration debate has fueled that hate, giving bigots of all complexions more excuses to act on their ignorance.

Donna Lowry, who married Sparkle Reid's father and is now raising the victim's daughter, said, "It was such a shock to us when we found out a few years ago and we were floored.

"We had no idea it would go in this direction," she told ABCNEWS.com today en route to the trial. "It's mind-boggling. We are raising her biracial child and there is so much hatred on the other side of the family."

Rai's lawyer, Don Samuel, had earlier told ABCNEWS.com, "I'm arguing that my client is not guilty. There is no racial issue involved at all."

A dozen witnesses of all colors who had known Rai once a professor at two historically black colleges said he was not a racist. But Rai's former cellmate, a convicted forger, testified this week that the accused had made bigoted remarks while in jail, according to reports in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

American-born Amardeep Singh, director of the national Sikh Coalition, which defends the civil and legal rights of Sikhs, admits that his own ethnic group is capable of bigotry.

"You don't come to American to learn to be a bigot," Singh said. "There is bigotry in India. The caste system is deeply ingrained and South Asians in the U.S. still practice caste exclusion."

And he, too, has been a victim.

The 37-year-old is routinely a victim of racial slurs because he wears a beard and a turban. Just recently, while walking home from a Starbucks in culturally diverse Hoboken, N.J., a passerby shouted, "You've got to take that sh-- off your head, you look like a terrorist."

"To be honest, I've been called a terrorist by every single racial category white, Latino or black," Singh said.

Last month, during a fire drill at Hightstown High School in New Jersey, for instance, an African-American teenager set fire to a Sikh student's turban, singeing the boy's hair.

The incident at this diverse public school with a significant number of blacks, Latinos and Asians enraged New Jersey's large Sikh community

"The fact that something like this could have happened is beyond comprehension, especially in this day and age," the victim's mother told the New Jersey Star-Ledger.