When You Get Kicked by a White Guy



Neighborhood: Manhattan, Tribeca

When You Get Kicked by a White Guy
Photo by Danish Ahmed Aamir

A 2010 article from Newsweek made international news with the headline, “Pakistan is the World’s Most Dangerous Country.” Growing up in Pakistan, I rarely experienced moments of panic. Pakistan could be dangerous—like when a bomb went off near my school—but I felt safe in my suburban neighborhood. When I decided to move to the United States for college, I traded my relatively calm and peaceful life in a decidedly “dangerous” country for a different, perhaps more potent danger that haunted me day and night: being a target because of the color of my skin.


It was a dark, stormy autumn morning in New York, an appropriately foreboding atmosphere for what was to come. The pavement splashed and pattered as I walked over it. The air tasted moist and damp; it had rained the night before. The sweet and cloying smell of weed hung over the quiet streets, the empty sidewalks, and the various buildings—red brick to my right, gray mortar to my left.

For the “city that never sleeps,” New York seemed suspiciously like it was sleeping. The only thing missing from the light and steady breath of the wind was the snoring of people. The darkness was reminiscent of the view from shuttered eyelids. I had learned this in my two years at New York University: even cities that don’t sleep, in fact do. New York closed its eyes between four and six in the morning. That’s when I woke up to study; the sleeping city provided solace for me. I could enjoy those two hours, left to my own thoughts, because Sinatra’s “concrete jungle” was, for once, silent.

At six in the morning, I would go to the gym. A lone rat or two might scurry across Washington Square Park. The birds, however, would be resting, the weed dealers scarce, the drunk people passed out. The subways only rarely rang with the whooshing of trains as they passed under the sidewalk grates. This day, I wasn’t actively thinking about New York being asleep, but it was slumbering, true to its unspoken promise. I walked by a random person every now and then, a lone straggler trying to figure out where home was, trying to see through the drunken haze of liquor clouding his eyes. But other than that, no signs of life were visible.

I had a Crunch Gym membership, and I wanted to visit all the locations in the city. There was one that looked like a church from the outside, one that had a view of Times Square, and another that looked like a high-profile bank. This day, I was trying out the one on Leonard Street, near Wall Street. I lived on Union Square. The walk was long, so I had my phone out to keep me company.

I was walking on Broadway, near the Harley Davidson outlet on White Street, when I heard a pattering of feet that were not my own and the splashing of water. I looked up. A skinny, tall white man was walking past me. He seemed to be in his twenties or thirties. He tottered forward, sporting a small scruffy beard and very baggy, loose pants. He didn’t seem to be physically or mentally capable of harming anyone in his current state. Not a threat. I went back to looking at my phone.

My not-very-impressive beard itched on my brown face.

The steps came closer. From the corner of my eye, I saw him start to run. First, he moved away from me, and then with the extra few steps and the momentum they afforded him, rammed straight into my shoulder, all the force of his body weight coming through that point of contact. Within seconds, I was on the ground, being kicked in the stomach. I curled up in a ball.

Kick, kick, kick.

Thoughts flashed through my head, in and out like lightning. Why didn’t someone stop this? Was there no one else on the road? Were the homeless on the streets just numb to this? I’d seen a few, but also hadn’t been paying close attention.

Kick, kick, kick.


My thoughts moved to the past: three years earlier, I had been preparing to fly to the United States from a country that had been named in the Newsweek article as one of the most dangerous on the planet. The nomination was understandable, given that the country was turning on itself, and the Taliban were bombing army schools and targets in civilian areas as revenge against army operations. But I, personally, had never experienced a true moment of fear in Pakistan. If the worst happened, I figured, like a bomb blast, at least it would end immediately. There was nothing I could do about it. I’d be dead in a second, and I came to accept that. In New York, I learned, I could be embarrassed, humiliated, even mutilated. I could be kicked to the ground in the early morning, in the middle of the street, on my walk to the gym. That was a more excruciating pain to bear.

In the months following my acceptance to NYU, my family constantly warned me about the prejudice I might encounter when I moved to New York. Prior to my flight, they reiterated their concerns.

“Be completely honest at airports. They have all your records and will be suspicious if you say something that didn’t happen,” my parents said. “Be precise and accurate.” I brushed off their advice. Did I really need them to tell me not to lie?

“The people in New York are rude.” I thought their next piece of advice was completely off-base. I had met some of the kindest people on the streets of New York, people who gave me directions with smiles on their faces, and kindness in their voices, and were even too polite to correct my pronunciation of Houston.

Another golden nugget from my concerned parents: “Taxi drivers won’t care if they run you over.” But I found taxi drivers to be some of the nicest and most well-tempered drivers on the road, even when they were mistreated by customers.

“Don’t discuss politics or religion with anyone.” I was too afraid to do that with anyone anyway. I didn’t want people to know I was Muslim and had strong opinions about my religion because, liberal or otherwise, Islam could be taken out of context.

“New York is dangerous.” That was their biggest warning.

Kick, kick, kick.

I had never thought about the danger until I experienced it.


Thoughts flash through your head really fast when you’re getting kicked in the gut.

While I was curled up on the sidewalk, the most absurd thing happened. “Wake up, Danish. Wake up,” I heard a voice say, as if I were in a dream. The voice came from everywhere, and the entire world seemed to be echoing it. I shouted a loud “no” in response. My “no” echoed off the sidewalks, bounced off the puddles, jumped off the facades of the buildings. It was a loud “no.” An angry “no.”

Kick, kick, kick.

The man stopped. He walked away.

I got up fast. My shirt was twisted, my glasses weren’t on my face, and I didn’t have my phone on me. But the wound he left wasn’t physical, and it would haunt me later: the notion that even for a country as progressive as this one claimed to be, I was not safe just because of the color of my skin. Was this what had prompted his violence? I felt it was the most probable answer. It was just a few days before the 14th anniversary of 9/11.

I watched his back as he sauntered away. Should I run after him? I wondered. I really wanted to. My hands were clenched in anger, in frustration. If I can curl 40 pounds, how hard would it be to beat him up? It wasn’t even a fair fight. He threw me to the ground. And then, a different thought: What if he has a knife? The kicking is fine, but what if he pulls out a knife, then I’d be done for, I’d be carved up like a turkey. I became angry at myself. Why was I on my phone and not paying attention to my surroundings?

My breath slowed. I tasted hot blood on my tongue. Should I call the police? At five in the morning? I can’t even describe the guy. With my beard, I’d probably get in more trouble than he would. It would waste more time than it’s worth. My heart was pounding, not from fear, but from the anger and frustration that a skinny, white male could beat me up and I could do nothing about it.

I looked back one more time and he was gone.

Glaring in the direction in which he had walked, I realized I didn’t have my phone. Had it fallen out while I was being kicked? Worse yet, had it fallen in between the cracks in the sidewalk to the subway? I scrambled for God knows how long, on my knees, looking back every now and then until I found it near a small puddle of water at the edge of the sidewalk.

My glasses had fallen from my face and landed a few feet away. One side of the frame was broken. I hung the unbroken side on my shirt, and continued walking to the gym.


Danish Ahmed Aamir is 22 years old and a co-founder of and has been published by Qissa Bazaar (qissabazaar.com), a South Asian magazine and literary journal. He enjoys horseback riding, swimming, chess, reading, and working out.

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