NOTE: This is a thought piece with no attempt at providing a solution. I’m sharing my experiences and thoughts with you in hopes of sparking positive conversation.
With all the talk about race, especially with the upcoming election, I’ve honestly not wanted to get too involved in discussions about it. Sure, I’m aware of the Black Lives Matter movement + all of the horrible, horrible murders of innocent black men that lead to this massive push for change. I also very vocally oppose Donald Trump’s candidacy, mostly because of the hate-filled racist remarks he’s made throughout his campaign. Even though I feel sad or mad, I’ll push aside those feelings because the subject is so touchy. This past weekend, I finally got that push to write about it.
I just finished watching a new Netflix documentary, 13TH. Named after the 13th amendment that abolished slavery, the documentary looks into how race relations in America have progressed since slavery — the answer is, not much at all. It finds that at every new era, the policies change to fit the times. This gives us our current form of modern slavery, mass incarceration. I won’t get too into the details, but I highly recommend that you watch this movie. It moved me to tears, not just because of the terrifying stats and graphics, but also because of how little I am doing to make it better.
I feel like my first step to being able to do something about it is for me to see how racial inequality has affected my own life, and make it better from there. As a first-generation American, I am proud of my Indianness my family has fused with the Americanness I’ve grown up around. It wasn’t always easy, especially for my parents, to figure out how to balance the two vastly different cultures, but we’ve figured it out along with the millions of other first-generation Indian-American families. By growing up in Washington State, one of the most Democratic + progressive states in the country, I went the majority of my life without facing any obvious racial discrimination or injustice. Joining Indian groups + surrounding myself with Indian friends definitely helped. Even now, living in downtown Seattle, I see so much diversity that I sometimes forget that there’s any difference between me and the person walking next to me on the street.
And yet, I’m always reminded that I’m not a full American by none other than Uber drivers. Even as an American-born citizen who has grown up in this country my entire life, I get asked, “Where are you from?”. I’m sure none of my white friends has ever been asked this question. I usually respond with, “Here. I grew up in Seattle.” Instead of leaving it at that, they’ll continue, “No, but where are you really from?”. It’s as if there is no way that I could actually be from America because of the color of my skin. At this point, I know what they’re getting at but continue answering with the truth, “I’m from America. I was born + brought up here.” Then, the driver will usually chuckle or have a slight smile, acknowledging that I’m a silly first-generation child who chooses not to identify by their race. “Ok then, where is your family from?”. And finally, they get their answer, “My parents moved here from India.” The conversation will rest, with the driver getting the answer he wanted and expected.
Now, I’m not saying that I experienced any form of racial discrimination. I am not being treated differently because of the color of my skin (or so I hope). But what’s interesting about this exchange each time (yes, this happens multiple times with different drivers), is that regardless of where I was born, how good my American accent is, what I wear, how I act, I am not seen as an American. When we live in a country that boasts diversity + inclusion and is built on immigrants yet anyone that is not white is immediately recognized for not belonging, I find it very difficult to believe that any sort of progress will be made on demolishing racial injustice anytime soon. If this is what it feels like to be black in America, with not just Uber drivers but everyone pointing out that you’re different, I can’t even imagine living through that.
If you’ve watched the documentary, please share your thoughts. How much was new information to you? What are steps you or your community is taking to make it better? How can we help?