Racism in America Today
I remember learning about slavery in high school one day. The teacher stood grimly and explained to us – as best as she could to a classroom full of children barely 14 – about slavery. That night, I went home and cried silently in bed. As our lesson on slavery progressed, I cried many tears. When I finally got to the chapter on Martin Luther King, Jr., I remember I finally cried tears of joy and pride. There was hope. Humanity wasn’t lost.
However, as the years flew by, I’ve often questioned that humanity – especially in recent years. As I hit my 20s, I finally started watching and reading the news – much to many of my professors’ and mentors’ relief, I’m sure. I became interested in the world around me. However, my interest also meant I would spend countless hours losing the hope that the chapter on Martin Luther King, Jr. had given me years ago. I spent hours wondering if we as humans could ever look past our differences; if we had hope.
Racism seems to infiltrate the American lifestyle. Of course, many minorities – including Malayalees in America – have told me that racism simply does not exist in the American lifestyle. Clearly, they didn’t live the same life I did.
I moved to America when I was 10 years old. I started going to school and remember being a fish fresh out of water. I remember the derogatory stereotypes and names being thrown about in my middle school. “Smelly Indian” was something I heard many kids yelling out to kids of Indian descent. Sometimes, I even heard the occasional “n*****” being yelled out. Of course, kids will be kids, but kids weren’t born knowing these things. They learned it from somewhere.
All through my life, I’ve seen small speckles of racism. High school was also peppered with the same obscenities – though the frequency lessened through the years.
By the time I was in college, I wanted to believe that the name-calling and hatred that prevailed in the young minds of my classmates was a thing of the past. And I believed it.
So, my life went on. I went to a small, private university that consisted of roughly 5,000 students – the majority of whom were white. Diversity wasn’t widespread at Rider University, but there was no real racial divide either. Racism simply didn’t exist at Rider.
Until one day, when racism reared its ugly head. Someone wrote “n*****” on the dorm room door of a young, African-American student. However, for the first time in years, I also saw hope. The entire student body at my university came together for a vigil. They made it obvious that racism had no place at Rider University. Students of all different races came together to clean the student’s door and hold candle light vigils for unity. That day became memorialized as Unity Day for students.
As I grew older, racism took on a new meaning. Racism in the twenty-first century America is not the same as it was in the past. Racism in the past was much like the waves on a beach. It was unapologetic and obvious. Racism today is much more like the undercurrent – always there, just beneath the surface and subtle. You see this racism in the subtlest of actions.
A man follows an unarmed boy and kills him, and immediately, the boy is labeled a “thug.” The murderer is ruled not guilty. On the other hand, another boy enters a man’s home through his garage, uninvited. The man shoots the boy. The man is found guilty of murder charges. The only difference in the cases was the race of the parties involved.
The African-American boy was labeled a thug, while the Caucasian boy was labeled a victim. The Caucasian murderer walked out with a not guilty verdict, and the African American murderer was handed a seventy-year prison sentence.
While nobody verbalized that African-American lives are worthless, their actions screamed it louder than words. Maybe we can brush this off, blame guns on the violence, and simply think that this will not have an impact on our lives.
The sad reality is that it does. Issues pertaining to racism aren’t limited to other minorities. Indians are subject to the same racism that other minorities are subject to.
The negative reactions from social media as Nina Davuluri took home the coveted “Miss America” crown were abundant. Many users called her a terrorist and made fun of her heritage. She couldn’t be American, because she was brown.
A Sikh professor at Columbia University, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, was attacked and called “Osama Bin Laden” as he walked home one night in upper Manhattan. He was hospitalized with a broken jaw.
Two children of Indian descent win the National Spelling Bee, and commentators on Twitter wondered why American kids were eliminated. The children weren’t American, because they were brown.
Neighbors called the police because they saw a “suspicious man” walking in their neighborhood. The police officers talked to the man – a grandfather visiting from India – who does not speak a stitch of English. What follows next is nothing short of police brutality, and the man is now partially paralyzed.
While the police officer has now been sentenced to a ten-year prison sentence, all these cases stem from the undercurrent of racism.
Racial divide exists. All of us hold a bias of other races. Racism affects us in the subtlest of ways. You can’t run from it. You can’t hide from it.
As a minority, every action of mine is that of a minority group. I realized that minorities were rarely allowed to be individuals; rather, we are defined by the color of our skin.
Most people I met weren’t interested in me as an individual. Everywhere I went, I became a representative of India and the Indian culture. I wasn’t simply Aggie. I was Aggie, the Indian girl.
I was questioned about India, India’s geography, India’s culture, India’s religion, India’s language, India, India, India… I was the one stop shop for all their questions about India. And Pakistan and Bangladesh – since most people didn’t know the difference between the three countries.
People were often surprised that my parents allowed me to go out late at night or that I wasn’t studying to be in the IT or medical fields. I wasn’t part of the Indian stereotype they had created for themselves. Many also found reason to mention the few other Indian acquaintances they had.
Perhaps, I should be happy for people yearning to learn about another culture, and a part of me is. Yet, a part of me wonders if I will ever truly be accepted in America. Is there a place in America for someone like me?
Am I America’s unwanted, accidental baby or the cherished youngest daughter?
The reality is that it is up to me to carve my own identity in America. And I simply cannot do that without accepting that racism exists.
For a long time, I simply didn’t want to acknowledge it. After all, ignorance is bliss. Acknowledging it meant that there was a problem, and living in denial is often the less worrisome path.
However, I have since learned that acknowledging it and accepting it are two different things. Acknowledging the undercurrent of racism in America meant that I could be part of the solution. I will never accept racism in America. I will not cower down to hatred and ignorance. Not towards me. Not towards anyone.
Because, at the end of the day, America is my home.
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