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As a 11-Year-Old Indian American How I See Discrimination of Blacks in America and Dalits in India

As a 11-Year-Old Indian American How I See Discrimination of Blacks in America and Dalits in India

  • As a girl and a person of color, I now have a responsibility to contribute to the struggle against injustice, which would be the best way to thank those who worked to make my life easier.

At the 2021 U.S. Presidential Inauguration, the poet Amanda Gorman spoke about “the past we step into and how to repair it.” I believe that we must look at our past in order to repair our present and build a brighter future. Recognizing the importance of understanding the history of laws and social change, my paper discusses why legal reforms are important – but not enough – to build a just society. 

I am 11 years old, and attend sixth grade in Seattle, where I was born. My mother moved to the U.S.. from India. In the next section, I am going to discuss two issues, one in the U.S. and the other in India, their history, and how they impact my life and identity. 

The first topic is redlining in the U.S. At school, I have been learning about redlining and reflecting on how my own life has been affected by it. The second issue is caste discrimination, which originated in India. I am interested in understanding the caste system because of my family history. My conclusion offers thoughts on the lessons of history and what I can do to make a difference. 

Redlining was a practice by banks to discriminate against people, based on their race or ethnicity, when giving loans for buying homes. This policy, which was promoted by the government, forced people of color to live in neighborhoods which were often poor and underfunded. City officials even made maps which showed where people of different races lived. In most cities, the neighborhoods where people of color were concentrated were called “hazardous,” while “still desirable” or “best” areas were reserved for white people. The civil rights movement led to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which banned redlining. But, the effects of redlining continue to this day. Most cities in the U.S. are still highly segregated. 

India’s affirmative action policies gave my mother’s family access to education, jobs, and housing. Still, many Dalits continue to suffer. Low caste children have far fewer educational opportunities than upper caste children.

Because governments and businesses have neglected many Black neighborhoods, they have not been able to develop. This, in turn, has a big effect on schools. For example, in North Seattle, the PTAs in richer, whiter neighborhoods raise a lot more money than schools in South Seattle, where more Black children live. The PTA of Roosevelt High School, which is mostly white and wealthy, has $3.5 million in assets. Rainier Beach High School, which has more students of color, barely has any money. Schools that do not get as much funding do not have enough money for programs like art and music. As a result, kids in poorer schools do not have as many options and opportunities as those in wealthier areas. 

I live near Roosevelt High, which people say is a “great school,” with many programs. But, till the 1960s, my neighborhood was Whites-only. Without the civil rights movement, I would not be able to live here. But, I still see the effects of redlining today because my city remains segregated, and my school has very few African Americans. When we look at our own neighborhoods, we can see a long history of racial segregation, that laws alone cannot fix. 

Now, I turn to caste, which is a system that discriminates against people on the basis of birth. My mother’s family is Dalit (low-caste), and her parents and grandparents experienced a lot of discrimination in India. Many activists have worked to end these practices. After India got independence from the British, India’s Constitution made caste discrimination illegal. Here is a family story that shows how important legal reforms can be for ordinary people. A few years after the Constitution was adopted, my great grandmother went to a communal well in her township to get water. An upper-caste woman told her that she should not be there because she was Dalit. My grandmother responded, “We are equals in free India and if you have a problem with that, you should go to Delhi and take it up with the Prime Minister.” My family is very proud of that story! 

India’s affirmative action policies gave my mother’s family access to education, jobs, and housing. Still, many Dalits continue to suffer. Low caste children have far fewer educational opportunities than upper caste children. On that day, at the well, my great grandmother had found the confidence to stand up for herself because the laws had changed. But, many Dalit people still do not have access to basic resources or education. Like in the US, the struggle for equality in India remains unfinished. 

See Also

When my mother came to the U.S, she was looking to escape the caste system in India. But she stepped into a racial discrimination system that works a lot like caste. I am the product of the civil rights struggles in both countries. I live in a safe home and attend a well-funded school. Still, as a girl, as a person of color, and being from a Dalit background, I know that my life would have been a lot harder, if not for the struggles of others who came before me. 

I now have a responsibility to contribute to the struggle against injustice. This would be the best way to thank those who worked to make my life easier. I plan to learn a lot more about the history of inequality. 

Simply saying “this needs to change” is not enough. We must understand why those things happened in the first place. History can point us in the right direction. For example, the movements in India and the U.S. have been largely peaceful. This is important because when we turn to violence, violence defines us; and we lose sight of what we are fighting. The histories of redlining and caste discrimination show us that we need patience and commitment to fight injustice. Legal reforms make a difference- but it takes a lot more than that to change society. I hope that, through knowledge, growth, and purposeful action, we can, in the words of Ms. Gorman, find the “power to author a new chapter.”


Samara Desai is a sixth grader from Seattle, Washington. She likes to play basketball, chess, tennis, and predicting the ends of movies. This essay won first place in the middle school category at an arts and essay contest organized by Hindus for Human Rights and the Indian American Muslim Council. 

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