- We must never forget that the privileged life we lead in America is a gift of black struggles and sacrifices.
It’s about time I admit that people of color have always had to deal with some form of racism in their lives. The struggle to be accepted for who we are has always felt like an uphill battle for too many. I’ve been using these challenging times to reflect upon the Indian American community and how we tend to forget the privilege we are brought up in and that our struggles are nowhere near as dire or deadly as those of our fellow minorities.
With our nation demanding justice for African Americans with the “Black Lives Matter Movement,” it’s important that we as the South Asian community stand with them and join their fight, because it is our fight, too. We must educate ourselves and help break down barriers with them and within our communities. And for those Indian Americans who are not speaking out, the day you yourself encounter racism will be the day your perspective and compassion will change. I, too, was awakened by one such instance.
I’ve focused my career around marketing. As a Field Marketing Manager, I spend most of my time engaging with future clients and cultivating relationships to build new business for the company. I’ve always enjoyed this aspect of my role since it allows me to meet people from different walks of life that have different points of views and ideals than my own. However, I was quick to find out the respect I have for differences is not always reciprocated.
For instance, I was managing a booth at a work event in Las Vegas with my previous manager and sales team. In this professional setting, I was conscious of a particular sales rep of Caucasian descent, who slung around racial slurs every time a person of color came to our booth. Not knowing what to do, I tried to steer clear of this sales rep until I was approached by her. For the next 10 minutes she berated me with questions that rendered me speechless.
“Why don’t you eat beef?”
“Why do you dance at weddings?”
“Do you dance to that ‘ding-a-ling’ music?”
“Is that like Slumdog Millionaire s**t?
“Why don’t you do your Indian dance here so people will come talk to us?”
She continued to ask questions with a smirk on her face as she saw my discomfort trying to find the words to defend myself and my culture. I had never experienced such targeted racism and ignorance in my life. I left the conversation with her shaking, tears of anger rolling down my face. Fuming with rage and embarrassment, I called my mom to tell her what had just happened. With a sense of empathy in her voice my mom simply responded, “Your dad went through something like this last year, it happens”. My anger continued to rise. How could I be treated like this in a country I consider home? What had I done to deserve it?
That’s when it finally hit me.
This was just a glimpse of what the African American community has been facing for centuries in this country. I had the privilege of spending 23 years of my life oblivious to targeted racism. My parents had provided me with a life of financial and emotional support. They came from India in pursuit of a better life and were able to create that for me and my sister.
A Sheltered Life
I was raised in Cupertino, California, a predominantly Asian American town, where even though our colors were different, we were all immigrants and in that bond we were accepting of each other’s cultures and communities. Even when I attended college at UC Santa Cruz, I experienced levels of acceptance from different ethnic communities that were outside my Indian roots.
Although, in college, I noticed clear divides between my privilege and those of other ethnicities, it never occurred to me how truly bad it could be. Some of my college friends were first generation graduates who paid for their full education and came from humble beginnings. These experiences made me self-aware that as an Indian American I have always been seen in a positive light; we are considered scholars and educated individuals, while African Americans continue to be unfairly viewed in negative light based purely on biased judgements and assumptions.
I didn’t comprehend what it felt like to be judged for the color of my skin or for the ethnicity I represented, until that Las Vegas encounter. It still troubles me that I needed to experience targeted racism to open my eyes to the blatant oppression that our African American communities have faced and still face, particularly in life or death circumstances. It may have taken me that incident to open my eyes but I can only hope that by educating themselves, others are quick to call to action, or self reflect, and listen to the voices around them during these times to drive their compassion for a better future.
As our country continues to be divided, there is only hope if we all stand together. Many Indian Americans are finally realizing Asian American privilege — the opportunity to come to America with the hopes of doing better than the countries they originated from — a privilege they are able to flex only because of the struggle and sacrifices of African Americans.
The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 is a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement. Not all minorities have been given the same privileges as us. So, let’s stand with the African American community and show America that we will not back down until change is made. After all, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, all
men people are created equal.”
If you wish to help, but don’t know how, please click on the link below and see the 5 Minute Action plan created by my friends Nick Ben, Emily Parathara and Sneha Mathew:
Priyam Kulkarni is an Indian American marketing professional. Growing up in California, as a member of several cultural organizations, Priyam has spent most of her time focussing on her creativity in music and dance. Now based in New York, she is a Field Marketing Manager for North America for AppsFlyer, a technology company.