An FYI to all the immigrants in America: it is because of the struggles of black Americans, today new immigrants have all the rights.
By Sujata Tibrewala
Black Lives Matter. The killing of George Floyd. What do I have to do with any of it?
That was my first reaction. But then I heard the story of Amber Ruffin, a black writer on Seth Meyer’s staff. She was a terrified teen driver, driving at 45 mph in a 40 mph zone, while everyone else was driving at 50. And a cop stopped her. Seeing that police car convinced her that she was about to be shot and about to become tomorrow’s news. So in the few seconds before the officer walked to her, her whole life flashed before her eyes and she started crying uncontrollably. Suddenly the cop did not see her threatening anymore and hence let her go.
This reminded me of something that happened to me about 9 years ago. We had just moved from India into a good neighborhood with one of the best schools, which happened to be — yes, you guessed it — white. So my daughter was at a birthday party and I was trying to find the house in the dark. And suddenly, I see the blue and red lights flashing brightly behind me. I was surprised, as I was not speeding. In fact the opposite, I was stopping at each and every house, as I was looking for the right one. “Ma’am, are you okay, you are driving very slow.” I showed him the birthday invitation card and he let me go.
Now looking back, perhaps one of the residents thought I was a “suspicious” black driver in her very safe, non-black neighborhood? Well, if that wasn’t true, why do I remember being stopped randomly, all while in the dark, where I could be confused for a black driver and then let go? I did not understand back then, so I brushed it aside as a random police check, but now that I think back, I shudder for the life of a black person living in such circumstances.
A year after that I moved to the Bay Area, and I had to restart my career at a salary similar to that of a freshly graduated college student. This meant after paying rent, I had to stretch the remaining dollars to pay for food, utilities and gas. Eating out even once, or an unexpected doctor’s visit could easily throw me off track. So as a single mother, since my husband was still in Chicago, I was a driver, cook, and cleaner, not to mention working full time as a network software engineer at Cisco.
This was the first time I could relate to the plight of minimum wage workers who had to pay for food. I was lucky that I could change jobs and now I am here with a decent salary, but the reality is minimum wage workers are often times working two jobs, stuck in a trap of poverty with no end in sight. And this is not true just for minimum wage workers in America; the conditions are worse for laborers and house maids in India. They need to work every day just to fill their stomachs but many cannot even pay rent and end up living on the streets. The house maids need to do chores of multiple houses in addition to their own house just to survive, when we upper class people cannot even do the chores of our own homes. Most of the time the only hope they have of survival is to have as many children as possible so with the additional manpower they can all earn enough combined daily wages needed to support the family.
This shattered my belief in meritocracy. How can meritocracy exist in a world where structural racism gives certain communities unfair access to resources, wealth, education and human connections? If you are reading this, or listening to me chances are your story is like mine. My great grandfather built a house where my grandfather lived with his brothers. By the time my dad came in, the house was too small for all of them so he moved out and over his lifetime he built one for his children. Now I migrated to the United States from India. Yes I am at a disadvantage as a brown immigrant in America, but I did have a head start due to my education and the fact that lot of my friends and alumni seniors are working here in the Bay Area who provide me with me a role model if nothing else. Most blacks do not have that in America, and neither do lower caste citizens have it in India.
It is the perfect time for each one of us to introspect, educate ourselves and become aware of the privileges that we come from because the contributions of blacks in America and lower class citizens in India are insurmountable. And just an FYI to all the immigrants in America: it is because of them that the immigration law of 1965 was passed, banning unfair immigration laws allowing discrimination by country, race or religion in the U.S.
This is not the time to stay silent. Because today the system is against them and if we do not speak up now, there will be no one to speak for us when the system decides to come after us. Support Black Lives Matter in the U.S. Use your time, money, voice, whatever you have, because it is time to be thankful that you have one and you can make a difference.
(Sujata Tibrewala is a California based eco-feminist and community development manager at Intel. She has exhibited her art at various venues in India and US.)
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