I am brown. Bearded. Turbaned. Sikh.
These days many of us are more conscious of our background, ethnicity and appearance than we have been in ages. I think the last time I felt like this was in 1984 when I was growing up in India. Indira Gandhi had been killed by her Sikh bodyguards. And it felt like the entire country was out to get my community for it. I still remember my mother saying that if I ever see a government vehicle, then I should run for it. For a small child, those words were terrifying. They are still deeply etched in my memory.
The truth was that the entire country was not out to get me or my family. We had kind neighbors, friends, community that came together and took care of us, helped us, stood by us. A small group of bigots had taken over the country for a bit, but sanity prevailed ultimately. India was not so weak to be broken down by things like these.
Neither is America.
In the last few weeks, I have felt a bit isolated from the rest of the folks around me. I notice the color of skin more acutely then ever before. I am more careful about my thoughts since I know that deep down I am forming a different kind of prejudice of my own. In that sense, I am becoming a racist myself in response to the bigotry of a small minority of the country.
The truth is that most people who voted for Trump did not vote because of racism. Some definitely did, but there are millions in our country who are not prejudiced based on race. Are there subtle biases? Of course. But as I traverse the country working on Learning Motors, I see the kindness in people’s hearts, the openness to new ideas, the issues in our poorer communities, the distance between the rust belts of the middle America and our coasts.
We have created this distance. *All* of us. Liberals, Conservatives, White, Black, Brown, Coastal, Middle. All of us. I can sit here and moan the subtle loss of home that is inherent in actions of a bigot minority in the country. But I should not forget the warm home of that family in Wyoming who invited me for my first thanksgiving dinner in the country when I was a student. Or my professors, advisors, mentors, managers who regardless of race and color nudged me in the right direction so that I could be successful.
The vast majority of our country is not racist nor prejudiced. Atleast not anymore than we all are. In my opinion, there is a deeper issue at play here.
A lot of us are stuck in our own bubbles. We love and breathe our own ilk and kind, and then wonder why we cannot understand those who are different from us. Here is a simple observation. This will be a bit uncomfortable since I am going to define my friends in terms of their race but its worth thinking through this.
I have a lot of friends but a vast majority of them are of Indian origin. Nothing wrong with hanging together with folks of similar background, but I have very few close friends (defined by folks who are close enough to visit our home regularly) who are from other races. Perhaps a few Caucasian friends that I made when I was in Wharton. Almost no African Americans, a few Asians, no LGBT, the list goes on.. On top of it, Bay Area does not lend itself to economic diversity. We live in cloistered communities of tech elite and crib about not understanding what’s wrong with the coal miners and auto workers.
Don’t get me wrong. We all have a lot of acquaintances across these ‘labels’. But why do many of us have such homogenous circles when we are surrounded by interesting people of all kinds. Why am I not having deep conversations with a more diverse set of people? Some of us are better at this than others. But I feel like I have screwed up here. Our media has screwed up. And yes, our government has too.
And if we all live in our racial, economic, ideological bubbles, if we do not understand our collective issues, if we do not find ways to embrace each other in times of peace and success, then how can we hope for unity in times of strife? And yes, today, some parts of our country have genuine economic strife. These divisions will lead to a bitterness that may be subtle for most part but will expose itself like it did during this election.
Our job is not to protest when an election is decided. It is to care for each other between these elections. We are a divided country today. But its not within the power of a single person to divide a great country like USA. We chose to divide it when we receded into our bubbles and live in them.
This idea of secession of California is bullshit. USA is my country. I am going to stay here and fight to make it better.
Only love can fix this.