Racism in America is once again at the forefront of our minds.
Recent incidents of police brutality toward people of color, specifically black Americans, is bringing back into focus a problem that continually exists in the peripheral vision of society.
It’s amazing to me. I’ve witnessed the turn of the century and 40 years of changes in lifestyles and technology.
The America of just a few years ago now looks like an ancient civilization. Younger generations may not be able to fathom what life used to be like. Many things have changed. From the telegram to Instagram, the speed of information sharing has gone from weeks to seconds. It is now truly a small world.
But despite all this advancement, one thing hasn’t kept pace.
Unfortunately, the people who have been an integral part of these modern advances did not change nearly as much.
As interconnected as we have become, people are still struggling to understand each other. Building trust, especially with people of a different race, is a challenge for many.
I do not blame anyone for my race, and neither should anyone else. Race is not a choice; it is something you are born with and cannot change.
As a personal finance blogger and an immigrant from India, these recent events have opened an old wound for me. Sure, most of the time I can go about my life as if I’m just another American, but other times my race is an obstacle I must overcome.
I know I don’t experience the world in the same way as black Americans, but I wanted to do my part in helping to educate those that think racism and prejudice are a thing of the past. I wanted to take some time to reflect on the mistreatment, prejudice, and racism I’ve experienced, and still experience periodically today.
I want to give examples from my own life so that others can better understand what people of color go through, and the layers upon layers of prejudice we combat every day.
These are my experiences and thoughts alone, from my lived experience as a brown man and an immigrant.
Here are my thoughts and my experience of racism in America.
A Brown Man’s Experience of Racism in America
I want to start by describing my own experience of racism in America.
While I do think improvements have been made over the last 40 years, the uncomfortable truth is that what’s mostly happened is that racism has largely gone from being overt to covert.
What do I mean?
Especially for white people, racism is no longer something which is clearly apparent, but rather something that is not necessarily openly acknowledged or displayed.
We no longer have the same levels of segregation, so for many white Americans things seem good.
And I get that. It’s easy to not think about racism unless you’ve experienced it.
That’s why I wanted to discuss my personal experiences with racism and prejudice. I want to give you an idea of what life is like for a brown man in this country.
My Experience with Overt Racism
Let me just list a few things I’ve experienced:
- I was given inferior grades than many of my white peers in college despite their work being inferior to mine. I had even helped some of them!
- My first real job was with the Portland Parks and Recreation cleaning parks and bathrooms. That was the only job I could get at first, despite my college degree in economics and accounting.
- I got my first office job offer only after proving my skills, not because my resume said I had them. Getting the chance to prove what I was capable of was the most difficult part for me as an immigrant with brown skin and an accent.
- I once had my desk thrown out of my office by a manager. He was trying to intimidate me into quitting. Luckily, my boss stood up for me. Subsequently, he was the target of numerous threats and slashed tires as a result.
- Once I was helping my brother clean up his yard. He has a very nice house in a wealthy, white neighborhood. A white couple walked by and asked us how much we would charge to do something like that for their house. We politely said this is our house. Not a word after that, no apologies, they just walked away.
- One of my best Indian friends, who is fortunately quite wealthy, was attending a board meeting at a Catholic institution because he and his wife were some of the biggest donors. They were the only people of color there. The mother superior came out and asked if they were there for assistance. His wife spoke up and informed her that they had been invited there because they’d donated a lot of money. Oops.
These are just a few examples of things I, and others I know, have experienced, and they had a lasting impact beyond making me feel bad.
Inferior grades (also from the need to work multiple jobs to survive and having less time to study) made me look like a poor student in college, which would further impact my ability to get a good job.
Luckily, I was able to overcome these adversities and have a good career, but every additional hurdle you have to overcome puts you further behind in the race. I’m sure I hit the glass ceiling because of my color, and that I probably would have been able to advance further and more quickly had I been a white man.
The thing is, most of those things happened 30 years ago (my donor friend happened a few years ago), and are perfect examples of the more overt forms of racism that were more prevalent in those times.
My Experience with Covert Racism
Now let me give you examples of the more covert forms of racism and prejudice I’ve experienced, even as recently as last week.
- Many people give me a second look, not because I am beautiful, but because I’m different. It happens all the time. It happens from all races, but mostly from white people. I am not calling anyone racist here, but I have seen concerns in many of the looks.
- During one of my vacations, I sent my kids to the pool to play. For the safety of my kids, I sat on a nearby bench to watch them. Immediately, a white women moved her purse from the side nearest me to her other side.
- There have been several times where I’ve extended my help to some older ladies, once with groceries and another time with luggage. They said no very harshly and were obviously afraid of me. The crazy thing is, I was more saddened watching them struggle than by their behavior toward me.
- About a year ago I went to church to meditate. As I parked, I saw an older white lady exit her car and go inside. She had left her windows open and it started to rain as I walked in. I tried to let the lady know that it had started raining so she could put her windows up. She just glared at me and moved away.
- Just last week I went for a walk through a wealthy neighborhood to enjoy their lawns and gardens and the beautiful houses. A lady came out and started attending to her garden while I was stopped in front admiring the garden and house. I began to walk away, and as I looked back, I saw she was watching where I was going. As soon as I was further down the block she went back inside. I must have raised more suspicion in her when I looked back.
I call these examples of covert racism because many of them could be attributed to something else. For instance, ladies could be concerned about accepting my help because I’m a strange man, not because of my race.
But how am I to know just what it was? If I had been a white man would the outcome have been different?
These are perfect examples of the concept of white privilege. A white man isn’t left wondering if the rude behavior of the ladies was due to his race.
A Case of Mistaken Identity
To add another layer to this conversation, not only do people of color have to worry about discrimination, but they have to worry about misplaced discrimination.
What do I mean by misplaced discrimination?
I want to make it clear that all discrimination based on skin color is bad, but it can be even more difficult to navigate when you’re discriminated against because of WHO people think you are.
I’m a victim of mistaken identity all the time. I’m from India, but I have Portuguese ancestry and people mistake me all the time for being Latino and make prejudiced judgements based on who they think I am.
Just to put things in perspective, I am college-educated and worked as a Senior Financial Analyst for the City of Portland. But, being a brown dude most people assume I work in landscape or construction, especially if I am dressed in crummy clothes and stay quiet. There’s nothing wrong with those jobs either, it’s just that that seems to be the only type of work people think you can do if you’re brown. That’s the stereotype.
You’d think if someone was going to be racist they’d at least make sure they have the right race!
Unfortunately, people of color are often lumped together in the same categories, especially if they have an accent. Black, brown, Asian, or white.
People have been discriminated against, hurt, and killed because someone thought they were a race they were not.
Racism because of mistaken identity isn’t any worse than if you did belong to that race, but it does add another layer that many people of color have to deal with.
Racist Behavior Isn’t Solely Perpetrated by Whites
Yet another layer of prejudice that many people of color must navigate is that other minority groups engage in racist behaviors as well.
And unfortunately, the group most discriminated against worldwide seem to be black people.
I want to be truthful. I have witnessed individuals from many minority cultures, including Indians, who have shown prejudice toward black people.
The truth is, white nations colonized a huge portion of the world and instilled many of their beliefs about race. Whether conscious or subconscious, many societies of color strive toward white ideals and compete with each other for higher status.
Thus, while people of color are all fighting the prejudice put forth by many white people, they are also often fighting against the prejudice of other groups of color. The difference is that “white” culture is the dominant one that structured our society, and as a result has the majority of the “power.”
But it’s sad for me to see people of color discriminate against one another when we should all be supporting one another and working together to inspire change.
Maybe that is finally happening with the recent Black Lives Matter movement.
Moral of the Story
I don’t know what the moral of the story is, except to say that racism and prejudice still exist today.
I do not want to stereotype all white people or any other races who have biases against other races. In some cases it may be a misunderstanding, or better yet, the lack of effort put forth to understand one another regardless of the race.
Many instances of racism cause no physical harm, but believe me, it does hurt.
I used to get really angry. Nowadays, I have to bite my lip and ignore such situations. I do not want to threaten anyone or more importantly, be approached by the police. Unfortunately, people of color, especially black people, are their first target.
Most of the time I don’t notice it. After all, I can’t see myself. But once in awhile the fact that I’m different is placed front and center.
Like the time I was in a large business meeting and saw my reflection in the wall-length mirror, and suddenly realized I was the only person of color in the room.
So, what can we do?
I would encourage people of all races to try and spend as much time as they can exposing themselves to people who are different. Exposure and forming positive experiences with people who are different is a good way to begin changing your ingrained views.
I’d also encourage people to challenge their thoughts and actions. If you feel the urge to behave a certain way toward/around a person of color, as yourself, “would I be feeling this way if this person looked like me?”
If the answer is no, then make yourself uncomfortable and change your behavior.
In closing, I embrace the people rallying for justice these days. I hope they truly understand the feeling and fears of black American citizens.
I only wish people would take the time to understand each other more than just what meets the eye. The fact is as human beings we have more things in common than uncommon. Our experiences may be different, but we’re all people.
After all, the color of your skin is only a matter of pigment.
Talk about Acceptance Learned.