The exercise of writing offers a gift: a mind that looks at the surrounding world and recognizes the stories swirling through every thing and every person. It’s an engaging way to live, to realize that shades of being infused into every breath, every passing second.
However, not all those seconds are spiritually uplifting. The world does not always feel hallowed or vibrant or celebrated. Some days the world is cruel and dark or dim and lackluster. Arguably, these cycles of expression and experience are part of living. We live through personal cycles of moods, development, and aging. In the long run, we can trace economic and social movements that cycle through communities large and small. The wheel is always turning, and even pain, apathy, and anger have a spoke on that wheel.
I fear for the spoke upon which the United States currently lingers. I came into work this morning and walked with my boss for a coffee, a daily ritual of ours. He mentioned there had been another attack in a sports bar in Kansas on Wednesday night. An Indian man was killed. Another was injured, along with an American who tried to intercept the attacker and was shot.
The attacker was reported to have said just before shooting, “Get out of my country.”
My boss/mentor lived in Kansas for close to thirty years and he’s familiar with the area where the attack happened. He immigrated to America in 1973 as a postdoctoral fellow studying the role of hormones on implantation and pregnancy. Over the course of his career, he’s published over three hundred articles, revolutionized the strategies of IVF, and trained fellows and lab technicians who went on to become leading researchers and medical doctors. So many of those students were immigrants as well, the top performers in their native countries who secured competitive H1-B visas to study in the United States, the land of opportunity.
My mentor went on to say that he was worried about his son and daughter-in-law. His son is a leading figure in his company and travels often throughout the United States and abroad. His daughter-in-law is a brilliant neurosurgeon, also emigrated from India. They have two adored dogs, trained in therapy programs, and every week, she takes them to the hospital to visit those struck by illness. Now my mentor is thinking of advising his son to travel less and his daughter-in-law to quiet her political convictions because he does not want to see their names associated with an attack.
For the first time since coming to this country, he said that he is afraid of being targeted. That his wife, his children will be targeted. That they may become the victims or casualties of a hate crime. In all his years, he said America always seemed to him to be a positive and generous community, willing to support each other and help each other succeed. The genuine kindness was part of what made America so beautiful, especially to immigrants who came to this country to pursue opportunities they otherwise would not have in their own.
The New York Times article discussing the Kansas attack included these damning statistics: “The FBI reported 5,818 hate crime incidents involving 7,121 victims in the U.S. in 2015, the period for which the latest data were available. Of those victims, 59% were targeted, the FBI said, because of a ‘race/ethnicity/ancestry bias.’ Hate crimes specifically targeting Muslims rose 67% for the period.”
The United States is a country of immigrants. My great-great grandfather immigrated here from Germany likely in the mid to late 1800’s (the records we have are imprecise). My immediate father’s family lives in New Zealand and Australia. I was always taught to be proud of the diversity of my heritage, to celebrate the connections I have to many different places throughout the world.
I am white though and I speak English with an American accent. The odds of being targeted by one of these heinous crimes is low. As a woman, I have a much higher risk of becoming a victim of sexual violence. Yet those rates are still lower than the risk I would face as a woman of color. (Click here for more information on these statistics from a CDC report.) I recognize that I have privilege in this respect, that I walk through my spheres of interaction surrounded mostly by people who look and sound like me and that formal structures were historically designed for my ethnicity. With that privilege comes a position of power.
I look around at the violence directed at my peers, my advisers, my loved ones, and I think, this is not the United States I know. This is not the United States I believe in. Immigrant stories and the stories of people of color are being snuffed out by this white-America first ideology spreading through the country like a sickness.
“The Year in Hate and Extremism,” Southern Poverty Law Center
I will not stand for it. I will stand against these damaging ideologies that say we must shun the Syrian refugee family because a terrorist might be hidden among them, while in the same moment, white supremacists gather in rallies and conferences to plan incendiary activity. I will not sit quietly while an ideological war is waged on American soil against people of color, against Muslims and Jews, against women and LGBTQ+, against disabled and special needs individuals. All of these people have stories to tell, contributions to make to the cultural tapestry of America. When these voices are silenced, whether by bullets or by fear tactics, by laws or police batons, the core of American strength, innovation, and compassion is degraded.
My heart aches for the family, friends, and peers who must now grieve for Srinivas Kuchibhotla, the Indian man who died on Wednesday. I hope Alok Madasani’s recovery is swift, and I am grateful for the actions of Ian Grillot, who attempted to subdue the attacker and was injured in the process. His actions are the kind that should typify all Americans–the willingness to stand beside and at times shield our community members regardless of race, religion, age, ability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
I will use my writing, my speech, and my daily action to push for change and help protect the people suffering from injustice. I will not stop until everyone can engage and contribute to our society so we may all grow together in a positive vision of equality. I will not stop until the fear and sadness in my mentor’s eyes recede. The wheel will turn from this poisonous spoke of exclusion; our diversity, coupled with our inherent humanity, will be the future of our country and our global society.
This country does not belong to one of us. It belongs to all of us.
For more information on methods and strategies to combat hateful messages and support community involvement, please see this guide published by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”