People throughout America are angry for many reasons. Around here, folks are frustrated by the loss of manufacturing jobs, slow wage growth, real and perceived discrimination, denials of global warming, attempts to separate Mexico from North America or mothers from their children, surging health insurance premiums, aggressive drivers, failing schools, tax breaks for corporations, crime and, of course, the Ravens (still).

For my part, nothing has left me feeling more aggrieved than the sudden realization that in much of America, I will never be more than a second class citizen. All of a sudden, being of Indian descent and brown-skinned feels like a disadvantage. It never felt quite like this before in any of the places I've lived.

Advertisement

I was born in New York City and grew up in the all-American community of Bourbonnais, Ill., in Kankakee County. After graduating from high school in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., I attended college and graduate school exclusively on the East Coast and eventually started my own business, now with a team of 11. For many years, I have judged this body of work to be purely American — dare I say dreamlike.

Growing up, I was not immune to the fact that I was different from most of the other kids. It didn't seem to make a difference though. I went to the same classes, was graded on assignments and tests like everyone else, and played for Little League teams sponsored by local businesses like Bradley Bank and Massey Ferguson Tractors. My father, a physician, was routinely recognized on the streets of Kankakee, a source of personal pride and a reminder that I belonged.

But something has changed in America, and though it feels sudden, it's been building for years. I remember walking around Baltimore and people looking at me peculiarly during the hours after the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. The bombing destroyed one-third of the Alfred P. Murrah Building, killed 168 people and injured another 680.

For a time, it wasn't clear that the primary perpetrators had been Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. I may have been experiencing a bout of paranoia, but I sensed that people were staring at me, presuming that the tragedy in Oklahoma City was caused by someone darker-skinned, something true of the World Trade Center Bombing two years earlier.

Six years later, things really began to change: 9/11. I had moved my wife and then 2-year-old daughter from Fells Point to Homeland earlier that year. Just a few days after 9/11, we were shunned by our own neighbors at a neighborhood gathering, my daughter denied entry to a rented moon bounce. One could not claim this as bigotry toward Muslims since we are Hindus, but that distinction was and is of no real consequence. The point is that apparently we looked too much like the perpetrators of the assaults on New York and Washington, D.C., to be welcome among our neighbors.

The recent shootings of Indian-Americans in Kansas and Washington State have reinforced the feeling of not belonging. Too many of our fellow Americans believe that we do not belong here and should go back to our country. I would in fact be quite open to returning to our ancestral home of India if all other immigrants and their descendants were to follow suit, leaving only Native Americans to enjoy the nation.

There have been other factors at work. Attacks in Boston, Orlando and San Bernadino have widened societal divisions as have the actions of ISIS, al-Qaida, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, among others. Kids harassing other kids with chants of "build the wall" haven't helped, nor have attempts at an emergency Muslim ban.

My feelings of unease are relatively new. African-Americans have been made to feel unwelcome for generations. Like many other Indian-Americans, I have tended to hide within the notional cocoon of being part of a "model minority," but whether we are models or not, I have been made to feel that I may never be fully American.

Accordingly, I want to thank the African-American community for tirelessly leading the fight for equality. Unforgivably, I never thanked you for producing leaders and scholars like Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers and Thurgood Marshall. I never thanked you for fighting for the right to vote, the right to send children to decent schools,or the right to impartial jurisprudence. I didn't realize it, but you've had my back all along.

Anirban Basu, an economist, Anirban Basu is CEO of Sage Policy Group Inc. His email is abasu@sagepolicy.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement