I don’t often talk about the racially charged events which have marked my life. But I remember every single incident. Why do I hesitate to share the prejudiced treatment I’ve endured? Because our culture often equates complaints of mistreatment to a victim mentality. I’m not a victim. I’ve never seen myself as less than others. My approach, however, has been to walk in humility when engaging anyone, but more often than not, humility is mistaken for weakness by those who intend to abuse it.
I write now to add my voice to the millions more who are crying out for justice. Too often, crimes against minorities have gone unnoticed and unresolved. So many experiences from my own life stand out. I’ve moved out of neighborhoods, exited stores, and walked away from numerous confrontations because of pointed racial discrimination. My wife has had horrendous insults thrown at her for marrying outside of her race. Fortunately, the Lord has faithfully defended us in adversity. Even amid God’s favor, I regularly feel the cutting blade of racism in our community. The tension which many minorities feel day after day is often overlooked or devalued. So many fear speaking out when marginalized by friends, co-workers, or the authorities. I could share so many stories in light of the horrendous violence our nation witnessed on May 25th, but nothing I’ve experienced is remotely close to the murder we all witnessed.
It was 2001, within the first week of the September 11th attacks. Like any other morning, I was packing my bag for class. My mom came to my room and warned me to go directly to my college campus and return home. She urged me not to stop for gas or at any store because of rumored threats against Middle easterners filled the news.
I calmed her concern, jumped in my beat-up Toyota Tercel, and drove to college. My car was a sight for sore eyes. The sunbleached red paint and dented sides announced “over-used car.” It was in good working condition, minus the quart of oil it regularly required. Driving down Martin Luther King Drive, ironically, I looked into my rearview mirror to discover a police officer on a motorcycle with flashing lights behind me. I looked at my speed and noted that I was well under the posted limit. I checked my tags, and they were current. I pulled over and rolled down my window with my driver’s license and insurance card in hand. I asked the officer as he took my license if there was a problem. He didn’t respond. He asked me, “where are you from?” I pointed to my license and said, “Bridge City.” He glared over his sunglasses and asked, “what nationality are you.” A little confused about his line of questioning, I responded, “I’m Indian.” Then he said, “So you’re from…?” “India,” I said in a slightly smart-aleck tone. I thought surely, it’s evident that Indians are from India, but what does this have to do with a traffic stop? The officer, realizing his blatant profiling, blurted out, “well, you were speeding.” I was sure that I wasn’t, so I asked him how fast I was going. He didn’t have a response. He wrote me a ticket and parroted off some legal stuff and then rode off. I looked at my ticket, and it cited me as going ten miles over the speed limit.
A few months later, I showed up in court. The officer was present to defend his citation. He looked sternly at me. I was going to ask the judge why my nationality was a concern to the officer and if it had influenced his falsely stated citation. When my turn came, I walked up to the desk and fumbled over my words. I chickened out. I protested that I was not speeding. The judge commended me for fighting the citation and reduced the ticket and court fees to $120. It may not sound like a lot of money now, but as a college student working a full-time job and juggling bills and college, it was a lot. In the end, I paid out $120 for being an Indian from India.
I harbor no bitterness against police officers, but it is important to note that non-minorities cannot fully understand the continual tension of prejudice in our culture. From jokes to accusative questions to traffic tickets, these microaggressions increase with time. Minorities don’t have an effective way to be heard. We are not asking for favors; we only want to make communities aware of the continual blindness. The flames of racial tension are ignited by hatred and pride. However, casual indifference toward injustice fuels the fire.
On a literal battleground fueled by racial division, President Lincoln prophetically spoke to our nations current struggle against injustice.
“…our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure… It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
In reading these words, I am convinced that unless we are “dedicated to the great task remaining before us” of removing the indifference toward injustice, there is no moving forward from this battlefield. The responses of speaking out, peaceful protesting, massive prayer gatherings, and extensive dialogues will move us toward healing. These pathways can serve to be a healing balm to the wounds of our nation.