Charlottesville Happened: A Teenager Reflects

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Inexcusable.

Unbelievable.

Unspeakable.

And yet, if we do not process the events at Charlottesville, we may never heal from them. To process the events fully, we Indian-Americans need to reconfigure the way we think about and discuss politics.

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Politics isn’t a cute hobby. It isn’t  a college major. It isn’t a taboo  topic at the dinner table, argument-starter (maybe), nor is it a room-polarizer. It is reality. It is needed  to create the lives we want to lead. A couple of weeks ago, you must have observed this very political power being exercised by Americans who thought very differently about the role of race in our great country.

The clash between white supremacists and counter protesters at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia is now being chronicled as a brutal terrorist event in United States history; it drew international attention for its horror as viewers around the globe watched a car intentionally speed through a group of peace seekers on the street, killing Heather Heyer and wounding thirty four other civilians.

Within the Indian-American community, I’ve observed individuals stick to a shared, ingrained mindset: politics is  controversial, detrimental to our relationships and reputations, and it is better we leave politicians to deal with all of this. The problem with this approach is that it leaves us with no agency. It takes us and our humanity out of the equation. If we expect change, we should expect to educate ourselves and fight for what we think is right, not sit back and wait for someone else to step up.

Just think: if people of color in the last century had not orchestrated the Civil Rights Movement we would not have the privilege we have today to live in America — with the hallowed set of freedoms that we take for granted every single day. We isolate ourselves from protests across the United States and hide under the privilege we hold as a model minority. We deny our affiliation with other colored people like the African-American and Latino communities because we believe either one of two things: that there isn’t a problem to begin with or that it isn’t worth it for us to get involved in it.

In the short film Homecoming King, Indian-American comedian Hasan Minhaj recalls his father’s response to a racist act of vandalism on the family car:

“These things happen, and these things will continue to happen; that’s the price we pay for being here.”

Why do we, as brown people, keep questioning our right to live in the United States, a country created by and for immigrants? Why do we collectively view ourselves as burdens to this society? Why should we not fight for a position at the political table, at which all the seats were originally obtained through force and cruelty?

Hasan Minhaj’s father’s view articulates the prevalent belief that we are not inherently equal; whether we voice it or keep it to ourselves. Many of us lie low and hope, quietly, that everything will be okay. Here’s what I think: it will be, if we work for it.

If brown people do not stand up for all people, our turn to fight for ourselves will be lost forever. With silence, we can achieve nothing. One day, we will wake up to find out that we do not matter. Then, we will be truly lost.

Manasa Gogineni is an incoming freshman at the University of California, Davis where she plans to major in International Relations. In her spare time, she enjoys painting, reading, traveling, and sampling summer fruit from local farmer’s markets.

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