Last year, on a Turkish shore, a small Syrian boy in a red vest washed up by the beach. The picture of his dead body dominated news and social media for many days. Our morbid fascination of them, the “outsiders,” and their inhuman conditions and often untimely ends make for newspaper fodder and gives us, the rest of us, a view of a world we consider we are luckily not inhabiting.
The world today though is smaller than ever before and no tragedy or infliction can be isolated or contained to one type of people, whether they are refugees fleeing their war torn countries or immigrants who have crossed borders and made their home in other lands. The outsider today can be anyone who is different from the bigger population he/she inhabits.
My husband is a white/Caucasian American. A year and a half ago, we went to India and stayed in Pune for six months. And even though “white” is still the favored choice of color in India, and even though he was initially treated with deference and respect, eventually in those six months I witnessed how many of the microaggressions that he faced in India were similar to the ones I have faced here in America. Many a time, people would act as if they did not understand him as he spoke, or they would even turn their heads away from him as he was still speaking. The experience for him was the same as it was for me, one of feeling diminished. The outsider is not made to feel safe anywhere as we see in the recent incidents of the Nigerian students who were beaten by a mob in India or the death of Kuchibhotla in Kansas City.
In the aftermath of recent shootings and hate crimes in America, I, like perhaps many parents of colored children, looked at my brown children and wondered and worried about their place here. For me today, the country is not divided into Republicans or Democrats, into Trump supporters or anti-Trump protestors. For me, the country and even the rest of the world today is divided into those who stand for all of humanity and those who constantly stand against it and incite others to do the same.
In 1963, in the aftermath of the Berlin wall, the American president John F. Kennedy said in a speech in Berlin “Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was civis romanus sum [“I am a Roman citizen”]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is “Ich bin ein Berliner!” All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
The American author James Baldwin, in his book, Nobody Knows my Name, written more than fifty years ago had said that accepting real change entails a giving up of safety as we know it, and that I feel is our challenge in these times. Whether it is Trump’s America or Modi’s India, can the majority give up the fixed ideas they have about themselves and their identities and who belongs and who doesn’t to make room for that which is different and for those who they do not know or whose cultures are foreign to them?
I have friends who are Trump supporters; I have friends who chose not to vote because they were supporters of Bernie Sanders and are still angry with the Democratic party; I have friends still grieving for Hillary Clinton’s loss.
To all of them, the question is the same—when shall the fight be one for humanity, for all of us united against the common enemy—hate?
Till the day comes when we stand up for not one cause but for the sake of all, men like Kuchibhotla, who came to America to follow a dream, have unfortunately died in vain because he remained till his untimely end—an outsider.
Chandra Ganguly is a MFA student at Bennington College. She writes about the meaning and loss of identity and issues around gender and culture. She lives with her family in Palo Alto, California.