16 June 2020

What I learnt from a few second generation immigrants about BLM

The backdrop to this is rather unfortunate. If I have my facts right, a young adult from our Bengali community (Rupkatha) posted about BLM in a Bengali forum and a grown up adult Bengali used the vilest of languages to attack her (and some other women in the forum). That had triggered in my mind a thought about how does the second generation immigrant Bengali community view the first generation immigrant Bengali community’s reaction to issues like BLM that is pretty much on everybody’s mind in this country.

Did a video interview with four young Bengali girls from our community Rupkatha, Dyuti, Diya and Puspita – all born in the US. Here is what I learnt:

First, I am simply amazed by the articulation power of young kids these days. Their ability to construct points of views and express them coherently and cogently far supersedes what I remember of my generation’s ability in those days. The sheer oratory skills – let alone the intellectual constructs used in debating a point of view – is impressive. This is why I always feel we are going to leave this world in smarter hands than ours. As it should be.

For folks my age – their message below might be hard hitting (I have tried to soften it without losing the essence). It is important not to get defensive and just listen to their points of views and respect them for that. Perhaps, some amount of reflection, if you so choose.

The key messages I heard from them for us first generation immigrants are:

(*) We should educate ourselves with the history of black Americans. We miss a deeper understanding of black Americans and the struggle the country has gone thru that shaped the platform for immigrants like us to succeed. It is not BLM’s responsibility to educate us. There is enough information out there. Lack of this education can only lead to lesser than deserved empathy.

(*) We need to realize that not saying anything or not taking a position is giving a message of not caring and thus makes us complicit. Especially, when we organize ourselves as a community, we need to realize that we represent a demography – whether we like it or not. Not speaking up when the rest of the country has – only speaks for supporting status quo. This is one of those few cases where not taking a position IS taking a position.

(*) We need to realize that situation is more complicated than just black Americans. On the other side of this equation is police brutality. Police (like military) is something our whole sense of right and justice is indexed on. It is important not to throw the baby with the bath water. Therefore, it is important that we listen to the other side. Regardless of whether we agree or not.

*ALERT* This gets really hard hitting for my community
(*) Speaking up is a function of how much privilege one enjoys. For most of our community, we came here due to our skills (technology, research etc) and we associate ourselves more with the affluent. That tends to be more white than black due to the history of the country. We therefore tend to have a dismissive attitude towards black Americans’ plight.

(*) We have inborn bias for fairer skin color (and against dark skin). [Rajib notes: as a background, in India, at least when I was growing up, a darker girl had far less chance of getting married than her fairer sister – I have a true story from my own family; there was a whole cosmetic industry peddling stuff to make your look fairer. I am not sure how it is now but I suspect biases do not go away in a couple of decades.]

(*) We instill hard work, good grades and staying out of trouble as virtues in our younger generation. Because, as immigrants, that is what made us survive and flourish. But does that teach the next generation how to integrate into a society and community that their parents might have only a cursory and a privileged point of view?

Like I said before – I learnt a lot from these young adults. I hope this is not the last discussion we have had.

Thanks are due to Amitesh for scribing while I was engaged in this video discussion.

Posted June 16, 2020 by Rajib Roy in category "Musings

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