Race Relations - It's Time to Shed Apathy

By Shyama Parui

We grieve, we hurt, and then we forget. Mistakes are repeated and the cycle continues. How is that acceptable? Why is complacence or indifference even an option?

When I first moved to the United States, I was pleasantly surprised by many things and one of them was the politeness of police officers. Last year, Officer Sheldon was shot in Mooresville during a routine license check and the outpouring of respect shown by the entire town was touching and exemplifies the extent to which the police are held in high esteem. And rightly so. Just as most individuals are peaceful, law abiding citizens, most police officers are kind and sincere followers of their duty. In the two instances when my home's security alarm went off accidentally, police cars arrived promptly even before I could cancel the alert. Watching me gulp in embarrassment, they spoke to me respectfully and their demeanor was professional. My interactions with them have been nothing but positive.

Yet, at times I worry that my absent mindedness might land me in trouble. What if I forget to carry my driver's license or I am overdue for my car registration? Will that mistake cost me my life? I beg my husband to avoid running in the dark - not only because of reckless drivers but also because he may be misconstrued as someone “running away" or as “suspicious". Cases like the elderly Indian man who was injured due to the excessive use of force by police are rare and yet, it brought a wave of fear along with sadness in the Indian community.

If someone like me can be afraid, the trepidation faced by the African-American community must be far greater than I can fathom. The tainted history of the United States bears witness to racial injustices for centuries. With every step forward in the right direction, incidents like the tragic killing of George Floyd take us ten steps backward. Perhaps, we were not progressing at all; we simply lacked the prudence to admit failure. News of rising turmoil since May has eroded my optimism and positivity has abandoned us all. With emotions simmering inside, I longed scream out an expletive in anger, eloquence be damned!

Grappling with my own reactions as a human, parent, member of a minority group, and as a responsible citizen, I slowly shifted my attention to actions that were within my control. Just because our present is a disappointment, our future should not be in peril.

A turning point in the life of a young lad named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, occurred in 1893, when he was thrown out of the first- class compartment of a train in South Africa even though he had a valid ticket. His only fault was his skin color. That moment sowed the seeds of activism in the mind of the person who would eventually be known as Mahatma Gandhi. Our efforts may be minuscule compared to Gandhiji's, but we can draw inspiration from his wise quote, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world."

I urge each and every person to examine their own actions and take steps to end racism. I am sharing goals that I have made a commitment to follow.

1. As a mother I plan to facilitate family discussions about racism and race relations. Our goal is to talk openly, share views, model tolerance and invite different opinions. I have always encouraged my children to express their opinions and substantiate their statements. Similarly, we encourage a healthy amount of skepticism when needed. The National Museum of African American History and Culture has created a valuable portal called, “Talking About Race" (nmaahc.si.edu/) with numerous resources. One evening at the dinner table we discussed the concept of implicit bias after watching a video from the site on the same topic. These biases are the result of associations we make over time and unbeknownst to us, are buried in the subconscious. It is important to recognize is that we start our observations early in life and direct and indirect messages lay the foundation as we mold our own feelings and attitudes towards “other" groups.

2. Since a lot of indirect messages come from books and entertainment media, I am making a more concerted effort in selecting books and shows that cast people of color as protagonists rather than as goofy sidekicks. My aim is to avoid material that uses negative stereotypes and it is critical that we instill in our own children a sense of individuality that rejects being typecasts. I am Bengali, Indian, American, “brown" but I am so much more than these adjectives. An automatic assumption of my capabilities or preferences based on limited information is useless, not to mention unfair.

3. I also plan to use my friend's advice and contact the Chief of Police of our town so that I can ask and understand what my community is doing to prevent racial bias in law enforcement. As residents we can all learn more about the local police department's community programs and participate.

4. One of the easiest ways of preserving democracy is exercising our vote, expressing views and expectations with elected officials, even if they do not seem to be listening. If we have worked to obtain naturalized citizenship, we must shoulder our responsibilities too. Skepticism is not a valid excuse.

5. And in a capitalistic economy, money talks. How about supporting organizations and businesses that fuel growth, education, equal opportunities and directly or indirectly allow low income groups to improve their socio-economic status.

When protesters in the US are finally heard and understood, streets and businesses return to their bustling life, and patients around the globe recover from COVID-19, my sincere hope is that our hearts heal too. The malaise of inequality and injustice needs to be eradicated. Let us seize this opportunity to reconstruct a society that is capable of compassion, empathy, and reform our country so that atrocities of racial discrimination are a thing of the past.

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Shyama Parui is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: shyamashree_parui@hotmail.com