Tag Archive: diaspora

Sureshbhai Patel, police brutality and us

An Alabama judge just declared a mistrial in the police assault case filed by Indian citizen Sureshbhai Patel. There are a few reasons this case matters to me.

  • The court system has twice been unable to decide whether Mr. Patel’s constitutional rights were violated when he was paralyzed after a leg sweep by a police officer.
  • I’ve been saying for a while now that we make a mistake when we focus completely on police in police brutality cases: Mr. Patel’s encounter with the police was the result of a neighbor who felt threatened by a “skinny Black guy” looking at garages. An older man visiting his son, going for a walk in his son’s neighborhood, was considered enough of a threat to call the police. Others have died for being brown in a neighborhood they actually belonged in, such as Alex Nieto in San Francisco, because someone thought the existence of a Brown person in their neighborhood warranted calling the police. In each individual encounter it is the police who act, but it is the community that creates the culture for the officer to act. White privilege shapes how law enforcement (and so much else) functions in this country.
  • This story is obviously on my radar because it is being discussed in the South Asian community, but Mr. Patel’s paralysis has everything to do with the culture of anti-Blackness that is baked into our culture. Mr. Patel was a threat when he was perceived to be Black, in the same way that the teenager at the Texas pool party was a threat because she was Black, or the teenage girl at Spring Valley High, or Tamir Rice in Cleveland…all people who clearly are not threats except for the cultural understanding that Blackness is threatening enough to need control and suppression by armed police.

The first jury deadlocked on September 11, appropriate since that is the day that South Asians learned in a big way that while we had generally (although not ubiquitously) been considered “American enough” as long as we were not disruptive, that status could be removed at will by a government that violated basic constitutional rights and imprisoned innocent people because of their names and heritage, as our government has done in the past. As the second jury deadlocked two days ago, I am saddened but not surprised. And I pray it helps my own community recognize the need to be in solidarity with those on the margins rather than desperately seeking to be accepted by the dominant culture.

A Family Divided: the hard part of the immigrant story (a reflection on seeing “Documented”)

I was making small talk with one of my cousins on a visit to India maybe 10 years ago.

“Did you ever think about moving to the West?” I asked him. He’s a doctor in a very remote, very poor village where snakebites are the most common cause of death.

“Never,” he answered promptly and enthusiastically. “When I was young, I would lie there next to our grandmother and she would weep each night about how much she missed her son.” How much she missed my father.

My mother (left) and grandmother (right)

My mother (left) and grandmother (right)

 

My father’s immigration story is not completely unusual. He grew up in a small village, the youngest of three children. When his brother and sister had both started families and it became clear his sister’s family would need some financial assistance, his brother raised the money for my father to go to a western university and earn money to send back to the family in India. When my mother married my father, she contributed her income to the same cause without question.

My parents’ best friend in England tells stories from before I was born about how my mother would only buy carrots if they had the tops on, which their friend found odd until she realized my mother would use the tops to make carrot top curry to give them an extra meal so they could send more money back home.

I grew up wanting for nothing, but we didn’t live comfortably by middle-class American standards (I earn less than my parents did but live much more lavishly today than when I was growing up).

 

My grandmother knew all of this. She knew why my father had moved away, and I know she was grateful. I am really proud of how my cousins today are all flourishing, some of them doing things that give back to the community (including the doctor in the remote village and another cousin who works for the government’s pollution control division). I know my grandmother was proud, too, and I know she was grateful for my father caring so deeply about his family, and I know she loved my mother and appreciated how she cared just as deeply about his family. And she wept every night to my cousin when he was a boy about the son she loved but rarely got to see.

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