When I was 9 years old, my family moved to a neighborhood in Chicago where we were the only Indian family. I’d experienced some verbal discrimination before this, but nothing that had ever made me question myself, my identity, or my self-worth. Things changed when we moved.
I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was standing between the double front doors, both ajar, awaiting the movers. I could smell the fresh sod in the yard. There were still pockets awaiting grass–piles of mud, essentially. And then it happened, like an unexpected slap in the face: a ball of mud smacked me between the eyes. And then another and another. I slammed the doors shut and ran for cover. Peeking through a nearby window, I could see several kids–neighbors–throwing mud and screaming.
“Go back to your own country! You’re not welcome here!”
I didn’t know which country they were referring to… I was born about 10 minutes from where we all stood. My family and I endured this kind of torment on and off for the ten years we lived there. It made me question who I was. It made me question whether I was worthy. It made me feel deep shame.
I wanted to fit in… or so I thought. For me, fitting in at that time meant hiding so many rich parts of my identity: the spice-filled foods we ate each night, the colorful garb we wore for celebrations, the Indian languages we spoke regularly at home, and so much more—all that fitting in required removing parts of myself. I became hollow.
What would have filled me back up back then? I would have loved for any one of those neighbors to get a little curious. It would have meant something for them to wonder what it was like to walk in my shoes. I wish I’d had the courage to have met them halfway.
The work the world is doing right now to change the way we relate to one another is deep, meaningful, and challenging work. To be able to step into the shoes of someone that comes from a different race, ethnicity, or walk of life takes courage. It takes intention. This work can start at any young age.
Let’s teach our young children NOW, so they can grow up to be respectful and caring learners. Children can share their empathy and compassion and ask hard questions. We need to be positive role models and speak with love.
This is why Black Lives Matter!
Alicia Garza, one of the creators of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, explained in 2014 how Black lives mattering is a precondition for all lives mattering:
“Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean your life isn’t important – it means that Black lives, which are seen as without value within White supremacy, are important to your liberation. Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide-reaching and transformative for society as a whole. When we are able to end the hyper-criminalization and sexualization of Black people and end the poverty, control and surveillance of Black people, every single person in this world has a better shot at getting and staying free. When Black people get free, everybody gets free.”
Credit goes to https://www.thefeministwire.com/2014/10/blacklivesmatter-2/
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Renee Jain, MAPP
Chief Storyteller @ GoZen!
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