<%-- Page Title--%> Perspective <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 133 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

December 12, 2003

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Life Outside the Bubble

Mehzabin Ahmed

For the first time in 20 years, I am disturbingly aware of being “brown”. I wonder why it has never bothered me before. Is it because I have grown up in a homogeneous society where I was the “majority”-- the majority being “Brown and Muslim”, or is it because I have grown up as part of this “elite” group in my society called “Upper Middle Class”.

I ponder as I sit in the restaurant of this white, upper middle class neighbourhood in New Jersey. A group of black people, who look like out--of--towners walk in, and the owner turns them out saying it's closed. My sister and I exchange glances as we honestly wonder if the place is closing 2 hours early tonight because of the Blackout in the East Coast. Well, you guessed it right, 30 minutes later I stare at the owner as he takes orders from this white family that just walked in.

As I sit there, seeing direct racism for the first time ever in my life, I honestly wonder how many of us at home would actually want to sit and eat as the same place as our chauffeurs and maids for a change, or would let our nice little environment in a restaurant be interrupted by some lower class labourer joining us. Is it so surprising that the blacks weren't allowed to enter white restaurants during colonial times just like the Indians weren't allowed to ride in first class trains during British imperialism? They were just being classists after all. We do that all the time ourselves, don't we? So what's wrong with others doing the same to us? What sets us apart from them anyway? No, I suppose maybe I am going a little too extreme here, comparing classism with racism, there is a huge difference between saying “You aren't good enough for me 'because of your colour or religion' and 'because of your class'”. Or is there? But really, how many of us at home actually live in the same neighbourhood as non-Muslims in my own country. Maybe they don't like us that much. I mean the minorities and whites in the USA rarely live together. I don't think it's possible that they prefer living in closed “minority” neighbourhoods in order to eliminate the risks of being discriminated in case the need arises. It's a free country with equal rights and opportunities with the laws there to protect them at all costs after all as one would argue.

Of course, I never bothered thinking twice when we were having hartals back home, and my High School being a private school decided to make up for one of the lost days on one of the big Hindu festival days. I mean the only two Hindus in the school told the principal they wouldn't mind, why should I care? Really, would I complain if I were one of them? It makes sense now as to why I would probably not complain either if I were a Bangladeshi man instead of a woman, and had to be profiled here. Maybe, I am judging too many people here by citing very isolated incidents from my personal experiences, doesn't matter that when I read the newspapers from home, all I see is crimes being committed here and there against minority groups all the time.

You and I sit here complaining about our low pay, about our bad working conditions as immigrants or non-immigrants in the USA. Others who aren't here, complain about how the policies of the “Rich Countries” are screwing our country's economy over, how unfair it is of them to not think of us. We complain about these foreigners thousands of miles away not understanding our needs, and what do we do when it comes to us? We make big factories, pay our workers barely enough so that they can share a 12 by 12 foot room in a slum with 10 other people, and then we come back home and stare at CNN and complain more about how world politics and foreign policies of these “Rich Countries” are the root of all evil. I wonder if I have the right to be outraged, or even have the right to complain about being discriminated here as being a “Muslim” or a “person of colour” or “being international”. Don't we ourselves brand people because of where they come from in terms of “class”, “race” and “religion” all the time as well, so what's wrong with them doing it?

I realise many of you would disagree with me after reading this article, I would too if I didn't have to go through this drastic transition from being a Majority to a Minority by coming here. But put your hands on your heart and ask yourself once, you will know the answer. I do not mean to be patronising or condescending to anyone in any manner. These are qualities in us that I am pointing out to you as I discovered them as part of my own inner racism as well, but I don't want to be like one of those oppressors, as my time of being oppressed will come one of these days as well.

When I meet people from different walks of life here, I sometimes criticise them a lot about their government and social policies. They usually get defensive and tell me, “How about what you do. Tell me if the people of your country are any better”. I have answered that question in only one way till now, “Yes, we do make a lot of mistakes back home, but unlike you, we are capable of taking criticism; capable of not just taking them but also changing ourselves”. I really hope there is some truth to that statement. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “We must be the change we wish to see in others”.

Lafayette College, Easton. PA 18042. USA



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