What Indians Need To Know About American Black People

What Indians Need To Know About American Black People April 28, 2015

There are riots right now in the city that is closest to me: Baltimore.

Yet another citizen was killed by police. This time very close to home for me. I want to be out there protesting. I want to show my support for this community that is so angry and hurting. I want them to know that they are not alone in that anger and outrage. Yet I’m a coward here at home several miles away. If Brad and I had known about the protests before they turned into riots we would have been there. At this point it doesn’t seem possible or wise to join in. But that doesn’t mean I’m not outraged. I am very outraged. 

I’m not here to say that the police are the enemy or the police are bad guys. I think it’s a terrible shame for all the good hard working cops out there that these sociopath officers are murdering innocent people. It makes me wonder if we need stricter guidelines on who can become a cop. Or better training. At the very least it seems clear that police really have to wear cameras to hold everyone accountable to not killing the people they are supposed to be serving and protecting.

From Slate.com http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_slatest/2015/04/baltimore_erupts_freddie_gray_outrage_turns_violent_photos.html
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_slatest/2015/04/baltimore_erupts_freddie_gray_outrage_turns_violent_photos.html

I know that I’m going to get some racist backlash to what I’m saying here. The racist stereotypes that many people of all skin colors in this country believe are being pumped out to the rest of the world in our media. Add to that the fact that India already struggles with prejudice based on skin tone and there’s a situation where I think a lot of Indian people have a completely inaccurate perception of American black people. 

You have been lied to.

People have this strange idea that black people are inherently more dangerous than others. It is this lie that is making people unsafe in their own country. I beg you to stop and think for a moment about your feelings when you hear that black people are rioting in Baltimore. Now think about how you feel when you hear that white sports fans are rioting after a big game. For most people they have very different reactions to those two different riots and the one they dismiss and feel okay about is the white person riot. Yet that one is about a stupid game and the other is about the value of human life. 

Now think about gun culture in the U.S. There are white people who are bringing assault rifles into grocery stores to prove that Americans have the right to carry weapons. White people with real guns, huge guns, walking through stores where families are shopping. Yet a black person with a toy gun gets shot and killed by police in the same kind of store. If you think the man, who we can hear on a telephone recording saying, “Please don’t shoot, it’s a toy”, is the more dangerous of these two then you are delusional.

Now think about what counts as “suspicious” enough to call the police. Anyone not white. I’ve seen this in my own life. I locked myself out of my house a while back. I was new to the neighborhood. I was circling around, trying to see if there was an unlocked window to get me in. Guess what? The police never showed up! They really should have. This was very suspicious behavior. It was identical to the behavior of Dr. Gates, a highly respected Harvard scholar (whose daughter I went to school with). Dr. Gates, however, had lived in his Cambridge home for many years. Yet when he locked himself out and tried to get back into his own house, he was arrested. Neighbors called the police and the police didn’t believe him that it was his house. Me being white and him being black is not the only difference between us. He is more educated than I, he is more well known than I, he has awards to his name, he has been an expert on TV. He is much less suspicious than I am.

And as we all know, wearing a sweatshirt with a hood when it’s cold outside might be the end of your life. For some people if you want to live you’d better stay cold. I watched a close friend making that choice. He decided to stay cold rather than risk someone calling the police because he was a black man wearing a hoodie. 

Racism is also present in the way that people expect that a boy walking down the street with skittles owed anyone an explanation for existing. Why wasn’t he more polite to the maniac who gunned him down? He shouldn’t have had to be. 

We as Hindus know that all humans are equally divine. It is horribly hypocritical of us to have these prejudices against our fellow human beings who we should be looking at as our brothers and sisters. This is our family and they are hurting. Instead of offering comfort, we turn away.

These are our people. Our people being killed all over the country. Many of them are not guilty of any crime. Some of them may have been guilty of minor crimes that did not in any way deserve death (They never got a chance for a trial so I cannot say  what they were or were not guilty of). We do have an innocent until proven guilty rule here that seems to only apply to white people.

All Americans deserve to feel safe in their home and their country. I get to feel safe and it’s not because of anything special that I did. Some people may think that this violence is justified because black culture (which is not the culture and experience of all black people but is more connected to economic situation than race) isn’t “behaving” the way white Americans want it to, think it should. But we don’t get to dictate that. We are all Americans and we all have the equal right to the pursuit of happiness. We all get to try to figure out where happiness is and go about that in whatever way makes sense to us. This isn’t white Americans’ ancestral home and we don’t get to decide the rules for everyone else. We are all in this together as citizens of this country.

I cannot pretend to know the unique pressures that many black people face when their own home country looks at them with unjustified suspicion, when “succeeding” in society can seem like abandoning family, friends, and culture, when you have to work at least twice as hard and constantly be proving yourself to be “different,” when your fellow Americans don’t seem to care if your son or your husband or your nephew or you get murdered by the people who should have kept them safe.

People are deeply hurting and I am not surprised, though I am sad, that violence is growing. This explosion of anger and violence seems inevitable to me as too many people in authority in America have ignored the losses that have led us to this point.

It strongly brings to my mind the Bob Dylan song Blowing in the Wind…

How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?…How many ears must one person have before he can hear people cry?…How many deaths will it take til he knows that too many people have died?

{I look forward to a respectful conversation on this subject. Please remember that we have a wide diversity of readers and commenters here, from white American Hindus to black American Hindus to Indian American Hindus to Indian Hindus, etc. No one person speaks for his or her entire race, including me}

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  • Personally, I have the same reaction to both riot scenarios you gave. It’s my hope that there is a majority of people in this country that feels the same, and it’s the minority that takes advantage of ‘mass-mentality’ or ‘hive mind’ to wreak havoc and destruction. Though to be honest, there is a part of me that understands better the riots developing from peaceful protests of a long-abused population against abuse of power and injustice, than the mindless ones coming after a sports event and too much beer.

    I’m sure you saw this last week as well:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/21/us-marshal-phone-recording_n_7108840.html

    There is a lot of (imo, justified) anger being vented right now. The news media
    in general seems to be making these recordings of abuse of power out to be
    something new and recent. Not the whole media, mind you, but the largest and
    most vocal outlets – the same ones who blame the increasing amount of violence
    we see in the news and in public videos on movies, music and video games.

    But these abuses have always been there and always been a problem. One we could conveniently ignore and sweep quietly under the rug because “he said, she said” or “this witnesses’ word over that one’s”, with all the usual cultural and racial stereotypes held in place, as you describe, Ambaa. There have been growing online communities trying to bring this out for some time.

    But now, with cameras capable of long stretches of high-resolution video, at
    distance with zoom, available on most smart phones – even the most inexpensive
    ones – and all linked via 3G or higher to a quickly expanding network of clouds
    and data drops, these problems and abuses cannot be hidden or ignored anymore. The full changeover came relatively recently, though it’s been growing over the last 5 years. Now that these devices are endemic in our population, we will begin to see a lot more of these kinds of recordings. And a good thing too,
    we’ve needed something like this to boost social justice in this country, I
    feel.

    There is a history of Police who are no longer fit emotionally and mentally,
    convicted of abuse of power, being fired with no record of their history, then
    rehired elsewhere – sometimes even a district or two away, and sometimes even
    with a recommendation from a superior.
    https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=The+problem+of+police+fired+and+rehired

    There is also a fairly recent history of police wearing body cameras or having
    dash-cameras, either turning them off and then being accused of some abuse, or it was recorded, and in both cases it was hidden. These cameras held by the
    public is what is going to keep things honest, not just the police wearing
    them. There is too much of a fraternity in some places, there must be checks
    and balances and this appears to be it.

    I am not at all saying all police officers are bad or corrupt. I agree with you
    on this, Ambaa. I’ve personally known some great officers, on various forces. I believe that most really, honestly have their hearts and minds in the right place. But it is one of the most difficult jobs, with incredible pressures on all sides, and which truly puts officers in daily physical jeaopardy. It’s a job that can change a person for the worse, and if we look at their compensation, and at how people in general treat them, how many shows and movies depict them… it’s a fairly thankless jobas well. This is a big part of the problem. Another slice of it is the increasing militarization of police forces. A quote from fiction, but a valid one:

    “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

    That video I linked at the beginning of this reply… That officer was
    clearly not expecting yet another person to be videoing that exchange from
    further down the street – another indication of how new this trend is. If
    he was expecting it, I’ll bet he wouldn’t have done it. And that’s the
    key: checks and balances. If we’re going to fix these injustices, we need
    to hold on to our freedom to record these things in public, and do it more.
    This is what will hold all people accountable, not just the police, and drive
    change

  • Madhu K Agnihotri

    Racism is Ignorance Neither Scientific Nor Godliness

    • aam

      No Sir/Madam.This is not ignorance. Ignorance can be removed by knowledge. This has to be removed by oneself. naturalmind.org/nm/one.pdf

    • Ambaa

      I agree! Sometimes it is even willful ignorance

  • PigStateNews

    At least 381 people have been killed by U.S. police since January 1, 2015.
    At least 1,101 were killed in 2014.
    At least 2,249 have been killed since May 1, 2013.
    killedbypolice.net

  • Hidimbi Hidimbaa

    Ambaa,
    Thank you so much for writing about this very important social issue, and I’m sorry to get off topic, but I seek your guidance on another matter of importance and urgency.

    Are you aware of any Hindu or at the very least truly *secular* relief charities, to help the earthquake victims in Nepal? While I commend so many Christian groups for trying to help, after some of the recent hate speech I’ve heard (like from Tony Milano), I am concerned about what my charity dollars will actually be used for if I give through a Christian charity.

    Thank you.

    • Namaskara Hidimbi Hidimbaa,

      Please find here a link to a fund that a good friend of mine, who is Nepali and who lives in Delhi, had started. His name is Anil Mahato.

      He has begun a fund on Shakti’s Melody:
      https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=ShaktisMelody.wix.com

      His link is here:
      https://fundly.com/food-for-nepal-earthquakes-survivors

      He is offering some services he teaches in return for donations, as well, of course, but the core is that he and a friend will be purchasing supplies and taking them to Nepal to help people directly. If his fund is not one you wish to support then there are others on Shakti’s Melody, also I have others I could offer if you wish to message me.

      His Site appears to be down at the moment – it happens. His YoutTube is almost always working, and this is his channel and specific post:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ToWtK8za4ho

      As friend of his who counts him as family, and doesn’t take that lightly, I am comfortable vouching for him. But as I am not Ambaa, I understand if you are skeptical.

      ~Pranam

      • Ambaa

        Thank you for this!

        I just put up a post a moment ago with some information about good places to donate.

        I’m afraid the situation here at home has been so overwhelming for me that it’s taken me a few days to speak on Nepal.

  • Ayan

    Sorry to say this but if white people do not change their mentality then the future of america will be dark.. Race riots will spread throughout the country as the white population declines & the blacks & latinos population increases..

    • sockpuppet36

      riots are nothing new. they have happened since the beginning of cities. if anything there are fewer and fewer riots now than in the past. I know with Ferguson and now Baltimore it seems like there are a lot but this is nothing compared to the 60s. and you have to remember the deadliest riot in America was in NYC and killed over 1,000 people during the civil war. it’s called the draft riot.
      but you are right. America will no longer be a white majority nation soon. but short of stopping non-white immigration and deporting all illegals and getting white women to have more babies, there is nothing that can be done to stop that. what mentality is it you think white people need to change.

    • Ambaa

      We should be working together and see each other as family, care about each other as family. We are all equally God and we should see God in everyone we meet.

    • Cultured Hindu

      Ayan, what do you mean the future of America will be “dark” and the white population will decline if white people do not change their mentality? Do you mean if they don’t stop divorcing, if they don’t start marrying young and having more children?

    • Race riots have happened a lot in the past, when whites were the overwhelming majority. And it was almost always whites who started them. The past was not so grand; I am hoping the future is better.

  • Seeker

    Thanks for this well balanced piece. Some darker complected Indians have also been the recipients of such unfair treatment as have Hispanics. When intelligent spiritual people such as you speak up it matters. Of course, some treatment is based on class and not race. I have noticed how differently I am treated when I am wearing a suit and tie as opposed to my jeans and hoodie. My white son-in-law on the other hand has been hassled when he wore his hoodie. He was younger at the time but still unfairly targeted by authorities.

    Thanks again for the piece and for your BLOG in general.

    • Ambaa

      Thank you for bringing your perspective. It means a lot to me!

      I agree that I think class has a lot more to do with it in these cases but it overlaps with racism in the way that many seem to assume a lower class for a darker complexion unless you can “prove” otherwise. That’s what it seems like to me, anyway.

  • Seeker

    I bet this would have been a more rounded discussion were it not for the “distraction factor”. As I read the article I looked forward to some exchange about maybe the cast system (as compared to the American Apartheid system) or the light vs dark skinned issue within the Indian culture. Maybe that can still happen despite the disruptive spam. 1 reply fine, but 25 is bait which I hope no one falls for.

    • Ambaa

      I think it is really high time that America acknowledged that we have a form of caste system.

  • sockpuppet36

    ambaa, I’m afraid you have misrepresented a few things and have drawn some poor conclusions. first your comparison to Henry Louis Gates was kind of funny. you have no idea if anyone even saw you, so maybe the cops weren’t called because no one even saw you, not because you are white. or maybe it was more your gender than your race? and trayvon wasn’t just walking down the street. nor was he just rude to Zimmerman. and your statement: “We do have an innocent until proven guilty rule here that seems to only apply to white people.” is just silly. all people are considered innocent until proven guilty, even those who are being arrested and those in jail awaiting trial. the reason you see people being shot by police and dying in custody is because some people refuse to be arrested. that leads to conflict and conflict leads to violence and violence can lead to death.

    there is a reason cops say, ‘tell it to the judge’.

    • Seeker

      One point is that when some people “refuse to be arrested” they are tazed or warned. When others run, they are killed. Seems to follow a pattern, and that may be what she was addressing.

      • sockpuppet36

        well henry Louis gates wasn’t tased or shot as far as I know, and trayvon had nothing to do with police.
        what is this pattern you are speaking of?

        • Seeker

          Get some recent (as in the past six months) news publications and read up on who has been shot and killed by cops lately. There was one in MO. Two in Ohio, one in SC and two here in the Bay area of SF that did not make national news. Only one was actually running and as you put it “refusing to be arrested”. One in New York who was choked to death. here again unarmed.
          So a person running away from you has his back to you and should be tazed or warned not killed. A pattern exist where some people are tazed and others killed more routinely.

          • sockpuppet36

            yes I’m familiar with mike brown, Ferguson MO. the kid in Cleveland, not sure of the other in Ohio. I know of the guy in south Carolina shot in the back. who in San Francisco? yes we all know of Eric Garner who refused to be arrested and was choked and then died. he certainly looked to be quite morbidly obese btw.

            yes the cops can no longer shot a fleeing person in the back.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessee_v._Garner
            you don’t want to mention the guy shot in new York while in the doorway or stairwell of his own apartment? how about the homeless guy shot in new mexico? how about the white kid shot in salt lake in between brown and garner?
            how many people do you think the cops shot in the 70s?

          • Ambaa

            I want all this police brutality to end. Whether against black people, white people, hispanic people…everyone.

            Does that seem like an unreasonable desire to you? Would you rather go case by case through every one and tell me why you think the person deserved to die so everything is okay?

          • sockpuppet36

            no. it is a perfectly reasonable desire. I’m not saying any of these people ‘deserved to die’. I’m saying that the narrative of, ‘it’s open season on young black men’ or this idea that this is somehow a new thing is wrong. I’m all for taking the guns away from the cops. the only armed cops should be highly trained and paid. at the very least new technology should be deployed. I saw a german invented a gun that will only fire when it is within 6 inches of the bracelet on the gun owners wrist. that could help eliminate the whole fear of ‘he tried to take my gun’. or I think there are bio metric readers on triggers now.
            no, everything is not ok. but they are actually getting better, not worse. let’s be honest. and rioting isn’t going to help. in fact it is only going to hurt.

          • Ambaa

            On top of which there is a law that you cannot use force more deadly than that coming at you. We had a kid who killed an intruder in his home about six years ago and the kid was arrested because evidence looked like the intruder may have been running away at the time. You cannot shoot someone in the back for running.

        • Ambaa

          There are more than a dozen cases now, so that’s quite a pattern.

          I was speaking more generally about subtle racism in this country. What happened to Dr. Gates was unacceptable.

          • sockpuppet36

            you want a pattern, google Albuquerque police shootings.
            I don’t know the exact details of the gates incident. I recall the ‘beer summit’ at the whitehouse. but when someone calls the police and says they think someone is breaking into a house next door, the cops hopefully show up. I do not know of the exchange between the two? maybe you have some details? did you show the cop his driver’s license with his address on it?
            you know his daughters? what did they think of their trip to Africa. I remember a scene in his show when the train breaks down. in Kenya maybe. they didn’t look too happy having to drag their luggage to the buses miles away.

    • Ambaa

      If only you had your facts right. The cases I speak of are nearly all ones where arrest was not being resisted. We have a video of a police officer putting a taser on a man after shooting him in order to frame him, to try to make him look threatening.

      A friend of mine showed me a video where some officers from Sweeden were able to detain a belligerent man in NYC while still making sure that he could breathe and wasn’t hurt.

      In Baltimore what happens is that people are arrested, then thrown into a car with no seatbelt on, and purposefully driven around in erratic and dangerous ways to try to inflict injury. This has resulted in several deaths before a person gets a chance for a trial. These are people who are already contained and not at all resisting anymore.

      And yes I do know that people saw me. I saw people see me and not care. But an Indian man walking down the street doing nothing gets the police called.

  • BRAVA!!

  • Agni Ashwin

    Beautiful. Sundara.

  • kpp1991

    USA has this belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others. On a lesser merit, India too fares close to this sentiment. But a brown Indian at any given historical period was anywhere close to the massive and cruel suffering the so called blacks of the USA had undergone for over a century until very recently. Both these sentiments are incomparable in the least!

  • HARRY

    You and I both know that black people are treated like second class citizens and this is also true in Europe. The only difference is, it is wide spread in USA.

    In the case of India, skin tone determine your class, lighter tone you are, the upper class you are, when you work indoor your skin tone will be lighter because you have not been exposed to the sun, this allows you prevledges that aren’t available to lower class. when you work out side in the sun, darker your skin tone is, which also means that you are a working class and that also means you are a lower class. Credit facilities and other financial products are only available if you fit in upper class banner.

    This discrimination is same as in the USA and Europe.

    Therefore your comparison of India and USA is not same because they don’t kill people for their differences in India, where as in USA they would, and you and I both know know it. THAT’S THE DIFFERENCE.

  • Cultured Hindu

    “We as Hindus know that all humans are equally divine.”

    All sentient beings are BRAHMAN but not all sentient beings are equal in all ways. All cultures are not equal either. Hinduism is not cultural relativism. Quite the opposite. There are varying levels of consciousness and varying levels of behavior. Some levels of consciousness are higher than others and some behaviors are better than others.

    A culture wherein single motherhood is the norm and all manner of dysfunctional sexual behavior and other bad habits are permitted to proliferate, no matter where in the world or by which individuals in which cultures, whatever the skin tone, and whatever the socio-economic “class”, is one that is not deemed worthy of emulation by Indians and Hindus in general.

    “It makes me wonder if we need stricter
    guidelines on who can become a cop.”

    We do.

    “Or better training.”

    That too.

    “At the very
    least it seems clear that police really have to wear cameras to
    hold everyone accountable to not killing the people they are supposed to
    be serving and protecting.”

    Yes but lets not forget that corrupt cops will manage to cover that up too.

    I say we cut policing in half and focus on CULTURE.

    • sockpuppet36

      yeah, getting the blacks to stop having so many kids out of wedlock would be a good start.

      • Cultured Hindu

        Not just blacks, although in the US their out of wedlock birthrate is the highest. Americans in general lack family values and divorce is rampant, where people even bothered to get married anymore. Most American kids I meet are from single parent homes now.

        Believe me, we do what we can in guiding these people in our discourses and in simply being a living model of happy, functional families but many lack a certain… foundation, shall we say?

        Still we do see gradual progress here and there. Our work is not in vain.

  • vinakam

    At one time i was a devotee of various “spiritual masters” such as Jaggi vasudev and Sri Sri Ravishankar. I used to visit their ashrams very frequently for various courses and retreats. But I don’t recall ever seeing one single black person among the legions of white skinned foreigners that used to throng the ashrams. It might be interesting to debate why this is so.
    We know that there are plenty of black christians and black muslims in USA but I’m not sure if there are any black hindus.

    • vinakam

      Come to think of it, can anyone show me one black Hare Krishna or one black follower of Paramhamsa Yogananda or Swami Muktananda or Mata Nirmala or of any one of the legions of indian gurus who went west.

      Clearly these gurus and matas and their agents did not go looking in the black areas of the cities looking for followers. Question is , why didn’t they ?? If delivering moksha to body bound individuals was their objective shouldn’t they have?? while on the other hand if building power and a support base was their objective then their task would have been made easier by the institutionalized segregation that is the hallmark of american social life.http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

      http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/02/the-effects-of-housing-segregation-on-black-wealth/272775/

      Loooking back at what Ive written it has become clear to me that the USA with it’s race based segregation is not so different from india with it’s caste based segregation.

  • Ramesh
  • Ramesh
  • kartashok

    What do Indians have to do with blacks and whites in America though? We’ve got our own problems, mostly with liberals, Muslims and Christian low castes in India.

  • Anonymouse

    “I was circling around, trying to see if there was an unlocked window to get me in. Guess what? The police never showed up! They really should have.”

    May I know what Whitopian zip code you live at, Ms. Carolyn Choate?
    At least, you could give me a demographics of your county, from the latest US census, can’t you?

    Just as Whites prefer to live with their own kind, Hindus prefer to live with our own.

    Get it?

    P.S. A “White Hindu” is NO Hindu.