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                                           Mar 2017
There have been talk of increased instances of intolerance towards minorities/ immigrants in the United States Of America, otherwise known as the melting pot. And all this is largely thought to be a by-product of the rhetoric used by the now President of USA, Donald Trump, during his campaign days. Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an immigrant from India, was recently shot and killed in Kansas. Apart from the heart wrenching event like this, many minor incidents have re-surfaced and are being reported by Indian Americans who have had the misfortune of facing the ugly face of racism in America.

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Shanta Misra of Dallas, a city that has one of the largest Indian immigrant population in the USA, recently found herself in a situation nobody prepares to face. Here is how she decided to share her experience on her social media account-

"A poem by Martin Niemöller ( a Protestant pastor who publicly opposed Hitler) comes to mind... First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. I post this poem today as a reminder to all to fight back and fight hard for justice.

I went through a rather traumatic experience this afternoon at a local Costco. Fair warning I am going to use race, skin color and anything in between in my post. Long story short, a blond white American woman and I say woman only cause I am on a public forum told me that I don't belong here and I need to go back to my country. I was stunned and left speechless for a few seconds, unprepared to say the least. Two white women who were in line behind me walk up to me rub my back and say "God bless you dear, just ignore her she is white trash". I loved them for their support then. I walked away teary eyed and shaking. Me go back from a country that I have spent close to 25 years and where I am raising a full blooded American!! So a few minutes later when I was a little more composed, I saw her shopping inside the store and something in me snapped. I decided to confront her. I rammed my shopping cart in front of hers and as loudly as I possibly could I said that she had no right to talk to me like that and that she should figure out which boat her ancestors came on and follow them back on that boat. I screamed for the manager and I screamed at her. I honestly didn't know that I had so much scream left in me. It's unbelievable how much support and how many thank yous I got for standing up to her. Whites, blacks, Chinese, Mexicans and the Costco staff came up to me to thank me. The head of the store came out and apologized profusely on behalf of the store and said that an incident report will be filed against the woman and it will be sent to Costco headquarters where they will decide next steps. I am going to lobby for her to be removed from the members list. So why am I sharing this with y'all. Two reasons; 1) Should this ever happen to you never ever keep quite. Fight back and fight hard. They need to know that they can't scare people. We have as much right to live here as the next person. Be prepared and more importantly teach your kids how to handle situations like these without being traumatized 2) Amongst all the people who supported me and thanked me and there were plenty... there was not one Indian. So disheartening cause their were plenty of indians shopping in the store. So I urge you, should you see this happen in front of you please please support your fellow Indians. The support and thanks I received in person and on social media as a result of this incident emboldens, empowers and inspires me to fight for what is right. Yup no one messes with me."

Shanta Misra's experience has since been circulated among the community with joy and pride. Her courage in confronting her offender is commendable and worthy of being cited as an exemplary way of handling the situation. We spoke to her and were impressed by the fact that she not only wants to spread her story but wants to work toward the safety of the Indian community. So we got in touch with her and asked her two questions-

Question 1. You say in your post, "I decided to confront her". What made you decide to confront her? In your opinion, when faced with a similar situation, what are some of the key factors to note before making such a decision to confront?

Shanta's Answer:

I decided to confront her for several reasons.

A)  I have always been a very strong, confident and resilient person who believes in freedom of ideas and speech.  Therefore I disliked my initial reaction of anxiety and hurt.  I was angry with myself for not speaking up for my rights and putting her in her place. 

B) since I had about 10 minutes to compose myself before I confronted her, I had time to think of my young teenage son who is born in Texas and considers himself a full blooded American and loves all that is American.  How would he have reacted? What would have happened if he got embroiled in a heated argument? Would he be shot? So my motherly instincts kicked in and my need to make this a safer environment for him took over.

C) I felt that I had to fight back in a manner that the nasty woman would understand. My intent was for her to think twice before she ever made another comment like that in public again.  I wanted her to be scared of the reaction she might get from those she victimized.  Simply walking away or keeping quite was not going to get any message through to her. She does not have the intellectual capacity to understand elegant understated rebuttal.

To answer the last part of the first question.  Some key factors are
1) Location location location:
Can't stress enough on this. Yes I did feel safe enough in Costco as we are long term preferred members of Costco.  
2) Time:  It was broad daylight with many people of diversity shopping around me.  
3) Demographics:  who else is shopping in the same store alongside me. 
4) victimizer/Bully:  She was a older looking white woman who didn't seem very intimidating at least in physical appearance and I didn't think she would pull out a gun inside a store teaming with people

Question 2: You say, "It's unbelievable how much support and how many thank yous I got". Two questions here- a. Did you expect support? What do you think brought on the support? Do you think that people identified with what you had say? b. Suppose, inspired by you, our readers take on the fight too, what would be a good fall back strategy if they get no support from the on-lookers?

Shanta's Answer:

A) No I absolutely did not expect any support from anyone.  I didn't even know what the outcome would be so I really did not have any expectations except getting my message through to that woman.  However I was mentally prepared to call the store manager should things go south.  

B) I can only presume from the reactions I saw.  Come to think of it, it is very interesting actually.  The white Caucasian folks who supported me mostly said "good job for standing up to white trash"  and that they were really sorry that I had to experience something like this.  However the people of color/diversity started clapping and many in addition to what the white folk said came up to me and thanked me personally for fighting back and standing up to racism.  A couple even held the door open for me asking me to stay proud and strong of my heritage. Yes perhaps some people of color have faced similar situations and have not found their voices to fight back.  I do want to mention again that not one person of Indian origin supported nor stood by me.

Answer to b; If I had not been emboldened by all the support I got from the staff and other shoppers I wouldn't have confronted her. Instead I would have reported the matter to the store manager and made sure that an incident report got filed. 
If I was in a smaller store or an environment where I didn't feel as safe, then instead of confronting her I would have fought back by getting a picture of her and posting it  on media.  And finally yes sometimes it's okay to walk away and live another day to continue the battle against racism and educate ignorant people. 

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WE SAY ...

There you have it. The demand of the time is such that we not only prepare ourselves but also have an action plan in place that we discuss as a family, with our kids. We have to have that talk with our kids where we tell them that they may believe that they are all-american kids, but unfortunately there are those who refuse to see beyond the color of the skin, that if such an ugly face was ever to look them in the eye, if the circumstances seem right, they must stare right back and calmly and clearly pronounce that they do not feel the need to prove their "American-ness" to anyone, let alone to someone who is willing to go through life with a pair of blinders on their eyes. And if it so happens that you feel particularly emboldened, we loved Shanta's line, "figure out which boat your ancestors came on and follow them back on that boat".

As for those ugly faces, I am referring to those that Aziz Ansari, one of our favorite Indian American comedian, defined during his recent guest appearance on Saturday Night Life as the "people that, as soon as Trump won, they’re like- We don’t have to pretend like we’re not racist anymore! We don’t have to pretend anymore! We can be racist again! Whoo!" And to them, we would like to repeat Ansari's message, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! No, no! If you’re one of these people, please go back to pretending. You’ve got to go back to pretending. I’m so sorry we never thanked you for your service. We never realized how much effort you were putting into the pretending. But you gotta go back to pretending."

We will leave you with the SNL episode featuring Aziz Ansari that we talk of above, but humor aside, make no mistake, we have seen it in Kansas that this is serious- lets be prepared and stand up for each other.

(All credits for the following video goes to Saturday Night Live. You may subscribe to them directly at the link provided)

By Sonal Kulshrestha

(Sonal is a computer programmer by profession and a writer by passion. She lives in Texas, USA) 


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