May 10, 2012

Letter to the Editor: Time to Talk About Overcoming Prejudice

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To the Editor:

Re: “Citing Trayvon, People Allegedly Threw Bottles at Black Students From Fraternity Roof” News, May 6

In a perverse way, the incident at Sigma Pi this past weekend has sparked a long overdue conversation on what “race” means at Cornell.  It just goes to show that even in this day and age, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. I wanted to write this column because I think we have a ripe opportunity to take this challenge and be transformed by it, rather than consumed. People of all races, socioeconomic classes, sexual orientations and genders ought to be able to find some common ground on this issue and work together to help address it.

One word of caution though — there are those in the multicultural community that resent the input of white people in the conversation. There are those that would rather white people remain observers rather than join as allies. That attitude completely misses the point. After all, all races can be discriminated against; all people can feel the sting of a bigot’s words.

As an American of Indian heritage from Texas, I’ve sadly witnessed my own fair share of racism, some of it directed at others, but a lot of it firsthand. But it’s of course justified, right? I mean, people that look like me blew up the World Trade Center, shook this country to its core. We fully deserve to be stigmatized. Our temples and mosques ought to be picketed or be placed under moratorium, or be zoned away. Our last names that aren’t Smith or Johnson should obviously be placed on a high-risk list to be checked more thoroughly at airport security, because statistically, we’re more likely to commit an act of terror.

But you know what? It’s absolutely embarrassing that in the ten or so times I’ve left the country over the last five years, in eight of those, I’ve been selected for “random screening.” My ears turn red (because the rest of me really can’t, brown skin and all) when I’m asked by the immigration official, “So, you’re an American, huh?”

It’s time we redefine what’s acceptable and unacceptable under the law, in our schools, under our family roofs when it comes to race relations. Otherwise we’re missing out on great assets to this country. For I’m one of the most patriotic kids out there — I’m working my ass off at Cornell not to enrich myself, but to help be a part of the generation that makes America competitive again. My passion is biotech, and I was born in Indiana. Not India.

I may sound angry, but please don’t confuse my passion for hatred or vitriol. I’m just deeply saddened when society marginalizes Americans of any background, gender, creed, color or sexual orientation. These prejudices stall innovation, foster violence and reduce efficiency. The country loses out at a time we can’t afford to.

Ankur Bajaj ’13