Posts Tagged ‘prejudice’

Livelihoods: Driving others

June 23, 2017

Every now and then, a glimpse into lives very different from our own, brings us up sharply against alternate realities.

I am used to the notion of auto drivers as rough, rude people who will generally not co-operate with passengers. This preconception got a jolt when I noticed this man driving his autorickshaw in the traffic.

IMG_5098

It cannot be an easy life when your own mobility depends on a pair of crutches. I realized that this man, and many others like him, battle many disadvantages to earn their living. I have learnt to try and remove my prejudices, and look afresh at my ideas about my fellow-citizens.

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Safety and security, STL, 170814

August 19, 2014

Yesterday I went to

<a href=”http://www.academyofsciencestl.org/calendar/functions/popup.php?ev=2456888&readFile=0&readSQL=1&showCat=&oc=1″&gt; this event </a>

at the St.Louis Zoo auditorium.

I had not read in detail about the extinction of Passenger Pigeons in the US (where a population of several billion birds was wiped out, purely because of human intervention), and it was a revelation to me.

However, I did not want to call on DnA to pick me up from the Zoo auditorium and I walked back. As I did, I mused on safety and security. There was nothing different about my walking back at about 9pm from the Zoo auditorium, across Forest Park, back home, I usually do it during Muny shows, Shakespeare-in-the-Park, or the Royal Philharmonic on Art Hill (it took me about half an hour, you can go to Google maps and look at the St.Louis Zoo, and look for Christ Deliverance Ministry, Enright Ave…you’ll know where I walked) I usually cut across the grass, not always keeping to the roads. I was wondering, yesterday, if walking in the dark was a wise thing to do. Then I told myself that the fears were mostly in my own mind and perception…in fact, it was probably safer now than before the Ferguson incident,
(here’s a video of John Oliver’s take on it:

…actually, with so many police cars on the prowl ! I walked uneventfully back home. (It does help that I am a “black” person, not white, I suppose, in this area!)

So much of our fears are in our own perceptions, coloured by our own prejudices…where should we draw the line between genuine concerns and our own timorousness?

The trouble in the US is the stupid gun culture. I might be walking far away from any know source of trouble, and might get cut down by a stray bullet! Well, at the end of it all, I believe it’s Fate…and I walk briskly, not loitering. And when I’ve got home safely, I like the feeling that I didn’t give in to the feeling of “Oh, what might happen to me!” and just call DnA to leave their hectic chores and come and pick me up!

But IF something had happened, I would have been reviled for my foolhardiness…how to know, in advance, if my fears are well-founded or groundless? No way, alas, but to put it to the test, and walk home!

Unpleasant experience with Department of Homeland Security at Minneapolis-St.Paul, 6th August, 2014

August 8, 2014

Dear Sir/Madam,

My name is Deepa Lakshmi Mohan, an Indian. I have been visiting the US regularly since 1989. My daughter lives in St.Louis, and I come to visit her often.

I have a valid 10-year visa,granted in Chennai in December 2012.

Last year, I came at the end of January (January 28th) to be with my daughter and her family when my grandson was born. Because of health issues for the child, I applied for an extension of visa well within the time stipulated, through the official channel, UCIS-ELIS. I was granted an extension of visa and I left for home at the end of October. This was the only time in 25 years of visiting the US, that I have taken a visa extension.

This year, because of scheduled surgery for my grandson, on August 19th, I decided to visit her again. I came from Paris through Minneapolis-St.Paul airport.

Because I am a frequent flyer wtih Delta, I am entitled to two pieces of checked-in luggage, which I was to clear through Customs at Minneapolis. I will return to this later.

Here’s what happened to me.

My flight (Air France, Flight 1463 from Paris to Minneapolis-St.Paul) landed at noon I’d already spent 9 hours on the flight. There was a one-hour wait in the queue at Immigration. I was asked to go to the counter where Mr Brooks, an Immigration Officer, questioned me about why I had taken a visa extension last year, and why I was returning to the US now. I answered him to the best of my ability. I felt that he was being hostile, but I did not want to make assumptions. He agreed that my visa extension was legal, but told me that UCIS-ELIS granted visa extensions, and that the Department of Homeland Security “didn’t like them”. (I am quoting him, he repeated this several times.) He told me that my extending my visa, and wanting to return to the US now, raised “several red flags.” He would have to question me further, and in front of all the other incoming visitors, a police officer led me to another room, where several other visitors were also taken, and being questioned by Immigration Officers.

After about an hour’s wait, he came back and called me, and took me back to the same Immigration counter. The place was deserted by now. He told me that several visitors “lie” about their visas and stay and work in the US, abusing their visa status. He told me that the 10-year multiple US entry visa on my passport meant nothing, and it was he who would decide whether people could visit, or whether he would send them home. He repeated that my staying on for a long time in the US and then wanting to visit again in 9 months’ time was raising “several red flags”. I answered all his questions to the best of my ability. He said he was worried that I would ask for another extension again. I told him that I had no intention of staying longer, and that I wanted to get back home.

I also suggested that he call my daughter in St.Louis and he said that he could be doing so. He called her, and in the course of the conversation, he asked her if I was indeed her mother, and whether she had paid me for any work.

I asked him, since I had not been able to get to Baggage Claim and get my luggage, whether it would be safe. He told me it would be.

After about two hours, he finally stamped the entry visa on my passport.

I went to the Baggage Claim area and found that one of my suitcases was missing. I was told to file a complaint with Delta at my final destination (St.Louis) if my luggage had not arrived there. One of my suitcases is indeed missing, and I had to spend time in St.Louis airport, filing a claim for lost baggage.

Luckily, I had enough time to catch my flight to St.Louis.

Now, here are my observations and comments.

1. I agree that probably the Immigration officers find people abusing the visa regulations all the time. However, Mr Brooks repeatedly agreed that my visa extension was legal and valid. He repeated several times that “CIS grants extensions, but we don’t like them.” If one Government agency grants a valid US visa extension, how is it possible that the Department of Homeland Security is not able to accept that? And why should I, as a visitor be interrogated at such length, when I have done nothing illegal?

2. Does the manner of interrogation have to be so unpleasant?The hostile and intimidating attitude of Mr Brooks never wavered throughout the interrogation. He asked me whether my daughter was a US citizen and why she wasn’t. I found these questions intrusive and irrelevant to my case, but since, perhaps, he was probably doing his duty in asking these questions, I did not react. But the intimidating manner throughout was very distressing to me.

3. If visitors must be interrogated, could it not be organized so that they first secure their luggage, keep it aside on a trolley and then go for the interrogation process? This way, I could have made sure that my luggage was safe, instead of going through the additional trauma of losing one piece.

I repeat…I have nothing against the questions that were asked, in an effort to prove my bonafides. But I object very deeply to the tone of the interview, where it was made amply clear that I was not being believed. When I tried telling Mr Brooks, “Look at it from my point of view,” he responded, “I never look at any point of view but my own.” In that case, why bother to ask me anything at all?

I knew that he had the power to refuse me entry into the US, (a fact that he reminded me of, repeatedly) after a long and expensive trip, so I did not allow his intimidating manner to affect me. But when, after finally stamping the entry on my visa, he told me, “You are always welcome to the US,” I felt like telling him, “I’m sorry, it certainly did not feel that way.”

I have no doubt that several people are extremely keen to get into the US any way they can. But believe me, there are plenty of people like me who come on expensive visits only because of their family, and would like nothing better than to live peacefully at home.

I feel that some Immigration officers have met so many wrongdoers that they assume malafide intent on the part of anyone who raises their “red flags”. But politeness and a helpful manner, in my opinion, would go a long way in preventing bonafide travellers from feeling harassed and troubled.

Even US citizens accused of a crime seem to have some rights. But visitors to your country seem to have none. For the two hours that the interrogation went, I had to ask to get the officers to open up a toilet in the waiting area for me. I had nothing to eat or drink.

I underwent an extremely unpleasant experience and am not in the least interested in visiting your country again unless there is a great necessity. Unfortunately, with my only child living here with her family, that may arise once in a while. I still think that my 10-year visa means that I can visit when I want, without having to undergo such difficulties at the point of entry. In 25 years of visiting the US, I have asked for a visa extension only once, but that caused me such an unpleasant experience.

Also in nearly 25 years of visiting the US, this was the worst experience I have ever had at Immigration, and I would certainly like a response from you on this.

With regards,
Deepa Mohan
(Living in Bangalore, India)

After this, I also went through the experience of having a Customs man ask me to open up the single suitcase I had, throw out all my stuff to find out if (I quote) “you have been less than honest in your declaration” about not having food items, finally declare, “You are lucky that you don’t have food and stuff that I could catch!” (he’s obviously a rat-catcher) and leave me to pack my suitcase again and go to the connecting flight to St.Louis. But I want to fight the major battle, and let the minor skirmish go.

I still do not have my lost suitcase. DnA are painting the house, which is topsy-turvy; I have had no opportunity to buy new clothes. Hope to be able to do so with the weekend coming up ahead.

I really don’t feel like ever visiting this country again, and definitely I will avoid Minneapolis-St.Paul airport like the plague.

This problem of colour….

June 7, 2011

I’ve been speaking to an Indian friend of mine (we were LJ friends before we met face-to-face) and this friend’s choice of spouse is being heavily criticised by the parents…on the basis of that person’s “not being fair”. No, not “fair” as in “fair and kind and just”…it’s just that the intended spouse in dark-skinned. There seems to be no worry at all about what sort of a person this intended spouse is going to be….it’s as if a fair skin automatically brings with it intelligence, wisdom, and a loving personality!

You’d think that Indians, who are from of all parts of the dark-to-fair spectrum in the matter of skin colour, would be over this “fair” fetish by now…well. at least the educated urban people…but no, this “colour-complex” seems really deeply rooted in our pysche.

I’ve been trying to analyse why this should be so. Certainly, our invaders have been of fairer skins than the native peoples, so perhaps, over the centuries, “fair skin” has become equated to “better off” in the economical and social sense. But perhaps, it runs even deeper than this. Once, KM was on a train in Germany, and next to him sat a mother with a 2-year-old on her lap. There was no way that little toddler could have learnt any colour prejudice at that age…but when KM reached out to touch her, the little one shrank back from him.

So could it be that deep in our minds, “dark” is probably equated to “dirty” and “fair” to “clean”? “Fair” to “safe” and “dark” to “not safe”? I am still wondering.

I find that Indians abroad are even more colour-conscious and prejudiced. Surely, in a country where one IS perceived as a person of colour, what colour one or one’s spouse is, becomes unimportant? But no, it is not. When my grand-daughter was born, to an Indian and an American, the MOST frequent question after her birth was not how she was doing, but…”what colour is she?” I was very tempted to say, “Chess-squares” or “Zebra”….!

Morover, we have also learnt to be mealy-mouthed hypocrites about this whole colour prejudice. Someone told me once, “We never bother about the fact that our daughter-in-law is dark, we tolerate it.” This statement was made in all seriousness. So often, I come across people who mouth platitudes about “fairness is not important”…and then compliment a young mother on her child’s “fairness”..or console her, “It’s all right that your child is dark, her/his features are lovely!”

I have had, for many years, a moderate case of sun allergy, because of which my skin breaks into rashes (which may then weep and become infected) on exposure to bright sunlight. So I always wear a sun-hat and long-sleeved tops…and several people have remarked this, and said, “Oh, you don’t want to become dark!” I just laugh, and say, “I’ll only turn dark-er, not dark!”

No…I have no solutions, fair or lovely, or fair or handsome, to offer to this deep-seated problem (yes, it IS a problem when one’s acceptance is based on something one cannot control). It seems to be universal, or why would Michael Jackson look noticeably fairer (though much weirder) than when he started his career?

Well, anyway…excuse me while I get my sunblock and sunscreen and the rest, for fear that I should “tan”…and go, as my uncle once said, from “black to jet black”! Black? Did I say black? Of course I am not black, I have a…wheatish complexion, thank you very much!

prejudices…

August 7, 2006

….

Talking to another person, whether a new acquaintance or an old friend,  is a fascinating experience; one finds points of view that one shares…and points of view that are quite different. At what point does one decide that the other point of view is a prejudice? I would decide that if I were to find, for example, that the point of view cannot be substantiated to my satisfaction. For example, if someone posts that usually, a  flyover CAN ease congestion, and cites verifiable examples from other cities, I will modify my own point of view and say, in future, not that flyovers are useless, but that badly-designed flyovers are useless. But if I hear an opinion, (this is hypothetical) that Muslims are so dirty, with no facts behind that statement, I conclude that it is a prejudice I have come into contact with.

I find, too, that prejudices are SO hard to address. In the first place, the person is not even aware that s/he is prejudiced; in hes own mind, it is a reasonable, well-reasoned point of view. And if they are addressed, it is almost impossible to change someone’s point of view on a preconceived notion. The only probability is that tempers will rise….!

Having said all that, I wonder how many prejudices *I* suffer from…and am not aware of!