I feel as if I have somehow slipped through the cracks.
I am not Black, however I am also not White.
I am not an immigrant, however my parents are.
I do not identify based on the colour of my skin, however I know many rightfully do.
I have not been economically disadvantaged, however I know others who look like me have.
I do not feel that I have been discriminated against, however I know that I am in the privileged minority, of the visible minorities, who feel this way.
I am not at a higher risk of being over-policed, however I now see that so many, too many, others are.
As I become more aware about the subtle, and not-so-subtle, countless acts of intentional discrimination against Black people around the world, Indigenous people in Canada and visible minorities from any backgrounds that are foreign to the incumbent populations in every nation, I feel disheartened and upset, and at the same time shame and guilt. So many have not had the same equitable access to justice, education and economic opportunity that I have had, for no fault or doing of their own. This reality continues to weigh heavy on me.
I have been one of the lucky few, who somehow slipped through the cracks of a society and a system designed to discriminate against so many.
My parents immigrated from New Delhi to Montreal a month before I was born. It also happened to be a week before the Air India Flight 182 bombing, where 329 people aboard lost their lives, still the worst act of terror in Canadian history. Every summer, my parents remember that event somberly, as the three of us could have easily been on that flight. Worst of all, my younger sister would not be in this world if that had been our unfortunate fate.
Growing up, we were fortunate to have the freedom to visit relatives in India often and as I got older, I found myself stopping in India every other year, while on global business trips to the Middle East, South East Asia or Australia. The greatest gift from these short visits continues to be the connections that I enjoy with my cousins. We are all about to jump on a global family Zoom call today.
Every time that I visit India, including this past fall, I have to walk poverty lined streets, scratch countless mosquito bites, jump at sounds of stray dogs barking at night and avoid breathing in too much of the densely polluted air. I could have easily grown up here and be still living here, is where my thoughts often go.
I cannot help but begin to imagine what life would have been like for me if my parents had decided to stay in India instead of come to Canada. I would not have slipped through the cracks.
Much of my life would have been different. I likely would not have received access to the quality of post-secondary education that I did here in Canada. The Indian college system is far more competitive, and knowing what I know now about my academic capabilities and interests, I clearly would not have gotten into a top school, like I did in Canada.
I would not have been able to start a business at 21 years old. While improving, the Indian business culture would not have accepted a young CEO over a decade ago. “Where is your father?” would have been the question I would be asked by potential clients, not open to taking me seriously. While in North America, I had signed major global clients within 9 months of graduating school, which cemented a stable foundation for the business to grow and flourish.
Ironically, I may not have discovered my passion for meditation and yoga, as contrary to popular belief in the mindfulness communities that I am deeply invested in here in North America, everyone in India is not a yogi. In my extended family of over one hundred relatives, I can count on one hand the number of people who identify with or practice yoga.
I also would not be writing this reflection from the place of relative privilege that I have today. Almost everything that I identify with today would likely not be the case, had I been raised in India, despite being born to the same parents, at the same moment in time.
In this moment, I similarly cannot help but begin to imagine what life would have been like for me if I had not slipped through the cracks of a society and system that discriminates often based on the basis of race.
I might be living in a predominately poor neighbourhood due to racial segregation policies. For example, in the 70s in Chicago, public policies created by the city government were designed to keep Black away from prosperous neighborhoods, and as a result, away from good schools and good jobs. It is a symptom of fear that continues to result in active discrimination towards people of colour.
I would likely be in a public school with a challenging teacher-to-student ratio. In poorer US school districts, there are 29 students to 1 teacher, versus the national average of 16 to 1. I might have lost interest in education at an early age, without the attention from teachers and the inspiration from older students. Would I even have finished high school? In Wisconsin, only 67% of Blacks students graduate high school compared to 93% of White students. In Canada, only 44% of Indigenous students on-reserve graduate high school, compared to 88% of all other Canadian students.
If I had not slipped through the cracks, there would be a higher chance that I would be working in an essential business, in the middle of a global health pandemic, and putting my safety, and those whom I live with, at greater risk. 38% of people in essential business are Black compared with 27% who are White. Black workers are 50% more likely to work in healthcare than White workers.
If I were living in a rougher neighborhood, I might have been exposed more to the less inspiring realities in society. I might have had friends with single parents or friends who lived in unsafe homes subject to domestic violence, drug abuse or alcohol addiction. What type of environment might I have had, and how would that have shaped how I saw my place in the world?
If I had not slipped through the cracks, I might have witnessed relatives being over-policed, based on the colour of our skin or the neighborhoods that we could afford to live in. I might have seen the inside of a jail cell, or known many people who have. How might that have influenced my trust of government, law enforcement and the justice system? Black people make up 12% of the general US population but 33% of the population in jails. If Black and Hispanic people were incarcerated at the same rates of White people, the US jail population would decrease by 40%. In Canada, Indigenous people make up only 4% of the population but 23% of the jail population.
If I did graduate high school, my college or university experience would likely not have been the same. Would I have been encouraged to go to a great school and be considered for merit based scholarships and awards? Would admission officers unconsciously discriminate against me based on my name or my address? Enrollment in the top 500 US colleges is 75% White. While nearly 72% of White students finish a degree within 6 years, it is only 46% for Black students.
If I had not slipped through the cracks, and still by some miracle graduated post-secondary education with a decent degree, what opportunities would be available to me? Would I even have thought about starting a business at 21 years old? I might have not known many entrepreneurs, or had as many inspiring role models and support around me. Would investors fund me? 75% of technology startup investments go to White founders. Only 2% of Venture Capital partners are Black.
In the workplace, would I be promoted based on my skill and potential, at the same rate as my non Black colleagues? Would I be paid a competitive and fair wage? Would I be effective in a sales or client facing role, where the mantra of “people do business with people, not with businesses” still holds true.
All things considered, if I had not slipped through the cracks, there is a good chance that my life would not be as great as it is today.
The cracks in society are few and far between, available to the lucky few like me. For most, the system does not let them slip through the cracks to avoid the discrimination that occurs in education, housing, justice and the economy.
What this moment is asking from all of us is to cultivate greater empathy for the lives that may be different than ours. Empathy starts with listening, not talking. Listening to stories.
Stories are more powerful and deserving of our attention than numbers.
Stories influence and change the unconscious conditioning that we may have.
Stories lift our blinders, so that we can learn to see reality as it is, not as we might wish to believe it is.
This is a Year Zero moment. It is an opportunity to make different choices, to create a different system. One that is equitable for all people, regardless of race. One where I do not have to somehow slip through the cracks to live a good life.
This is what this moment asks of each of us.
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