Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Four Wonderful Years Free of Racism

A native of New York and of Indian heritage, Anil Jethmal was used to hearing racist "jokes", comments and innuendos from far too many of his native New Yorkers. He often heard that the ethnic diversity of New York actually made the city a much more tolerant and accepting place than other parts of the country.

So when Anil Jethmal attended Bowdoin College in Maine, it marked the first time that he would be living away from his New York home.  He read that Bowdoin College was mostly comprised of a somewhat homogenous "white" student body.  It was Anil's full expectation that the jokes and comments would come more fast and furiously than anything he had experienced prior to the point.

In reality, quite the opposite turned out to be the case.  In Anil's four years at Bowdoin, he does not recall a single slight towards him because of his nationality.  Yet, when Anil would return to New York for summer and winter break every year for four consecutive years, he felt each time as if he were journeying not just back to New York, but back to America's intolerant past.

In a period of time, where so many feel emboldened to express their intolerance and racist tendencies, Anil Jethmal often wonders exactly what it was about Bowdoin that made its constituents break down racial divides.  The most obvious answer is that Bowdoin College is known to be one of the best, if not the best, college in the United States.  It accepts only those students whose academic achievements rank them at the top of their class.

So, when Anil would inform his fellow students of his ethnicity, he would brace for an all too familiar negative response. Instead, much to his surprise and delight, he encountered a very different attitude. He found that his fellow students had an intellectual curiosity about India, and of Anil's experiences as an American of Indian heritage living in the US.

Given the recent social climate in the US, Anil is convinced more than ever that quality education is the most effective antidote to racism.  And, as he fondly remembers those four wonderful years, he is jolted back to the realization of how far away we, as a country, are from that utopia.  How to get there, of course, remains the million dollar question.

Of Indian descent, but virtually a lifelong New Yorker, Anil Jethmal is often asked about the caste system in India.   Many confuse the ...