What I am about to write is totally based on my observation, experience and understanding. Therefore, I will not provide any statistics or polls. I’m a brown skinned, dark haired man. I’m an American, however, I immigrated from South Asia. (South Asia consists of Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives.) I was born and raised in Bangladesh and am proud of my nationality and ethnicity. I’m also proud to be an American.
I came to the United States in 1996 to attend St. Cloud State University. I attended college for a few years and ended up living in St. Cloud. I chose to live in Minnesota and attend college even though I have relatives in Maryland. I was born and raised in a traditional Catholic family. I married a Caucasian American Catholic woman in the Catholic Church. Our daughter was born in 2015 and she was baptized in a local Catholic Church.
Over the past several years, I attended many churches from different denominations. The first thing most people I met at those churches asked me was “where are you from?” Even after I told them my whole life story, their focus was still my background. The same faith I shared with them didn’t seem to matter; instead, it was my difference they focused on. I thought being a Christian would be a catalyst since my ethno-racial identity was different from Anglo Americans in Minnesota.
It is no secret that we have Islamophobia in Central Minnesota. I often wonder when I get awkward looks from people, especially in the grocery stores, do they think I am Muslim? I don’t know. My point is where is my Christian privilege as a Brown man? On many occasions, I shared my faith with a few Anglo American Christians but it didn’t seem to create a bond between us. My Christian faith didn’t give me any privilege.
In my 20 years of experience living in St. Cloud, most people that I met asked me if I was a Muslim or Hindu. When I told them my name was James, they had a hard time believing me. Among those people who asked me about my name, at that time they did not even know Bangladesh was a Muslim majority country. Many local residents asked why my name wasn’t Muhammed or Kumar. The same people told me that I barely had an accent. It took me many years to understand that people think of me as a non-Christian based on my skin color or sometimes because of my faint non-American accent.
In college, I observed that some of my light-skinned Muslim friends did not experience these types of questions as frequently as I did, despite our similar ethnic background. If we had a lot of light skinned Muslims in St. Cloud, such as Lebanese or Tunisians, and if they wore traditional western outfits, would they face the same racism Somalians are facing? If Islam is the problem for some people, then why do Latinos face discrimination, especially brown skinned Latinos? Why do African Americans face hatred? Although most Latinos and African-Americans are Christians, they do not get any Christian privilege. If Somalis were Christian, would everything be ok? If we had as many Sudanese or Ethiopians in St. Cloud as Somalis, would they face more or less hate?
I think it is not just about Islamophobia or phobia towards immigrants. It is about being a visual minority. It is simply an excuse to hate people who look and/or sound different. Being Muslim, dark skinned, low-income or a refugee all play a role in this discrimination. There are many second generation South Asians all over the country who are being told “Go back to your country.” No one knows by looking at me if I was born in the US or an immigrant or a Muslim or a Christian. Some people judge others based on their appearance. Again, it is mostly about being a visual minority. Skin color, language, religion and socio-economic status all play a role in this cruel game.
In the end, I would like to thank #unitecloud for bringing awareness of these issues in our community. I would also like to thank the people who support #unitecloud. Let us make this community a great place for our children and grandchildren.