Anil’s recent post on race rang especially true for me since I got the opportunity to witness it firsthand.
When I was in New York a couple weeks ago (the first time I spent any real time there, if you can call a few days real time), I finally understood all The Common New York Things That Are Supposed To Happen. I learned what “the city that never sleeps” really means. I got to see first hand what a real melting pot is like, from the people on the streets and subways to the neighborhoods to the stores and restaurants that abound. NYC seemed like the most integrated, culturally diverse and rich place I’ve ever been. I kept comparing my experiences in NYC with San Francisco, and it wasn’t that NYC was merely 10 San Franciscos smashed together tightly, it went well beyond that and embodied a place like no other.
But… there’s always the race thing.
I’ve known Anil for a few years now, and talk to him daily. It probably helps that most of our contact is virtual, as I’ve never really identified him by race. When I first met him face to face, I was so familiar with him that it still wasn’t something that surprised me or weighed heavily in my mind. Kind of like when an old friend reveals a long-held secret that makes no difference in a relationship. I won’t claim that I am 100% free of prejudice, as I think no human is, but one of the strengths of the internet is that it allows people to interact free of those constraints; an idealized universe where people can be judged solely on the merit of their contributions.
So back in NYC, I was working in a building in SoHo. In the main lobby of the office building, there was a huge desk with a security guy behind it, and placard that stated “ALL VISITORS MUST REGISTER.” When I first arrived, I knew which office I was looking for, noticed no one said a thing to the guard, and walked right by to the elevators. I went through the office lobby a handful of times over the next two days, always with the same results. And then Anil, my accommodating host for the stay, tagged along with me to meet some of the people I was working with. That’s when we got “Can I Help You?” in a booming voice during our crossing of the lobby. I actually kept walking at first, not thinking the guard was talking to us, then had to explain what office I was working in and we were allowed to proceed. I mentioned to Anil my surprise and disbelief at what just occurred, based on the previous day of passing through unnoticed and he simply said “That was some of that code orange, heightened security. Now, more than ever.”
Anil treated it with humor, but I had a hard time masking my surprise and anger at being reminded my friend and I were worthy of being questioned, simply based on the way he looks.