It is not fair to lay the blame for the death of Srinivas Kuchibhotla at Donald Trump's door.
The Indian American engineer in Kansas city was enjoying his Jameson whisky with his colleague Alok Madasani when alleged attacker Adam Purinton fired at them yelling "get out of my country". Ian Grillot, also a white American, was injured trying to protect them. Purinton was nabbed later having a drink at another bar to unwind from the shooting. He is a navy veteran with an inactive pilot license and an air traffic controller certificate. He lives alone and had once worked for the Federal Aviation Administration.
It might emerge that the man had mental problems. There are reports that he was alcoholic. There's no direct line connecting him with the ascension of Trump or his rhetoric. But there is a dotted line.
In the name of making America great again, Trump has enabled the bullies. The fulminations about terrorists, rapists, murderers, all brown, all the other, leave no one in doubt that this election was about white America taking back the country, taking a stand against the browning of America. Thankfully not everyone subscribed to this as Grillot's courage showed.
Kuchibhotla paid with his life but there have been many incidents of garden variety bullying and "go back to your country"-type harassment. And Trump's response has been tepid, delayed and deliberately measured. He takes his time to condemn anti-Semitic hate crime threats and bristles when asked about it at a press conference.
Trump will no doubt condemn Kuchibhotla's death. Republican senator from Kansas, Jerry Moran, has already said "I strongly condemn violence of any kind especially if it is motivated by prejudice and xenophobia." Trump will surely echo him as well.
This violence is not isolated, no matter how much authorities will try to "lone wolf" it. It exists in a continuum. It exists within the racial anxiety of the US which is projected to become a "majority-minority" nation by 2043, which means that no one ethnic group will be the majority anymore.
There are reports that Purinton thought Kuchibhotla and Madasani were Middle Eastern. Indian Americans would do well not to think that this was a freak case of mistaken identity. After 9/11 the first casualty was Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh gas station owner "mistaken" as an Arab because of his beard and turban. In 2012 a peaceful gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, became the scene of a bloodbath when Wade Michael Page opened his semiautomatic on its congregation.
This violence was not freak or unprecedented. Page was involved with a white supremacist group and was an active member of a skinhead group called the Northern Hammerskins.
As Deepa Iyer writes in her timely book We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape our Multiracial Future, "America is a racial state. We are the inheritors of systems and institutions that enable the denial of basic human rights to indigenous and Black and Brown communities, from colonization to slavery, from Jim Crow segregation to the Japanese American internment. The post-9/11 treatment of South Asian, Arab and Muslim communities by the US government continues this shameful legacy."
The vulnerability of a minority will only increase as it is perceived as a threat to some idea of America, as we found in Kansas City.
This violence is not isolated, no matter how much authorities will try to "lone wolf" it. It exists in a continuum. It exists within the racial anxiety of the US which is projected to become a "majority-minority" nation by 2043 which means that no one ethnic group will be the majority any more. Many of those who voted for Trump did so believing that Trump would reverse or at least slow the demographic march towards that date. The wall, the extreme vetting, the employment visa rules are all part of that project even if they are presented as measures against crime and terrorism.
Iyer writes that it's more accurate to think of America transforming into a multiracial nation with no single racial group occupying a majority, but conservative forces will see more potency in the term "majority-minority" which carries with it a sense of an old white majority under siege in their own homeland. As Iyer writes, majority-minority does not mean minority populations "will gain power and influence due to their numbers", that sheer numbers will "drive racial equality, economic equity, or political power."
The vulnerability of the minority will only increase as it is perceived as a threat to some people's idea of America, as we found in Kansas City.
What will happen now is predictable. There will be condemnation. There will be an attempt to frame this story as a lone wolf story. There will be promises of strict action. The Indian government will rush to render all assistance to the affected families. There might be a marked slowness, even reluctance to call this a hate crime in sharp contrast to the alacrity with which an attack that never happened in Sweden will be described as terror. All of that is utterly predictable.
What Indian-Americans will do well to take away from the Kansas city attack is that their complacency about being the model minority will not save them from the hate. Trump may personally bear no ill-will against them, he may have even made ads saying "Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar" and his daughter-in-law might wear a bindi and go to a temple, but for many of his angry buzzing supporters, Indian-Americans are just part of the browning of America that they resent.
Indian Americans would do well to realise that they occupy no special place despite their median income.
All the money that the Republican Hindu Coalition raised for Trump will not be able to protect the likes of Kuchibhotla from that hate when it spills over onto Main Street America. The hate graffiti on the wall does not check visa status.
Indian Americans would do well to realise that they occupy no special place despite their median income. In fact Trump's campaign against "illegal immigrants" will also singe South Asian Americans though no one thinks of desis when they think about immigrants slipping across the US-Mexico border. But the fact is, thanks to visa overstays, South Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing "illegal" groups in the US.
The Times of India reports that some 300,000 Indians could be affected by the administration's plans to deport first and ask questions later. A Pew Center report says there were nearly half a million unauthorised Indian immigrants in the US in 2014, a 43% spike since 2009.
It just goes to show that Indian Americans do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of the immigrant story, and when the backlash happens, they will be part of that story too, as the Kansas incident tragically illustrates. Indian-Americans must be a part of the movement to resist the forces unleashed in America today, they cannot set themselves apart from it.
The tragedy in Kansas City was a reality check towards that end.
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