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What does it mean to be an Indian-American living in Donald Trump’s America? What does it mean to you when you realize that America is no longer the city on a shining hill but the old, bigoted Europe that once you had a chance to settle down in but refused for America? Donald Trump termed many Third World countries shithole countries in January 2018. This book is a personalized account of what being an immigrant in the U.S. from a shithole country in the age of Trump looks like. In an age of white hatred against nonwhites.
In the summer of 1998, the French cosmetics company L’Oreal wanted me to stay in Paris and work for it as a product manager, one of the most coveted jobs in France. But I got fooled then. I wanted to partake of the Internet boom taking place in the States. And having already worked for six months at L’Oreal, I was sure that I wouldn’t make it to the top. In addition, the company had no equal employment opportunity posters plastered everywhere, unlike firms in the U.S. If they put something down in writing, they must surely put it into practice. How gullible I was! The very fact that they had to put something like this in writing actually exemplified how long and pernicious the practice of racism was in the U.S. And all this wallpapering was to save their legal butt, just in case.
And so I returned to the U.S. when Bill Clinton was president. The dot com boom was in full swing. Opportunities abounded in the land of opportunity. I joined Dell in Austin, Texas, and got my first taste of racism on the job, which made me leave for Silicon Valley in a jiffy. George W. Bush had just become president. I worked in sales and marketing. I had met W. in Austin. He spoke like a frat boy, with his hands flailing. He didn’t know what a green card was. After he won, at a company meeting, I said, Watch, an idiot in the White House for four years. My boss, who didn’t like W. either, told me to hush up, that we didn’t discuss politics in the office.
9/11 found me in rural Pennsylvania. I had gone there for a conference. I called my boss in Silicon Valley as the Twin Towers came crashing down. I had taken a clunky electronic device with me. I was scared to bring it back with me lest it be mistaken for a bomb. My boss said FedEx it back to the office. And then he said, this whole 9/11 thing, this isn’t getting over anytime soon. How prescient he was!
I was stuck in a Days Inn in Pennsylvania. Every day I would return to my room, I found myself locked out. I would go to the front desk, who would say that I shouldn’t have a problem, but then the problem reasserted itself every day. Cleary they didn’t want me to stay. But where was I to go? Funny though that the inn was owned by an Indian, but he stayed in deep background. Finally the white women responsible for this prejudice owned up to what they were doing and let me stay for a week until flights resumed. One of them was even contrite enough to drive me to Philadelphia airport.
When I returned, one of my bosses, who was Dutch, teasingly called me a terrorist. In protest, I started growing a moustache. One of my Hispanic colleagues would regularly call me Bin Laden. But I let it flow off me like water off a duck’s back. At least my Silicon Valley company let me work, even though it discriminated in career advancement. As a Third World immigrant you learn that many Americans think that they are doing you a personal favor by letting you in the country, and that because you have come from a “shithole” country, you yourself should be grateful just for the chance of having a job, a car, a house or an apartment as the case may be.
Silicon Valley egalitarianism was nowhere to be found when I made my next move, to Atlanta in 2008. Atlanta is 49% white, 49% black, 2% other. The whites and the blacks are at each other’s throats. It is as if the Civil War never ended. Now they may not go tooth and nail at each other, but I noticed when I hung out with the blacks, they griped about the whites, and if I was with the whites, they went on and on about the blacks.
Obama was the devil incarnate in the South for many whites. I remember visiting Savannah and lining up outside a popular ice cream store. There were a lot of kids around, only one of whom was black. She told me that she went to a private school, and that she had really wanted to see Obama’s inaugural, but her teacher gave them a test just at that time and made her miss her historic moment.
No matter how many and how much whites disliked Obama, he still was a calming influence on the country. I think he let his blackness show in public only a few times. The first time was when the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was apprehended by white cops in his own house in Boston, which led to the infamous Beer Summit. Obama then balked at showing his blackness for most of the rest of his tenure in office, until I feel when a white thug killed members of a black church in Charleston in June 2015. Strangely enough, I have driven by that church.
When Obama sang “Amazing Grace” then, I just teared up. He truly was the consoler-in-chief.
The company in Atlanta was the worst place I had ever worked in. Bigotry was openly practiced, even applauded. I remember a black man coming in to the office for an interview. The whole office was agog, a black man was coming. Guess who’s coming to office! It was as if the whole office were serenading him into the interview room.
I just didn’t fit in the work culture. I was just much too much black and I didn’t grovel enough. And then someone called me nigger to my face near a lake in Atlanta. I had always thought, Why do black people take umbrage at being called “nigger”? I mean, wasn’t the word “nigger” a derivative of the word “Niger,” the river in Africa? So what was so bad in being called something based on a river? It was only when I was called so that I realized how much it cut to the bone.
I just had to get out of Atlanta. I followed a Canadian woman to Vancouver, and when things didn’t work out, returned to Silicon Valley. But the recession was still strong. I decided to return to India. I never realized that one man, one demagogue, would bring out all the evil demons stored in America’s chest in only a year’s time. Whether you liked George W. Bush or not, one could make a strong case that he was not racist. Right after 9/11 he calmed the country and prevented large-scale violence against Muslims. Obama made the country proud in overseas climes.
But Donald Trump just spews hate. And lies. I am constantly surprised at how many people adore him. He’s made it fashionable for a white American to be an open bigot.
Why do so many white Americans not get that they are not the true Americans? If America belongs to anyone, it belongs to its original residents, the Native Americans. Everyone else here, including European Americans, is a stranger, an imposter, an immigrant legal or otherwise, a guest, whatever. Everyone else is either hyphenated like African-Americans or just called foreign like me, me who has spent a quarter century in this country. When will I ever be perceived to be a true American? My kids, too—never, right? Every time I seem to have reconciled to this country, even to start liking it, it tears me apart.
In 2017, I went to West Lafayette, Indiana to pursue my doctorate at Purdue University. At the very outset of my travails there, I met a black couple.
The woman had gone to the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. Saskatchewan is almost all white. I asked her how her experience there was. She said that she had liked it. And then she told me to vamoose from Lafayette. She said that it was Donald Trump Central. I responded that I had only just arrived there. In hindsight, I should have listened to her. I got almost beaten three times the rest of the year I was in Lafayette, and got called the Taliban to boot. Lafayette is the worst place I have ever lived in.
Donald Trump stokes white people’s fears and fires. The U.S., unlike much of Europe, has enough space and opportunity to add more people. But many white people are suffering from white extinction anxiety. They don’t mind immigration as long as it’s white—but the browns, the blacks, and the yellows must be kept out. Donald Trump plays on these fears. He’s just bad for the country, and the world.
In English, they say a people get the king they deserve. Hindi is even more direct: it says, as the people, so the king. Do Americans deserve someone like Donald Trump as their king? Or are they too good for him? I don’t know the clear-cut answer to that question. His reelection is up nigh. If he wins again, despite all the disrepute he has brought to his office, then I would venture to say yes, Americans deserve him. If he loses, then one could pass off his one term as an aberration. A nightmarish aberration, but an aberration nonetheless.
The book attempts to see Donald Trump and his America through the eyes of an Indian, who understands this country well and who has written four other books on America. Most books on Donald Trump are by native-born Americans who either pound Donald Trump or glorify him. I have tried to stay as objective as possible in relating my experiences in and about Donald Trump’s America.