Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

My struggle with protests and other adversarial tactics

When I think about the injuries I could face because of my racial identity, they only falls into two categories: injuries I could receive from injuries and injuries I could receive from other people.

I could be treated poorly, disrespectfully, or unjustly, for example, by institutions like the government, the cable company, a bank, or a large property management company that rents me an apartment. These are parties that conduct business based on policies and standardized procedures. When I am injured by these parties I have a slew of options for recourse available to me like raising a complaint, tweeting about poor service, protesting, "talking to a manager", taking my business elsewhere, and voting, among others.

I could also be treated poorly, disrespectfully, or unjustly by an individual person. These individuals could be the person sitting at a nearby table at a restaurant, another driver on the road, a neighbor, a sales clerk at a small business, a parent at my child's school, or a co-worker. These are parties that conduct themselves in public based on beliefs they have about themselves, the world, other people (i.e., not policies and procedures). When I am injured by these parties my options for recourse are more limited - I mostly can just talk to them, call the cops, file a lawsuit if their behavior happens to be illegal, or retaliate.

I fear individuals (strangers, really) much more than I fear institutions. Institutions don't flip their lid as often, their are fewer of them, and there are more options for recourse. On the other hand, all it takes is one loose-screwed individual to see you at a bar, harass you because of your national or ethnic identity, be physically removed from said bar, return with a gun, and shoot you. This sort of thing is something I for real have to think about because I happen to be a man of Indian descent in America (and I have before, it's my "nightmare scenario").

All of that is backdrop. Here's what I've been struggling with.

I think about that guy who shot those Indian immigrants in Kansas. What could have possibly stopped his behavior? A protest against hate? Probably not. Tighter restrictions on guns? Maybe. A non-discrimination law passed in Kansas? Perhaps. A tweet or facebook meme? Doubtful.

All i can think of to change the mind and behavior of someone like this guy is for him to have had more positive interactions with Indian immigrants throughout his life. Enough of those interactions to outweigh the preconceived notions he had from whatever stories he had heard. If anything, I would guess that seeing protests and the like hardened his beliefs about immigrants rather than softened them.

I feel so conflicted when I see so many dissident tactics being used by people whose political views are probably somewhat congruent with my own. On the one hand, if the government or another institution is acting unjustly one surely must protest, vote, write letters, march, organize, etc. On the other hand, are those tactics making individual people who are iffy about me in the first place more likely to hate me or do me harm?

Because at the end of the day, I want to change people's behavior and beliefs in such a way that it makes them less likely to injure me. And it when it comes to changing the behavior and beliefs of free-willed individuals (as opposed to institutions) I don't see adversarial tactics working in the long run. But that's the playbook I see most often on the news these days.

So what would I rather see?

I'd rather see intentional attempts to get people who don't interact much to do so more.

Maybe that's more free street festivals, more programming at parks, or more opportunities for high-schoolers to study abroad. Maybe that's increased investment in public spaces and the creation of equitable residential density so that people of different races rub elbows more. Maybe that's subsidized plane tickets from large metropolises to rural towns and vice versa. Maybe that's money for people to throw backyard barbecues with their neighbors or to take a senior citizen out to lunch. Maybe it's money for bus fares so that urban and suburban churches can attend services in each others' houses of worship. There are truly a lot of possibilities.

I'm not talking about revolutionary ideas (or maybe I am), I'm talking about nudges which make us more likely to interact with someone different than us in some way.

I don't only think we can do more than use adversarial tactics to change others' beliefs and behaviors, I think we have to.

I swear I write this all earnestly. I am really struggling with it.