Freedom from the immigrant ‘race tax’

For about thirty years, I have lived in a suburb in Northern California that has a predominantly white population, along with a modest amount of ethnic diversity. As an immigrant of Indian origin from Kenya, I have not experienced during that time any evidence of racism toward me, although I have had occasional encounters with cultural stereotyping.

These encounters occur in unusual and unexpected ways. For example, sometimes I will be standing with friends, waiting to be seated at a restaurant, and when the next party of customers walks in, one of them will look at me, assume I am a server at the restaurant, and request that I seat them. I have also been mistaken for a gas station attendant while filling up my car.

When I would get together with my Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi immigrant friends, we would compare notes on these examples of stereotyping brown people like us living in an affluent white American suburb. We saw it as paying a type of surcharge or tax. In fact, we nicknamed it the “race tax.”

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Emerging from negative expectations
August 5, 2019

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