Lydia’s Library Books

First World/Third World

Right now I’m reading The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. It’s wonderful, and it’s accomplishing one of the most important things that I think a book should do: putting theory into story. The theories and ideas at work here are those of globalization, racism, immigration, poverty and more: topics that INTEREST me academically but COMPEL me personally and in reality. 

I’m not done with the book, but so far I’ve been struck by a certain passage so much that I’ve thought about it almost daily. Probably because I’m part-time job hunting. Biju, the person mentioned in the excerpt, is a recent Indian illegal immigrant working in New York City restaurants. 

Biju at the Baby Bistro.

Above, the restaurant was French, but below in the kitchen it was Mexican and Indian.

Biju at Le Colonial for the authentic colonial experience.

On top, rich colonial, and down below, poor native. Colombian, Tunisian, Ecuadorian, Gambian.

On to the Stars and Stripes Diner. All America flag on top, all Guatemalan flag below.

Plus one Indian flag when Biju arrived. 

The reason why I think this particular passage has been on my mind is that while job hunting, I’ve had particular jobs on my mind. Nothing great (waitress, coffee shop ‘barista’- if that is a real word-, bookstore clerk), but nothing menial. Whenever I go into certain cafes, I see the white people in the front, taking orders and serving the food, and I also see the people of color in the back, coming out only to take away the dirty cups and plates. Do I think that I am above Biju’s class of worker? Given the fact that I’m a white girl in college, society tells me that I am. I want to go on to have a ‘career,’ and ‘do things’- why is that something that I can do, but Biju cannot? It’s institutionalized, internalized racism that is affecting my job choices and plans. 

This may seem to be a fairly elementary observation. Racial social injustice is a fact of life, and is something I’ve noticed since I was small. 

But isn’t it funny how we can be so ‘aware’ of a world that can be so cruel… and yet we are still so enmeshed in it that we don’t even notice that we are helping to maintain that cruelty? 

As a person who wants to work her hardest to be an anti-racist and an ally, I’m going to try harder to notice these things. I’m going to try to make some different job choices. I’m reading the story of Biju and his family (among others: this book is kind of an epic) and learning.


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  1. * Brian says:

    Yeah, this is a really great point. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately too. Many of the restaurant/cafes I frequent, including the supposedly “progressive” ones, have (mostly) the people of color tucked away in the back and the white folks up and center. It’s really disturbing – and yet simultaneously normalized. At the same time, this makes me wonder, “what does this say to the people of color who are consistently hidden in the back? what does this normalized experience tell them about themselves?” It’s of course a product of my privilege that I have to wonder this, and that I haven’t experienced it, but the way you have described this book puts it in a very illuminating perspective.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 10 months ago

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