By Sid Sharma (@SidBSharma)
An aging student agitator has to contend with many depressing facts about the state of his world. The young girls think my rebel jacket from the GAP looks silly, I have to stretch my fingers every hour to keep in shape as a glorified Excel monkey and I spend a considerable amount of time greedily wondering how my 401k is doing.
I also realized that I was signing fewer and fewer internet petitions. These days, I see a lot of outrage directed towards some pop star “appropriating” the bindi. Well, if this is the kind of thing that’s getting kids up in arms, I guess things are going pretty well. I remember asking the bigwigs at my college not to cut funding for our Asian American Studies Department. If the spear of the activist struggle is itching to breach such trivial fortresses like those of “privilege,” I guess things do seem better.
But they’re not.
Every time I go to an Indian restaurant, I try to connect with the waiters. (I think this impulse comes from some demented Ivy-League attempt to fit in with the common man.) They’re Telugu speakers from my native state, so we get to talking about mundane things. Apparently, ladies, they don’t like when you wear perfume because the transition between Chanel No. 5 and an Indian kitchen going at full speed is nauseating.
Silliness aside, there is a dark undercurrent to their lives. Many are illegally brought over from India, so they do what they can in the margins of American Society. Sure the meager pay might be better than it was in the old country, but it is nowhere near being enough to live with some dignity in the Bay Area. They really are lonely guys trying to make it in a strange and hostile place. Any abuse by the boss goes unreported because the boss has all the power in the relationship. I really am impressed by the way they are able to remain so cheerful.
Where is the petition to defend their rights as human beings? Why don’t I see the Indian American pre-med crowd rush to that battlefield?
I’m not saying that there are genuine activists in this fight. People like Saru Jayaraman aren’t weekend warriors like me. They have chosen a life with a much, much smaller pay check to help their fellow brothers and sisters.
I honestly feel that when we angrily move to shut down some basement dweller’s insignificant Facebook page, we cheapen the work of true activists. The affluent among us have the luxury of only dealing with “microagressions”; the undocumented restaurant workers can get beaten until they are black and blue.
True activism takes effort and sacrifice. It means giving up a part of yourself to make the world a better place. Instead, most of the noise I see revolves around trivia that in no way makes people’s lives any more livable. Social justice, or at least the watered-down bargain bin variant of it that a substantial chunk of our liberal class seems to be enamored with, is now merely a playground for the lazy and bored.
I can imagine a scene in heaven where a millennial is in a circle of people like Gandhi and Rosa Parks. Gandhi talks about how he had kidney problems because of his hunger strikes. Rosa Parks then nods and tells everyone about how scared she was when she refused to give up her seat. Finally, they all look at our millennial hero: “Can I tell you guys about the time I typed #blacklivesmatter? Man, that was tough.”