Immigrants should acknowledge their debt to Black people

Immigrants should acknowledge their debt to Black people

Quaid Saifee is president of Troy-based information technology company WIT Inc.

(crainsdetroit)–I have been blessed to live in this country for the last 30 years. I became a United States citizen in 2001. I co-founded a company before even becoming a citizen, and that has enabled me to support a family of five. For somebody like me, who is living the American Dream and none of the nightmare, it has been a good bargain.

My story is not unique. There are millions of immigrants like me who came to study in the United States and now work in IT or for major corporations.
Most of my fellow Indian American immigrants live a comfortable life in a suburb, far from the hassles and problems of urban America. Normally, the belief is that immigrants come here, work hard and then achieve the American Dream. Many of us believe that since we were not here during America’s dark past, and neither were our ancestors, it should not concern us. But this mindset keeps immigrants in a dangerously comfortable bubble while allowing us to reap the benefits of being a minority in this country with no understanding of who has truly suffered the most.

When the company I co-founded in 1996 got into trouble because of the .com bubble bust, a friend of mine advised me to get my company certified as a Minority Business Enterprise from a local organization called the Michigan Minority Business Development Council, now part of the National Minority Supplier Development Council.

Throughout the U.S., major corporations with good intentions or internal quotas to meet seek out MBEs to do business with. My company, WIT, had a breakthrough because of its status as an MBE. A major corporation in Michigan became one of our biggest clients and that gave our business the push it needed.

Although they may be minorities, the experiences of non-Black people of color cannot be compared to that of Black Americans in this country. Black people have suffered the most while also contributing the most. Without their struggle for equal rights, I would not have been able to build a home in this country. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 could not have passed without the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I am figuratively standing on the shoulders of Civil Rights giants.

We immigrants acquired our privilege because of the struggle of our Black brothers and sisters. Now we are shafting them by calling ourselves a disadvantaged minority.

The founding of America brought destruction to indigenous nations and the building of America brought a barbaric brutality on Black people. It is not lost on me that non-Black people of color face their own set of struggles in this country, whether they are an immigrant or not. But ultimately these struggles are not the result of hundreds of years of oppression that are deeply woven into every major institution in America, producing a hard-to-escape cycle of trauma and often poverty. Our Black brothers and sisters suffered through 244 years of slavery after being brought here in chains. Even after so-called emancipation, they suffered through lynchings and constant terror. Then came Jim Crow, and finally, the present-day era of mass incarceration as a result of a brutal police state. For many immigrants, this history, pain, struggle, and experience is invisible. We simply remain bystanders or worse.

So I am asking Corporate America, when they publish their numbers on diversity and minority business dealings, to distinguish between Black people and non-Black people of color.

I have a background in statistics and analytics, and I know well how numbers can be deceiving. By using the broader word diversity, Corporate America has been intentionally or unintentionally hiding the real numbers.

When a corporation publishes that it does 15 percent of its business/spending with minorities, this could and often does mean that out of that 15 percent, around 12 percent is spent with Asian businesses, 2 percent with Black businesses, and 1 percent with Latino/a businesses. When a company says that it is committed to diversity within its ranks, this could mean they hire lots of Asians, but it does not speak to how many Black employees they have or are willing to have. Silicon Valley is the starkest example.

It is about time Corporate America reveals the true numbers of Black participation and inclusion in their respective organizations. And I hope immigrants realize that our silence, our complicitness, and our willful ignorance are a shame to direct at the very people on whose shoulders we stand.

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