Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Twice in the last 3 months, I had sat across the final hiring manager explaining why he cannot just hire me to work for the role. Each had had multiple rounds of interviews, prodding questions, tests of wit, intelligence, and drive, with many individuals, all of which I managed to navigate successfully, seeing that I was repeatedly invited back for the next iterations.

The Chief Product Office for a leading company in its space wrapped the call with his immigration lawyer friend with a long face and a helpless shake of his head. I shrugged. I knew it. I knew even before I started the interviewing process that it would end here. It would all crash in slow motion against the insurmountable legal entity of immigration. We spoke about boxing and wrestling for 10 minutes before we parted.

Another missed opportunity. Not a vague one. Not an intoxicated swagger from far. It was there, in front of me. And yet I was thwarted.

In the flight back from San Francisco after that meeting, I could not help thinking what if that had been the one opportunity that would have made the break into the big league? After all how many careers have imploded or flourished because of that one opportunity that was grabbed and which allowed the freedom to create dreams teams. Maybe I should have fought back and forced my hand as I saw the opportunity slipping away.

I knew I was grasping at straws. I am too logical for that. And I cannot beg. If at this stage, I have to be passed upon at the final point of selection because of my immigration status then that is how the universe is structured.

By the time I landed I had sorted my emotions. I still had work to do in my current role.

The next day morning, in Brooklyn, I walked into the coffee shop early morning. The white man, another regular, looked up, took a peek at the book and said

“Never heard of him”

“He is really good. You should read him. I generally don’t say that about authors” I said.

“You know what Madew” he said, “after you read a certain amount of books, you will realize that you will never be able to read them all”.

I smiled, nodded, and ordered my Americano.

But the rage passed.

At one point in the multiple rounds of interviews, someone remarked, looking at my career path, how quickly the promotions came till the past 4 years. I gritted my teeth and prayed I could hold back my sweat. I wanted to tell him how I was trapped. Trapped, as probably are the large workforce of immigrants, jaded by an unhinged existence they lead on the razor-thin wire in the US, riding into battle with our heads fixed backward to keep at bay the quick gaining immigration sword.

A lady droned about how she had to move houses next year, probably putting into practice an old trick of breaking the ice with the candidate by discussing personal matters. I was reminded that I had to talk to my lawyers about what more paperwork was required to extend my stay again in the US beyond March, 4 months before I could renew my annual housing lease.

“It is tough” I heard myself say to her. “I don’t give a fuck” I heard it in my head.

My fear was even more basic. In constantly battling such an uneven setup I was afraid I was losing my humanity. I was weighing my grievances against that of the world always.

For instance, when I got an email from a colleague of mine that he was getting laid off, I was mortified when I realized my first thought was that he was an American. He would land on his toes because of his legal status. I was unconsciously angry at him that he could survive such a drastic hit and I could not. My first reaction was not to feel sorry for him.

It got worse.

I read about a tree falling on a family picnic, killing the mother, who had moved to work in Singapore. She left behind grieving twins and a husband. The husband was French. I was thinking she relocated to Singapore with ease because of her passport. I was again horror-struck that my humanity, my priority to empathize, was being eroded. More than mourning the lost life and the void in a family of a mother and wife, I found myself being jealous and spiteful of the unfair advantage she had enjoyed that allowed her to be a globally mobile citizen.

It did not help that a French colleague of mine, who kick-started the immigration process at the same time as me, is back in France as an American Citizen, while I am still straining to mentally prepare myself for a decade-long wait. It was not the process that was suffocating. It was the blatant unfairness of the system. How can a human being of exact same qualities live a life untethered from costs, choice of movement, freedom of speech and expression, risk-taking abilities just by virtue of their nationality?

It took time for me to learn how to carefully channel white-hot seething rage and frustration into compassion every time I am passed by. I still am intensely aware that I am far more exposed to bankruptcy and a layoff. How perilously the Indian immigrant workforce exists.

“All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good,” which is to say “accept half as much.”  – Coates

I needed to read a black man’s advice to his son about the struggle of growing black in white America.

At this point in life, I needed Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Because tomorrow, again, I am headed for an interview.

4 thoughts on “Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

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  1. Thank you, Madhu, for bringing this book to me. It’s strange that I read this before I went to an interview. It’s stranger that I lost the chance because the system is fucked up. That’s a story for another day. But, I wanted to thank you for being inspiringly honest in this post. We all become cold and clinical, challenging the humanity that we are expected to practise, only because the world is not just. That’s stating the obvious perhaps, but I will never be tired of saying that over and over again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot Deepika. What a coincidence that it was under similar situations Coates is being read. Maybe he jinxes it! Laissez Faire will lead us down the cold path, so a little calculated warmth goes a long way 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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