Whether we are doctors or cab drivers or Congressmen, we brown people are a threat, claims Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh of Columbia University in an interview.
Venkatesh, 40-year-old professor of sociology and African-American studies at Columbia University, New York, turns out to be a great chronicler of life at the ground floor of the great tower of America.
Venkatesh is the only Indian-American academic who has probed America from the bottom up. Though he was raised in affluent Orange County, California, he explores and probes ghetto life, underground economy, urban jungles, and prostitution. All, the stuff of real life in America.
During his recent interview with Arthur Pais of Rediff and India Abroad, Venkatesh explained:
"I think it has to do with me growing up in Orange County in California. I was about five when my parents migrated from Chennai in 1971 and while they had a few Indian friends in the Los Angeles area, I grew up with hardly an Indian friend.
"I always felt like an outsider and I was naturally interested in others who I thought were outsiders like myself. My father (Alladi Venkatesh, a business professor) had encouraged me from my very young years to read voraciously."
Venkatesh has made a short feature film called Abhidya. The film tells the story of two women: An Indian American who is drawn into working with immigrants here and the white American woman, who is drawn to exotic and troubled things, and who goes to India to work with the poor.
I am making a film that examines the state of the South Asian community today, after 9/11, when being 'brown' means something entirely different.
Sociology interests him says Venkatesh because it gives him the opportunity to study communities and people evolving. "I studied math as an undergraduate and I found it was intellectually engaging, but sociology provided this as well as a set of tools to understand my experiences in this country" says the academic who migrated from Chennai with his parents when he was five.
Venkatesh says he was overwhelmed by the number of times that elderly Afro-American community leaders claimed that they were beholden to Mahatma Gandhi. "They would recognise that I am an Indian and would ask me if I was interested in them because of Gandhi."