Monday, February 21, 2011

Rootlessness And The City

New York City SerenadeImage by joiseyshowaa via FlickrI was born in India. I grew up in Nepal next door. I came to America for college. When I was applying for colleges while in Nepal, I did not have a favorite college in mind. I liked all sorts of colleges. Every prospectus I picked up I absolutely fell in love with. Now I realize what I was really applying for back then was to get into New York City. People who go to all those colleges all end up in New York City.

I have something akin to a PhD in race relations. There is the conscious level of the mind, the subconscious level, and there's deeper stuff. Racial identity can inhabit the mind at several levels. That's what makes a white guy high school drop out detain the top movie star in India for an hour at the New Jersey airport. Your name is Khan? You must be a terrorist.

I am unapologetic about democracy. The year a country becomes a democracy is year one in that country's life. I grew up in a country that was not a democracy. There were people at the high school who also applied to go to colleges in England. Two went to Oxford. What kept me attracted to American colleges was the idea that you could change your major. Freedom! I changed my major so many times, they had to give me an extra year just to finish.

Third World Guy

New York City is the most diverse city in the world. People from every little town on earth are here. But it is also the most segregated city on earth.

Most Nepalis in the city work below minimum wage jobs for Indian bosses. They want to make their money and for evenings and weekends they want to go right back to Nepal. They are not trying to mingle. The live with other Nepalis. They speak the language. They go online to watch television back in Nepal, listen to FM stations in Nepal, they go online to read news in Nepal. Every weekend there is at least one big party somewhere in town. I don't go to them.

You go to a tech event in Manhattan and realize in this city that is 60% nonwhite looks like 98% of the people in the room are white. People went to college. I am a big believer in democracy. I am also a big believer in education. I can understand.

Just that I firmly believe universal broadband will take that college to the masses everywhere on earth. I don't begrudge the successes I see, not at all. Democracy + Education + The Market = Wonderful Things. I get it.

Ever since I was 10 I have been used to being in rooms with people who had no cultural overlaps with me. I have always been rootless. I have always been a New Yorker. When you belong nowhere, you belong everywhere. That rootlessness can give you a heightened sense of individualism, a heightened sense of personal space, a heightened sense of possibilities. The macro level realities are always there. But the micro of interpersonal interactions has its own deep richness. You go party.

New York is my city, the Internet is my country. My three blogs - Democracy For Neal, Barackface, Netizen - make me whole. The city and the medium define my career. I am global.

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