Anand Giridharadas: A tale of two Americas. And the mini-mart where they collided

Anand Giridharadas: A tale of two Americas. And the mini-mart where they collided

“Where are you from?”
said the pale, tattooed man. “Where are you from?” It’s September 21, 2001, 10 days after the worst attack
on America since World War II. Everyone wonders about the next plane. People are looking for scapegoats. The president,
the night before, pledges to “bring our enemies to justice
or bring justice to our enemies.” And in the Dallas mini-mart, a Dallas mini-part surrounded
by tire shops and strip joints a Bangladeshi immigrant
works the register. Back home, Raisuddin Bhuiyan
was a big man, an Air Force officer. But he dreamed of a
fresh start in America. If he had to work briefly in a mini-mart
to save up for I.T. classes and his wedding in two months, so be it. Then, on September 21,
that tattooed man enters the mart. He holds a shotgun. Raisuddin knows the drill: puts cash on the counter. This time, the man doesn’t
touch the money. “Where are you from?” he asks. “Excuse me?” Raisuddin answers. His accent betrays him. The tattooed man, a self-styled
true American vigilante, shoots Raisuddin in revenge for 9/11. Raisuddin feels millions of bees
stinging his face. In fact, dozens of scalding,
birdshot pellets puncture his head. Behind the counter, he lays in blood. He cups a hand over his forehead
to keep in the brains on which he’d gambled everything. He recites verses from the Koran,
begging his God to live. He senses he is dying. He didn’t die. His right eye left him. His fiancée left him. His landlord, the mini-mart owner,
kicked him out. Soon he was homeless and
60,000 dollars in medical debt, including a fee for dialing
for an ambulance. But Raisuddin lived. And years later, he would ask
what he could do to repay his God and become worthy of this second chance. He would come to believe, in fact, that this chance called for him
to give a second chance to a man we might think
deserved no chance at all. Twelve years ago, I was a fresh graduate
seeking my way in the world. Born in Ohio to Indian immigrants, I settled on the ultimate rebellion
against my parents, moving to the country they had worked
so damn hard to get out of. What I thought might be a six-month stint
in Mumbai stretched to six years. I became a writer and found myself
amid a magical story: the awakening of hope across much
of the so-called Third World. Six years ago, I returned to America
and realized something: The American Dream was thriving, but only in India. In America, not so much. In fact, I observed that
America was fracturing into two distinct societies: a republic of dreams
and a republic of fears. And then, I stumbled onto this
incredible tale of two lives and of these two Americas that brutally
collided in that Dallas mini-mart. I knew at once I wanted to learn more, and eventually that I would write
a book about them, for their story was the story
of America’s fracturing and of how it might be put back together. After he was shot, Raisuddin’s life
grew no easier. The day after admitting him,
the hospital discharged him. His right eye couldn’t see. He couldn’t speak. Metal peppered his face. But he had no insurance,
so they bounced him. His family in Bangladesh
begged him, “Come home.” But he told them he had
a dream to see about. He found telemarketing work, then he became an Olive Garden waiter, because where better to get over his fear
of white people than the Olive Garden? (Laughter) Now, as a devout Muslim,
he refused alcohol, didn’t touch the stuff. Then he learned that not selling it
would slash his pay. So he reasoned, like a budding
American pragmatist, “Well, God wouldn’t want me
to starve, would he?” And before long, in some months,
Raisuddin was that Olive Garden’s highest grossing alcohol pusher. He found a man who taught him
database administration. He got part-time I.T. gigs. Eventually, he landed a six-figure job
at a blue chip tech company in Dallas. But as America began
to work for Raisuddin, he avoided the classic
error of the fortunate: assuming you’re the rule,
not the exception. In fact, he observed that many with
the fortune of being born American were nonetheless trapped in lives that
made second chances like his impossible. He saw it at the Olive Garden itself, where so many of his colleagues had
childhood horror stories of family dysfunction, chaos,
addiction, crime. He’d heard a similar tale about
the man who shot him back when he attended his trial. The closer Raisuddin got to the America
he had coveted from afar, the more he realized there was
another, equally real, America that was stingier with second chances. The man who shot Raisuddin grew up
in that stingier America. From a distance, Mark Stroman
was always the spark of parties, always making girls feel pretty. Always working, no matter what
drugs or fights he’d had the night before. But he’d always wrestled with demons. He entered the world through
the three gateways that doom so many young American men: bad parents, bad schools, bad prisons. His mother told him, regretfully, as a boy that she’d been just 50 dollars
short of aborting him. Sometimes, that little boy
would be at school, he’d suddenly pull a knife
on his fellow classmates. Sometimes that same little boy
would be at his grandparents’, tenderly feeding horses. He was getting arrested before he shaved, first juvenile, then prison. He became a casual white supremacist and, like so many around him,
a drug-addled and absent father. And then, before long,
he found himself on death row, for in his 2001 counter-jihad,
he had shot not one mini-mart clerk, but three. Only Raisuddin survived. Strangely, death row was
the first institution that left Stroman better. His old influences quit him. The people entering his life
were virtuous and caring: pastors, journalists, European pen-pals. They listened to him, prayed with him,
helped him question himself. And sent him on a journey
of introspection and betterment. He finally faced the hatred
that had defined his life. He read Viktor Frankl,
the Holocaust survivor and regretted his swastika tattoos. He found God. Then one day in 2011,
10 years after his crimes, Stroman received news. One of the men he’d shot, the survivor,
was fighting to save his life. You see, late in 2009,
eight years after that shooting, Raisuddin had gone on his own journey,
a pilgrimage to Mecca. Amid its crowds,
he felt immense gratitude, but also duty. He recalled promising God,
as he lay dying in 2001, that if he lived, he would serve
humanity all his days. Then, he’d gotten busy
relaying the bricks of a life. Now it was time to pay his debts. And he decided, upon reflection,
that his method of payment would be an intervention
in the cycle of vengeance between the Muslim and Western worlds. And how would he intervene? By forgiving Stroman publicly
in the name of Islam and its doctrine of mercy. And then suing the state of Texas
and its governor Rick Perry to prevent them from executing Stroman, exactly like most people
shot in the face do. (Laughter) Yet Raisuddin’s mercy was inspired
not only by faith. A newly minted American citizen,
he had come to believe that Stroman was the product of a hurting America that
couldn’t just be lethally injected away. That insight is what moved me
to write my book “The True American.” This immigrant begging America
to be as merciful to a native son as it had been to an adopted one. In the mini-mart, all those years earlier, not just two men,
but two Americas collided. An America that still dreams,
still strives, still imagines that tomorrow
can build on today, and an America that has resigned to fate, buckled under stress and chaos,
lowered expectations, an ducked into the oldest of refuges: the tribal fellowship of one’s
own narrow kind. And it was Raisuddin, despite
being a newcomer, despite being attacked, despite being homeless and traumatized, who belonged to that republic of dreams and Stroman who belonged to that
other wounded country, despite being born with the privilege
of a native white man. I realized these men’s stories formed
an urgent parable about America. The country I am so proud to call my own wasn’t living through a
generalized decline as seen in Spain or Greece,
where prospects were dimming for everyone. America is simultaneously the most
and the least successful country in the industrialized world. Launching the world’s best companies, even as record numbers
of children go hungry. Seeing life-expectancy drop
for large groups, even as it polishes
the world’s best hospitals. America today is a sprightly young body, hit by one of those strokes
that sucks the life from one side, while leaving the other
worryingly perfect. On July 20, 2011, right after
a sobbing Raisuddin testified in defense of Stroman’s life, Stroman was killed by lethal injection
by the state he so loved. Hours earlier, when Raisuddin still
thought he could still save Stroman, the two men got to speak
for the second time ever. Here is an excerpt from their phone call. Raisuddin: “Mark, you should know
that I am praying for God, the most compassionate and gracious. I forgive you and I do not hate you. I never hated you.” Stroman: “You are a remarkable person. Thank you from my heart. I love you, bro.” Even more amazingly, after the execution, Raisuddin reached out to Stroman’s
eldest daughter, Amber, an ex-convinct and an addict. and offered his help. “You may have lost a father,”
he told her, “but you’ve gained an uncle.” He wanted her, too, to have
a second chance. If human history were a parade, America’s float would be
a neon shrine to second chances. But America, generous with second chances
to the children of other lands, today grows miserly with first chances
to the children of its own. America still dazzles at allowing
anybody to become an American. But it is losing its luster at allowing
every American to become a somebody. Over the last decade, seven million
foreigners gained American citizenship. Remarkable. In the meanwhile, how many Americans
gained a place in the middle class? Actually, the net influx was negative. Go back further,
and it’s even more striking: Since the 60s, the middle class
has shrunk by 20 percent, mainly because of the people
tumbling out of it. And my reporting around the country
tells me the problem is grimmer than simple inequality. What I observe is a pair of secessions
from the unifying center of American life. An affluent secession of up, up and away, into elite enclaves of the educated
and into a global matrix of work, money and connections, and an impoverished secession
of down and out into disconnected, dead-end lives that the fortunate scarcely see. And don’t console yourself
that you are the 99 percent. If you live near a Whole Foods, if no one in your family serves
in the military, if you’re paid by the year,
not the hour, if most people you know finished college, if no one you know uses meth, if you married once and remain married, if you’re not one of 65 million Americans
with a criminal record — if any or all of these things
describe you, then accept the possibility that actually, you may not know what’s going on and you may be part of the problem. Other generations had to build
a fresh society after slavery, pull through a depression,
defeat fascism, freedom-ride in Mississippi. The moral challenge of
my generation, I believe, is to reacquaint these two Americas, to choose union over secession once again. This ins’t a problem we can tax
or tax-cut away. It won’t be solved by tweeting harder,
building slicker apps, or starting one more
artisanal coffee roasting service. It is a moral challenge that begs
each of us in the flourishing America to take on the wilting America as our own, as Raisuddin tried to do. Like him, we can make pilgrimages. And there, in Baltimore and Oregon
and Appalachia, find new purpose, as he did. We can immerse ourselves
in that other country, bear witness to its hopes and sorrows, and, like Raisuddin, ask what we can do. What can you do? What can you do? What can we do? How might we build
a more merciful country? We, the greatest inventors in the world, can invent solutions to the problems
of that America, not only our own. We, the writers and the journalists,
can cover that America’s stories, instead of shutting down
bureaus in its midst. We can finance that America’s ideas, instead of ideas from New York
and San Francisco. We can put our stethoscopes to its backs, teach there, go to court there,
make there, live there, pray there. This, I believe, is the calling
of a generation. An America whose two halves learn again to stride, to plow, to forge,
to dare together. A republic of chances, rewoven, renewed, begins with us. Thank you. (Applause)

100 Comments

  1. America has suffered a stroke sucking the life out of one half while leaving the other half worryingly perfect. A quote for the Century to be sure.
    Lets change it.

  2. Anand is brilliant ,insightful, compassionate, articulate and many other superlatives I can think of. God bless him .

  3. Amazing talk but I do feel this dichotomy leaves out the native indigenous communities of the Americas. The sovereign nations that they live in. Where do they fit in?

  4. Mr Giridharadas describes the situation precisely as well as emotionally; the message he brings is very compelling. He is the kind of 'prophet' if you will, that can open the ears and hearts of people with his excellent speaking, which is both crystal clear and deeply personal. I hope his book has met with a high success rate, and that lives are affected, and people take heart to pick up his challenge.

  5. You are amazing Anand. Watched you on Trevor Noah and Hasan Minhaj and it’s amazing to see your growth over the years.

  6. I really like this talk and like the idea of going out and reaching out "there". The problem I see is that you won't be reaching out to people with such an open mind. A lot of the healing ways that he talks about is pretty much the basis of every religion, but when you see the hate, the blaming of "others", the staunch idea of socialism is bad, and the illusion of the feeling of losing status, when people are just becoming more equal in rights, it just seems like Sisyphean task. Most GOP supporters claim they're religious, so it's always a wonder to me why they vote against things that would help them. Bernie Sanders's 2016 platform was a start because he focused on the things everyone worries about. He was able to draw independents and people who were Republicans. Many Democratic candidates have picked up on this message in addressing the inequality, but I don't know if it's working the way it did back then.

  7. What the ordinary American person seems not understand is that it does not matter who gets to power in the branches (executive, legislative, or judiciary at any level, federal or state). None of them will defend the ordinary American person because they get put into those posts by the plutocrats of the country. If you do not believe what I say, just look at the reason candidates drop from any race: lack of money. So, politics in general (with a few exceptions) in the U.S. is tied to money. This means that those who have the money decide who gets to be a candidate for an election. So, people with money are the real constituents of those "elected" officials. From that perspective, America stopped long ago to be a "democracy" and the two party system is irrelevant. Actually, the two party system makes life easier for plutocrats to decide who they will support for office. Americans have been fooled and dumbed down by the system mounted by that 1 percent of the population. Americans do not understand that money should not be the parameter to become a candidate for office. If you want democracy again, you will have to change how candidates finance their campaigns. For example, instead of the super-PACs and the like of them, there should exist a common fund to finance campaigns. Money should be used to enhance the democratic process, not to buy offices for the candidates of your preference.

    I have been following the candidates of the Democratic Party and they are lost, they have no (or appear not to have) idea. Change will have to come from the outside and from somebody who is not wealthy enough to be part of that elite that has taken the U.S. hostage. For example, Elizabeth Warren openly says that Washington is corrupt while being part of that Washington that she accuses. That is blatant cynicism and lack of shame. The richest people and the current political establishment will never change that. That is the reason why, for example, Trump cannot change anything in America: he is an outsider but by wealth is part of the elite of power and he proves it every day. Change will have to come from people from the 99% of the population. Change will have to come from real independent leaders. Change will only occur when most people understand how bad Washington has gotten and, therefore, when people realize that no solution can be expected to come from there. It will have to be a revolution maybe by way of war or other type of civil unrest but with a clear strategy of what needs to be changed and why. The people in power, that elite, will never surrender power peacefully.

  8. Racial Supremacists need to educate their followers Souls to "know" they're nothing but Pawns indoctrinated to fight and be Imprisoned for a Corrupt Capitalist Rich Mens' War. And all that's ever Won is Death By Betrayal; "Clean Hands" exclaiming "I NEVER knew YOU!"

  9. damn don't tell me the Bangladeshi guy took on the black man's role of forgiving racists. Where does it say in the bible or koran that we must forgive people? isn't that up to GOD

  10. I know him from his latest work on the top 0.1%. Now, I know what he did before , I respect him even more. He truly is trying to make the two Americas to come together, as he said four hears ago. This story brought me to tears. I won’t be surprised if this is made into a movie.

  11. #yang2020 he will bring people together. I see #yanggang taking picture together and they all diverse of all colors and ethnicity.

  12. That was an amazing story and an amazing way to make me feel inspired to try harder to make a difference to others. Much more inspiring than any religious sermon. Thanks a lot!

  13. As a Hindu I'm always disgusted to see other Hindus always trying to portray Muslims as victims. Muslims never do the same for us especially when we are discriminated in Muslim majority countries. Instead of focussing on Muslims being discriminated in the US, he should probably spend more time speaking of the Hindus being treated as second class dogs in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

    Let's not forget the thousand years of invasions nor the 2.4 million bengali Hindus who were slaughtered by the Pakistani Muslim army in 1971

  14. Muslims of the world should abandon their radical faith and ideas in order to live that dream which they have as a human being, as an American… That's the only way.

  15. I remember the American middle class from when I was a kid. I come from a Canadian border town across the St. Lawrence River from upstate New York. I knew lots of American families. They sent their kids to fight in Vietnam. Some didn't but most did. Hard working, decent and patriotic people. They loved America not in a vain or Chauvinistic way. They knew the cost of freedom from the 2nd WW. They only lived a generation away from the sting of poverty, the Great Depression. They loved America but did not take their good fortune for granted. They knew you had to fight for freedom and do honest work to fight poverty. That is why they sent their kids to fight and die in Vietnam. Turns out they had been hoodwinked, nay betrayed by their own government. But they did believe they were fighting and dying to preserve the American way. Some say America has lost it's moral compass. Maybe. But real Americans know that they are always guided by that compass and that they have to uphold and protect it, against all enemies, foreign and domestic, always, continuously.

  16. My dad will always look at others and say that all your problems are your own fault, but then ask the government for handouts to save his million dollar farm. And get them.

  17. This is a powerful 20 minutes. I heard Anand speak at an event a couple of weeks ago about his new book, and now I am a big fan. I could listen to him talk all day.

  18. Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump exploited that gap to divide further, not to reunite Bill Clinton didn't attempt to reunite. Barrack Obamavaguely recognized it, but never put much effort inregards to it

  19. The surveillance and abuse of the rights of US citizens that started after 9/11 is only worse now as big tech and big money control social media, voters and government — we have to stand together to save each other because each person can’t, and mustn’t, try to save themself alone

  20. Good speaker. Captivating story. And this illustrates that strong families, engaged communities, and a majority of individuals of faith and values are what can save America.

    Indulging in the America's gifts only makes you part of the problem if you abandon faith, community, family, and values.

  21. Yang 2020, value every human life universally. Create an economy that trickles up and work for the common American person to lift the economic boot of Americans throats.

  22. Arand Giridharadas describes the encounter between victim Raisuddin "Rais" Bhuiyan and perpetrator
    Mark Stroman in a Dallas Mini Mart.

    Raisuddin later founded the organization World Without Hate . This is an inspirational , unbelieveable, true story.

    https://worldwithouthate.org/

  23. That the word "class" is attached to income puzzles me. I have many friends without real money; none of them is Middle Class. It's nice to have money; nicer to have your soul intact. That's what I call Upper Class!

  24. This has always been the history of all citizens from other countries. Nothing will change. in America You can pray all you want, the system is corrupted in America at all levels. The American mentality… to be in a perpetual war with anyone, if there are no conflicts around the world, Americans create them for you, they create the problem and the solution to Kill, Drill, Spill and loot your resources’.

  25. Sorry but listening to some South Asia lecture on race relations is about as pointless as listening to Stevie Wonder's interpretation of a painting. South Asians were considered white until Secular Jews came along and spread the lie of multiculturalism. Remember Indians are bigger bgots than any KKK member. They fucking hate white people

  26. If any minorities feel alone and disliked in USA maybe you won’t feel so bad, like it’s just you, because it’s not. Most white people feel the exact same way, and have no friends.

  27. Anand G is one smart writer.and presents himself as a scholar who knows the power of second chances.His eloquence places him in the company of West, Heges and Friedman.

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