We should make the best of every situation.
Believe that the glass is half full.
There is no point in complaining.
These are all things that many of us believe.
But they’re not true when it comes to complaining.
“COMPLAINERS ARE AMERICAN HEROES”
A wise judge uttered this phrase to me, and I couldn’t agree more. Here are three tales to convince you that complainers are American heroes.
The Sikh Doctor with the Perfect Case
The wise judge told the story of a Sikh doctor who received a voicemail from a potential employer that the employer, a hospital, wanted to hire him but that his turban would make patients uncomfortable, so the hospital would not be hiring him.
The wise judge and others urged the Sikh doctor to complain, but he refused. The Sikh doctor responded that he did not want to make things worse for other Sikhs and that he could find another job, so he did not want to complain to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or file a lawsuit.
The wise judge proclaimed that this was EXACTLY the kind of case that every civil rights lawyer dreams of. There was hard evidence of discrimination in a voicemail that could be played to a jury. Such concrete evidence is rare in an employment discrimination case.
Complaining to the right parties, including the EEOC, could have meant policy changes that would end (or at least reduce) discrimination against Sikh men who wore turbans.
But as Asian Americans, we are reluctant to complain. Be it because of language issues, cultural beliefs, or just a lack of access to power structures to complain to, we just don’t want to. Women are even more hesitant–most of us South Asian women were taught to let things go, accommodate others, and generally not rock the boat.
But complainers are American heroes.
The Political Process
At the Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Diabetes Coalition Conference, Congressman Mike Honda urged attendees to complain to our congresspersons about issues facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He said we had to ask the hard questions of our legislators and demand face to face meetings for answers. This type of political action is essential in getting federal attention for issues facing our communities.
In this way, complainers can help change their communities for the better by tapping into political channels to create change.
|Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) taught us the right way to complain to legislators about issues facing our communities.|
At the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders conference for Federal Employees, Amardeep Singh, Co-Founder of the Sikh Coalition told us that despite bullies victimizing large numbers of Sikh children in American public schools, the Department of Education reported only a small number of complaints on the issue.
Because they hadn’t heard complaints, the Department of Education did not think bullying was an issue in the Sikh community.
Perhaps as a reaction to our refusal to complain, the Sikh Coalition created FlyRights, smartphone app that allows travelers to quickly and easily complain to the TSA about discrimination. If you haven’t yet, you should download it here.
|Want to complain the right way? There’s an app for that.|
When we formally complain, political and other leaders can no longer hide behind the excuse that they didn’t know there was a problem. That is the first step to finding a solution.
A Mom’s Tale
These lessons about complaining did not fall on deaf ears. I decided that I was going to be an American hero too.
If something was wrong, I’d complain. The right way — calmly, firmly, and offering a constructive solution.
Indian American Toddler goes to a daycare that provides meals to the children, but only provided vegetarian lunches 5 times out of the month. This meant that Indian American Dad and I had to supplement with home-packed lunches most days of the month. This took us extra time and wasn’t fair given how much we pay for daycare (it’s a lot). Plus, when we took the daycare tour, we’d been assured by staff that they had had many vegetarian children, and their food needs were accommodated.
I wrote to the director stating that we wanted the daycare to provide vegetarian lunches, that we paid as much as everyone else and deserved to have our child’s needs accommodated, and that I was willing to work with the daycare to suggest appropriate vegetarian options.
I didn’t know what to expect. The daycare staff seemed reluctant, saying that they did not know if they could accommodate the request, because the children’s menus were fixed. After some back and forth….
The daycare will be providing all of the center children the option of vegetarian meals EVERY DAY! Not only that, but the vegetarian option will be similar to the non-vegetarian option (e.g. if the other kids are eating pasta with sausage, Indian American Toddler will get pasta with soy sausage or tomato sauce). Now I’m not the biggest fan of fake meats (actually many of them make me sick and we try to stay away from too many processed foods), but I’ll take it!
If I hadn’t complained, neither Indian American Toddler nor the other children at the center would have had appropriate vegetarian options.
Are You An American Hero?
Your turn. Tell me a story about a time you complained. What happened? Do you think complainers are American heroes? Why or why not?
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