#blacklivesmatter for the South Asian community
The purpose of this post is simple. First, I want to share the story of how the lives of Black people and other people of color are intertwined, as represented by my own life experiences. However before I start, I would like to note that I am far from perfect. I want to show how my life has been a journey in learning, re-learning, and even un-learning certain “facts” about Black people that were ingrained as a result of growing up with certain ideologies in Desi culture. With all that being said, I have been absorbing a lot of information in the past weeks, months, and years with my interactions with my Black friends and teachers, and I look to further engage in conversations and gather as much knowledge as much as I can in becoming a stronger ally. I hope those of you reading this come out recognizing the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, as there still seems to be some misunderstanding.
It is imperative that one understands that Black Lives Matter is discussing major issues: many innocent Black lives are being taken away for absolutely NO reason by law enforcement individuals and Black people are facing systemic racism everyday. Guided by a system that serves to protect those who created it hundreds of years ago, why wouldn’t that be the case? A system designed to “protect and serve” the community should not be destroying medical equipment or inducing fear during peaceful protests, as evident from the militarization of college campuses and other areas.
These demands have been long overdue. This may be an uncomfortable topic of conversation, but that is because it is supposed to be. Being prejudiced, discriminated against, and fearful of being murdered for hundreds of years based only on the fact that one’s skin is Black as opposed to White is a much more uncomfortable reality, and a real one. In order to identify with some of the country’s highs, you have be willing to do the same for the lows, much like a reconstructing Germany did during the aftereffects of the Nazi regime:
For Germany, the road to prosperity began with trust, Gardner Feldman says. Germany realized that if it were to rejoin the international community, it could not run from its crimes but had to confront them.
One cannot simply brush racism under the rug and say that “All Lives Matter” or “I don’t see color.” You’re ignoring the identity of Black individuals, what they’ve faced and what they’re continuing to face today. So let’s all lend an ear, for once, and listen.
When I first arrived to the United States with my parents, I was frightened. No, not because of racism, or any of those big adult concepts we may have heard about on the news as a kid. As a carefree three-year old, I was afraid of the trick-or-treaters on Halloween, dressed up like ghosts, witches, monsters, and more.
After we’re born, we grow up fearing various things. Some happen because of biological mechanisms —ghosts, witches, and monsters can be frightening and therefore threatening to our lives. Other threats include fears of heights, drowning, fire, etc. Over time, I learned that these costumes weren’t so intimidating after all.
But as we get older, some fears form due to both unintentional and intentional conditioning from our family, peers, communities, news, culture, and more. A multitude of arenas in society influence our perception of the world as we know it. From this learning, we may pick up on subtle anti-Black notions. If you’re a minority, you’ve heard it, observed it, felt it. That feeling. You know, the one where you feel that this may be wrong as a person, but the people that you trust feel this way. So maybe it is right?
Over the next few years, my family moved around a lot. I had a sample of life within communities ranging from predominantly Desi and Asian people, Black people, Hispanic people, to White people. Unknowingly, I had the chance to learn about each community’s triumphs and their struggles.
In particular, I remember hanging out at my friend Daniel’s place as an eight-year old. I overheard a news report on the TV discussing a Black man who was shot to death by a police officer. I knew killing was wrong, but I held the false notion that the “bad guy” must have done something wrong to deserve being killed by the cops, who I deemed the “good guys.”
Soon after the news report ended, Daniel’s dad spoke up. He told Daniel and his sister to get home right after school the next day, and to avoid being near any areas with police. Daniel nodded in understanding, while a look of fear shot over his face.
I guess I forgot to mention that Daniel was Black.
At the time, I didn’t quite understand why his dad said what he said. I just knew that my friend felt uncomfortable and afraid. The moment passed, and I went home. When the same news report was on at home, my parents changed the channel.
Here I was, an idealist, believing that cops were there to provide justice and get rid of “bad guys.” I felt guilty that even though Daniel was a close friend, I could not truly see or feel what he was going through. But maybe that was okay? Maybe it’s not to truly understand what a Black individual undergoes on a daily basis, this may be impossible, but to respect and listen to them, and to affirm that their fears and struggles are valid.
Growing up, much like many other Brown guys, I fell in love with basketball and hip-hop music. Both were and still are predominantly Black enterprises. But it’s usually not even Black people that profit the most out of it. Something about the struggle, the emotion, the strength that many Black artists and Black basketball players carried with them daily spoke volumes to me, a voiceless Indian kid who didn’t really know his place in the world.
After moving away from Daniel to a more Desi area, however, Indian culture molded me at home. I went to the temple with my parents biweekly, and our family friends were almost all South Asian. In a streamlined effort by my Indian culture, I was encouraged to work hard and focus on getting into a good college. As a result I lived a sheltered life — sheltered from the harsh realities that Black people face day-to-day.
Upon being so out-of-tune with the reality that my Black friends were facing, I lost perspective. I failed to see that my Brown community’s use of racial taboos diminished the efforts of Black people, efforts in which they aspire to take back what is theirs. I failed to see that by appropriating Black culture (basketball, hip-hop, art), and not appreciating their significance on Black lives, I was undermining and therefore further perpetuating the notion that their culture was just a commodity for the rest of us. By committing these acts, I wasn’t helping their situation, but making it significantly worse. I felt shame over the idea that my friend Daniel would be disappointed in me. Over the course of high school and college, I’m super grateful to have found resources, whether intentionally or unintentionally, in broadening my knowledge on the topics of racism.
In addition to all of this, I now know that many family friends already residing in the United States (aka uncles/aunties), along with the American news channels that our parents watched, conditioned me and many other Brown kids into believing that Black people were more likely to commit crimes, do drugs, hurt others, etc. As a result you have Brown kids going from a more open-minded approach to race and justice to a much more confused and convoluted one. Even kids like me who had grown up with Black kids in their immediate vicinity may unknowingly change perspectives. But how did this notion even originate?
The model minority myth.
Little did I know at the time, my family arrived here due to the efforts of Black Americans leading the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. I believe the intent of many Desi parents is pure: protecting their children from the harsh realities of the world, while ensuring that they are successful and moral people. However, the anti-Black and anti-color rhetoric that stemmed from British colonial times began rearing its ugly head into a new generation of brown people, hiding behind a shroud of justification: the “Model Minority Myth.” This myth suggests that immigrants who came to the United States after the Civil Rights Movement were “superior” minorities because of their education, status, etc. This was especially perpetuated by the fact that before moving to America, many Desis never really came face-to-face with a Black person or knew of their history, and a predominantly White society took advantage of the fact.
This is a major issue considering South Asia’s interwoven history with Black people.
Langston Hughes even wrote in “How ‘Bout it Dixie” of the intertwined relationship between Black and Indian movements during this time:
Throughout the 1900s, South Asians have mutually supported and benefited from the advancements of Black people. Martin Luther King, Jr. demonstrated peaceful protests guided by the principles of Mahatma Gandhi. The colonial regime in India and American jim-crow laws similarly shackled the people from reaching the freedoms that they so desperately desired. Anirvan Chatterjee writes about the specific laws that restricted South Asian immigration, and the one that our Black brothers and sisters fought for in solidarity with us:
We are in the United States today because African American activists organized, bled, and died to overturn the racist laws keeping us out. American laws long restricted immigration from South Asia. While several thousand South Asians had journeyed to the United States by the early 20th century, the Immigration Act of 1917 explicitly barred our immigration. Three decades later, the 1946 Luce-Cellar Act loosened the restrictions — but allowed in only one hundred Indian immigrants per year.
The civil rights movement won one of its biggest victories with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, which created South Asian America as we know it today. This law ended the racist restrictive immigration quotas, allowing us to become one of the fastest-growing populations in the United States, with over 3.5 million South Asians in the United States today.
While the burden of the civil rights movement was carried largely by African Americans, perhaps no group has benefited as much from African American activism as Indian (and particularly upper-caste Hindu) Americans.
It’s absurd that, after only 50–60 years of being here, a vast majority of South Asians live in better neighborhoods with higher quality school systems, have higher paying jobs and therefore a significantly greater average household income, obtain better quality healthcare, and just plain have resources that help them achieve the quality lives that they dreamed of. Better livelihoods than Black people, the ones who assisted us in getting us here, the ones whose ancestors have been here for hundreds of years.
At this point, I would like you to take a pause. Think. Feel.
Growing up in an Indian community, we are taught to respect our elders and do what is right. But this feels like a form of hypocritical cultural gaslighting, especially since many innocent Black people are being killed… and we are just watching. Why is that despite a vast majority of school shooters and serial killers being White (threats that are much more pervasive), Desis are still more afraid of Black people?
Is that morally right? We reap the benefits from a society that burdened the ones that fought for OUR rights? Isn’t that counterintuitive to the notion that Indian culture focuses on raising children with the highest moral values?
The famous psychological concept of “The Theory of Falsification” comes to mind. Karl Popper suggested that one cannot deduce something about the present state in the world based ONLY in the knowledge that we have obtained in the past. Rather, it is more reasonable to acknowledge that the future may open the possibility for the said state.
The example that he uses is that one may assume “all swans are white.” However, if by off chance one observes a black swan, then this disproves the entire theory. This discovery stems from the fact that Popper believed that we should seek disproving a theory, rather than proving a theory. This ‘confirmation bias’ idea is summarized as this — one cannot jump to a conclusion without hearing all of the available information. Doing so will lead to only seeking information that supports that incomplete theory, rather than researching and seeking out more knowledge to better support a more legitimate theory.
In relationship to the state of Black people in America today, the wealth of information and opinions available can be overwhelming, especially from the South Asian community:
“Desi people face more racism than any other ethnic group, especially due to 9/11.”
“Black urban areas have highly concentrated crime rates, so that must mean they’re doing something wrong.”
“Did you hear about the Black man who got pulled over for drugs? Drugs originate from them.”
“Make sure to lock your car and house doors, I heard this area has a lot of Black people.”
These comments serve in conditioning our youth and ignorant into thinking that a group is inferior to us. Don’t fall into the trap! I strongly believe that most people are good, and by people, I mean anyone who bleeds the same blood that I do.
This is why it is crucial that we acknowledge that we may not know everything, but we should seek information to support our moral reasoning. We all know that killing is wrong, and that injustices happen. But sitting idly behind a computer screen, or just reading about it won’t do any good. This cartoon below sums it up well.
Notice how in the picture for “Justice,” the group on the left is actively supporting (the wooden planks) the group on the right, while the group on the right is given the tools to reach the tree equally.
As I scroll down my seemingly endless, somewhat embarrassing thread of social media posts through middle school, high school, college, and even now, I am actively noticing that I have lived a very privileged life. Yes, I’ve faced racist remarks about being Brown or 9/11 and been gaslighted by people of my own culture for being darker-skinned. But I’ve never, ever, EVER faced the amount of blatant, fear-inducing racism that Black people in the United States have met with since the establishment of this country.
I joined my high school’s alumni page, and the conversations are happening more than I have ever witnessed before. People that I never thought would step up have, and a rather alarming amount of predominantly White adults prefer to live in a state of nostalgia of their high school experiences, rather than acknowledging the ever-present issues of racism. Racism and police brutality are not political issues; they are humanitarian issues.
Jumping back to the issue of non-Black people of color, the person who reported George Floyd was a minority. Aside from two of the cops, the others in the vicinity of George’s murder were minorities. We as minorities cannot stand by and watch this type of brutality anymore.
I can’t speak for other cultures, but my Indian culture taught me to respect others. How is it that the same culture that taught me to respect, taught me to condemn a fellow human being for ending up in a situation that is most likely not their choice. With Black people specifically, it seems many Desis are likely to attribute it to an internal locus of control, rather than external. I’m speaking about how historically, Black people have been pushed into predominantly White areas by White landowners in order to drive up prices, only to have the White people move out due to fear. I’m talking about how Black people have been lynched for centuries, but this movement is happening now because social media has captured America’s inhumanities. I’m talking about how Black men are significantly more likely to be killed than White men, despite being only 13.4% of the population of the United States as opposed to a whopping 76.5%.
In an effort to go from listening, to speaking, to acting, I want to attach some resources that helped me and my friends out a lot in better understanding systemic racism and police brutality against Black people in America, and what you can do to act. They range from college classes, to books/articles, to songs, to movies/videos. If you haven’t checked them out, I encourage you to do so. I encourage everyone to have these conversations with each other so that we can grow.
I want a future where no one stands for inhumanities and injustices, no matter the color of our skin or our identities, and this starts with supporting Black Lives Matter. To those saying all lives matter, or saying that you do not see color: please consider the possibility that history is relevant to the present discussion of events. Though color may not matter to you, take note that this may be coming from a position of privilege, rather than respect and empathy. Color does matter, as it has for centuries. Ethnicity matters. Our backgrounds are all relevant to our stories and identities, so they do matter. To say that color does not matter, or to reduce the argument of Black Lives Matter is saying you think you know what Black people are going through. You have not and will not feel the duration of pain and suffering that Black people in America have felt for generations, and you never will. It is up to our individual efforts to learn about these issues so that we can challenge them, rather than just wait for action to take place. And this is why it is extremely important that you take a chance to listen, learn, and act.