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South Asians in the US must support #BlackLivesMatter, but first undo your own anti-Blackness

Indian Americans are indifferent to the history of Black liberation struggles that paved the way for their own families to immigrate & enjoy benefits in America.

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For South Asians committed to ending state violence against Black people, it has always been clear that our work goes further, that we must also work to undo anti-Blackness within our own communities. The hard conversations with our parents and our uncles and aunties about white supremacy, anti-Black racism, and solidarity are not usually easy or fruitful.

But there are moments of clarity and windows of possibility.

Many people have now heard the story of the Gandhi Mahal Restaurant, located just three doors down from the 3rd precinct which was burned down on May 28th in Minneapolis (read the NY Times story here). The restaurant owners are Bangladeshi immigrants and they turned the Gandhi Mahal into a staging area for medics and a resting place for protesters dealing with tear gas during the uprising. According to the New York Times: “As wounds were bandaged and hands were held in the front room, [Ruhel Islam] was in the kitchen, preparing daal, basmati rice and naan” for the protesters. Overnight, the fire from the 3rd precinct reached the Gandhi Mahal and it was severely damaged. Still, Mr. Islam said: “Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served.”

When I heard about the Gandhi Mahal restaurant, it reminded me of a conversation I had in 2014 with employees at the Ferguson Market & Liquor where 18-year-old Michael Brown stopped before his murder at the hands of Darren Wilson, a police officer. An Indian worker I spoke with there expressed similar support for protesters and criticized the discriminatory policing he regularly observed, noting that “the real problem is with cops who stop African-Americans.” In an interview with India Abroad, Anil Gopal, the president of the St. Louis Asian Indian Business Association and a 21-year resident of Ferguson said that “a lot of black people came to help the (desi) community. They came out in droves to help clean up the neighborhood, and helped the victims clean up their stores. Some of them even kept vigil outside the store as long as they could to protect the stores.”

These may be small and rare parts of the bigger story around police brutality targeting Black people in this country, but for South Asians, they are meaningful and significant. These stories remind us that it is possible to build bridges, to understand the systemic failures of policing in this country, and to fight for justice for Black lives. While these stories don’t reflect the experiences of every desi shop owner in this country, they do provide an alternative to the narrative we often hear: that South Asians and Black communities do not have common cause and that immigrant business owners do not care about Black customers and residents. Mr. Islam, who said he grew up in a “traumatic police state” in Bangladesh, understood the anger and frustrations of Black people. The Indian store clerk I spoke with in Ferguson understood the class and race connections between communities of color.

More broadly, these stories, even with the complexities underlying them, reflect the foundations of solidarity practice: centering those most affected by inequality, understanding that the systems, institutions, and policies of white supremacy target us all, and taking steps to support and co-conspire for shared liberation.

For those South Asians who are privileged by virtue of class, caste, or immigration status, the stories of South Asian shop owners in Minneapolis and Ferguson may not resonate. Many South Asians take the “racial bribe” and climb the racial ladder in a futile attempt to reach the status of whiteness. They are the ones calling protesters “looters” and differentiating themselves as model minorities. Still others remain indifferent to understanding the history of Black liberation struggles that paved the way for their own families to immigrate and enjoy benefits in America. Some are silent and apathetic, seemingly oblivious to the civil unrest happening around them. Getting more South Asians to understand the importance of dismantling the systems of white supremacy is not easy, especially when we see images of Indians filling up a stadium in Houston in support of a Hindu nationalist leader or recognize that there are people from our own communities who actively support the current Administration despite its anti-immigrant policies.

But that doesn’t mean we can stop. We must continue to amplify the importance of solidarity with Black communities and undo anti-Blackness within our own people. That means explaining how white supremacy and racism are devastating all people of color including South Asians. It means acknowledging that the full liberation of Black communities leads to the freedom of all people. It means explaining that when we perpetuate anti-Blackness, that we are being complicit ourselves in reinforcing systems of oppression that harm our own people too. And it means coming from a place of love and compassion.

We must keep trying, and we can look to the stories of Minneapolis and Ferguson shop owners as starting points and inspiration.

Also read: Indians who support Kapil Mishra are saying #BlackLivesMatter. Let that sink in

Below are 10 action steps that South Asians can take:

Step 1: Donate

To help protesters get out of jail around the country with bail funds > https://www.communityjusticeexchange.org/national-bail-fund-network. Then, donate to Black-led organizations in your area and to South Asian and Asian American organizations with an explicit commitment to be in solidarity with Black communities. Every dollar does count.

Step 2Show up safely on real streets or coordinate South Asian solidarity actions on digital streets.

With digital conversations, plan an agenda to discuss: “How can South Asians show up for Black lives?” Discuss using the guides in Step 4, and then come up with a plan of action with 1 individual action + 3 collective steps (examples: deepen my own analysis and share it; support a local group; commit to 2 community conversations; ask a place of worship or cultural group to make a statement of solidarity).

Step 3. Sign a letter of solidarity (for Asian American groups and individuals) organized by the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL) in Minnesota > https://caalmn.org/api4georgefloyd/.

Step 4Learn about South Asian communities and the imperative for building solidarity with Black communities.

>For a starting point: read Vijay Prashad’s Karma of Brown Folk.

>For post 9/11 analysis on solidarity with Black communities: read a chapter from my bookWe Too Sing America, called “Ferguson is Everywhere” that provides community stories along a framework for discussions and political education (link).

> Check out Anirvan Chatterjee’s The Secret History of South Asian and African American Solidarity for historical examples of cross-racial solidarity.

>For courageous conversations with family, use this guide with exercises developed by the Queer South Asian National Network (link).

Step 5. Take a stand.

Share your commitment to dismantling anti-Black racism and the demands of Black communities (step 7) with friends, networks, and on social media.

Also read: Taylor Swift calls out Trump for stoking ‘fires of white supremacy’ over Minneapolis protests

Step 6. Then ask others to take a stand. 

Ask your networks, organizations, places of worship, and campus groups to make solidarity statements. Check out @SouthAsians4BlackLives on Instagram for visuals and messages.

Step 7Understand and Support the Demands from Black Communities. 

Insist on investments in communities and divestment from law enforcement. Here’s a report from MPD_150 (link) and a mini-syllabus on prison & police abolition (link). You can take an Abolition in Policing workshop from Critical Resistance here, and see demands from Color of Change (link) that address use-of-force, profit motives in policing and more in the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, and Breonna Taylor.

Step 8Support the Gandhi Mahal in Minneapolis >


Step 9Ensure that South Asian solidarity struggles also include confronting casteism, Hindutva, and Islamophobia. 

Learn more from South Asian groups here and read about caste abolition from Equality Labs here. In fact, in communities advocated for the passage of a city council resolution in St. Paul against the human rights violations in India (link).

Step 10. When the urgency stops, don’t stop acting:

Dismantling white supremacy is a long-term commitment. Even when it’s not on the news, we need to show up for each other. Practice self-care and community care, and build your daily plan for transformative solidarity.

This article was first published at Medium.com

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  1. This article is height of double standards and hypocrisy. You talk Indians supporting blacks but what was the last time blacks helped Indians overcome their stereotypes????
    It never even happened. And what about the ethnic cleansing of idi Amin in Uganda.

    You liberal fascists you are the ones that drag down Indians on world stage. Liberal BBC cucks

    • I consider myself liberal mostly. I agree with Print on most things.
      But not with this. And that’s due to facts. African Americans see Asians as targets, not allies.
      There are many sub-classes in the Black community, many of which are quite decent people, but not the main group.

      Black on Asian Crime is 280 times more common than Asian on Black crime. Their culture finds us easy targets.
      That’s 28000% higher crime than converse. That is seriously messed up. It is the worst crime culture in the world today that never takes responsibility for anything and says looting is their right and reparations. They burnt quite a few Indian American businesses in these protests. I don’t think anyone even said sorry. They actually worship crime and criminals and make them celebrities.

      A black child rapist with outstanding warrants gets shot by police while resisting and their community burns Indian-American used-car business to the ground. For what? They just demonstrated why we need more police, not less.

  2. Yes yes we should all give black people more freedom then everyone else so they can them butcher each other senseless as already happens in almost every country in the world. More people die fro. Black on black attitude and greed violence then the one off person that dies in police custody every ten years. campaigning when they need to put their own houses in order first.

    Also on the history of black rights protests they never ever ever talk about other ethnic groups. Seems like black rights movements only care about black rights ONLY, freebies in compensation for people that existed in an earlier thst month longer alive today and freedom from arrest if they get caught of a crime. Isn’t it odd that only black hip hop artists glorify drugs violence murder etc. Their youths long for that lifestyle. If you commit crim you get arrested. And if you live in a black area expect more black convictions. Just statistics.

  3. If Indian Americans think their own freedom and opportunity have nothing to do with the struggles for equality of the Black people, I find that sad. When you have found privilege, it’s easy to lose support for who are left behind.

  4. Dear Meera,
    I condemn all form of discrimination. I just want to ask you one question: what kind of reaction would you have expected to see if George Floyd was a religious minority from Pakistan? Would you have ever gotten to know about it? If you did, what would you have done about it? Would you have galvanized your Afro-Canadian friends to condemn it/speak out so vocally that it becomes an international issue? Would there have been a ” a poor innocent South Asian Minority Lives Matter movement? I believe the answer would have been no. Because, no body really cares about the trials and tribulations of the South Asians in the W
    est. They have really no one to speak for them. That is why they have timidly learnt to survive by keeping quiet. When two elephants fight, the grass suffers. Here, the grass is trying to stay safe by not taking sides, or at least not being too vocal about it. The day the media starts taking injustices to South Asians seriously, and highlighting the racism they too experience at the same level as this event. Then, the Asians shall not shy away from speaking against injustice.

  5. Truly an absurd article. Gandhi himself put his life in the line to free India from the terrible British regime and bring Indians their dignity back. In turn he inspired MLK to go ahead with his movement in America. So don’t you dare imply Indians haven’t played their part in western civil rights. It started with Gandhi, of it wasn’t for him the British colonial rule would never have ended.

    And South Asians have absolutely nothing in common with black Americans. South Asians have a rich and ancient culture to draw from, they are proud of their roots and spiritual culture, they live with pride. Black’s on the other hand came as unwanted slaves who were stranded after slavery was abolished. They don’t have a culture or roots to fall back on. That’s why they try so hard to be loved by others, but it’s tough for the world to love and respect you when you are known for crime and under achievement.

    South Asians owe absolutely nothing to Black’s, it’s true they look down upon Black’s and fear them and pity them, but that isn’t a fault on their part. You’re responsible for your reputation. South Asians have earned their esteemed status by absolutely dominating in studies and in turn dominating in their chosen fields. Thats why they’re respected and aren’t hunted by cops. Black’s get sad when faced with this reality but in life you need to face up to sad truths at times. You can’t just cry racism all day

  6. I find this type of overhanded forced inclusion of many cultures a type of racism in itself. Who are you to push us into one generic South Asian group? What’s the end game here?

  7. This title is a little overwhelming and a bit too generalized. Most Indians who live in US are educated and modern. Just because some people who hold on to their castes and surnames, we cant bunch everyone to be a racist. I feel it’s unwarranted to call on everyone to be anti-black.

  8. When the division is also about the haves and have nots how can you expect the haves to joint the have nots. When an average Indian is better off than an average white American how can you expect him to support the agitation.
    Majority of the Indians are first and second generation migrants who are still busy making their own lives.
    Our own anti-Blackness, has less to do with the color of the skin, but more to do with the family culture, which is non-existent in the African American population which unfortunately never did migrate as families, the dominant migrant society kept them away from opportunities till very recently.
    While a considerable number is coming out of both the above, a big lot still remains in the category of have nots.
    Aspirations are always for going up the social and financial ladder not down.


  10. People like Deepa Iyer who are associated with Jihadi loving groups can whine and moan as much as she wants. Not a penny to these Jihadi loving leftist terrorist.

    We are Americans of Indian origin and do NOT call us South Asians. And Pakis and Bangladeshis have their Islamic network which will help them.

  11. In your #9 recommendation, calling people to stand up for casteism, Hindutva and Islamophobia is welcome, however I do not know whether this is an inadvertent mistake or intentional omission, either way it’s a missed opportunity not to call for standing up to radical Islam. This kind of discriminatory preaching is rampant in so called left liberal media which needs in itself needs an “undo” , if you want your message to hold any water.

  12. I’m not sure how any of the suggestions you’ve made here would change something that requires redress at the grassroots level.
    You need to address issues with black communities facing poverty, addictions lack of education.etc. they need to stop focusing on being black and more on being individuals with identities.
    The community structure they have if it has to endure could benefit from cultural revitalization and new perspectives.
    And need to understand that there’s always going to be some nuts white or otherwise that are going to react out of fear, being trigger happy.
    Best to avoid a confrontation with them as much as possible while being polite and following directives calmly.

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