vol 2: south asians, we need to step up for Black lives

a handy guide for south asian friends + allies

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Dear South Asian friends & community:

If you’re on social media, you’ve likely learned of the murder of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, by a white and Asian police officer. You’ve probably seen images of riots, looting, and police violence. You might be feeling shock, fear, or grief — I have certainly felt all those things in the past few days. You might also be wondering: what exactly can, and should, you do? This blog is here to help.

Let’s be clear: South Asians are not directly responsible for violence against the Black community, but that doesn’t mean we’re not part of the problem. Our voices — and our silence — have enormous political power. If we continue to stay mostly silent about police brutality, we’re allowing violence to continue. But if we speak up, educate ourselves, and turn up as a community in support of our Black friends, that can go a long way. By donating to organizations, raising awareness, and voting for justice-oriented political candidates, we are far from helpless bystanders.

There are many reasons why South Asians might stay silent about violence against Black people. We might think that this isn’t our fight, or that it isn’t our place to speak up about politics. We might be concerned with appearing too radical and divisive to our friends, colleagues, and family. Or we might be unsure of whether we personally agree with the Black Lives Matter and anti-police movements. I used to have these reservations, too, and I hope this post can help us find some clarity.

First, a crash course: I’m going to be using terms like “white supremacy” and “police brutality” a lot, so here I’ll explain what I mean. By “white supremacy,” I’m referring to a social and political system in America that promotes white people at the expense of Black people, indigenous people, and other people of color (POC). White supremacy began with American slavery, and it continues in the form of widespread discrimination against POC. (For a better understanding of how injustice against Black Americans didn’t end with slavery, read this article.) White supremacy impacts every part of American life, from education to criminal justice to politics. It’s kind of similar to British imperialism over South Asia: it wounds and exploits the entire population for generations, and it must be actively resisted and overthrown.

Police brutality” is part of the system of white supremacy. As South Asians, many of us have positive opinions of the police: we trust them to investigate disturbances, regulate traffic, and guard public events. Unfortunately, police in America have a long history of oppressing and murdering Black Americans. American police originated with slave patrols designed to capture runaway enslaved Africans. During the Civil Rights Movement, the police beat and attacked protestors, and even arrested Martin Luther King Jr. multiple times. The police imprison Black men en masse for minor drug offenses. (Watch this brilliant Netflix documentary about it!) To this day, police continue to murder unarmed Black men without consequences. (For all these reasons, I personally support abolishing the police.) In short, South Asians must understand that the police are dangerous to our Black friends.

So, now that we’re all familiar with these problems, you might be wondering: why is this a fight for South Asians?

The answer is: it’s always been our fight. We owe our ability to live and thrive in America to generations of Black freedom fighters, leaders, and activists. Without them, it would be impossible for non-white people to have homes, jobs, legal rights, and education in this country. White America hasn’t always been welcoming to South Asians — in fact, prior to 1965, it was illegal for us to immigrate. The COVID-19 outbreak has shown how quickly white America turned on East Asians, just as 9/11 showed how they turned on brown and Muslim-Americans. If it weren’t for the advocacy of generations of Black Americans, the possibility of a multiracial America would not exist at all. Our fates in America are tied to the fates of other communities of color. South Asians have been working alongside Black communities since the years of decolonization and independence. We need to stand with our Black friends, because our fights against white supremacy are connected.

Another reason that South Asians might not speak up about police brutality is because we’re worried about being seen as too extreme or radical. It is understandable to be afraid to speak up: freedom fights are never easy. But I also think we have a long heritage of standing up for the right thing, and it’s particularly important for younger generations to speak up. Those of us who were born in America have a unique stake in making it a better place. Asian-Americans have a long history of radicalism and justice. In fact, the term Asian-American was invented by college activists in California, who were inspired by the civil rights movement and dreamed of activating a coalition of people from immigrant backgrounds to organize against inequality.

Fighting against white supremacy also requires confronting the racism within our South Asian community. Unfortunately, South Asians can be very anti-Black. It’s a common belief that South Asians are successful in America because we are law-abiding and hard-working, and Black Americans are not. This belief is known as the model minority myth, and it’s exactly that — a myth. Black Americans have built this country and democracy with their labor, but they face immense barriers, inequalities, and oppressions that South Asians do not. As an immigrant community, South Asians had our fair share of struggles, but America was not built directly to oppress us. Many (but not all) South Asians immigrated to the U.S. at a unique point in history where the American Dream operated exactly as it was advertised to us. In the 1980s and 90s, immigration laws were friendly to South Asians, permitting us to migrate, build families, and often achieve prosperity. There has never been such a welcoming period for Black Americans; yet we owe our place in this country to them. Pitting us against Black Americans is a strategy used by white supremacy to keep us divided. Don’t fall for it!

These are some of the reasons why South Asians need to step up for Black lives, and the discussion points I outlined above can be useful ways to open conversations and educate your South Asian family and friends. Now, here are some ways we can help our Black neighbors:

Demand justice, immediately, for the stolen Black lives. Contact Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey to demand justice at 612-673-2100. You should also contact your own representatives and ask them what they’re doing to stop police brutality. Reposting social media images is another way to demand justice, but be careful not to repost unnecessarily violent or traumatizing images.

Donate to Black activists and organizers. Here is a GoFundMe for George Floyd’s family. Here you can donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, which is a grassroots organization working to protect protestors who have been arrested. (And in case you are having a hard time justifying protests, remind yourself: riots and protests were part of our independence process, as well.) Here you can donate to Reclaim the Block, a grassroots Minnesota organization.

Whenever possible, don’t call the police. Even though the police are (usually) good to us, by bringing police into our neighborhoods, we may inadvertently endanger Black people. Police have been known to shoot “suspicious” Black men for no reason at all. If something is stolen, go to the police station yourself. There’s really no need to call the police on noise complaints, or loitering people, or trespassing on property — especially if nobody is getting hurt. This article has great resources on alternatives to calling the police.

Call out anti-Black comments in your friend groups. The next time a South Asian friend suggests that Black people have an “easier” time getting into college, don’t laugh it off — call them out for it! The next time a South Asian friend uses derogatory language like “thug” or “gangster” or “ghetto” — call them out for it! You’re ultimately doing them a favor. It’s much better to politely and kindly educate your friends than to let their racism fester and lead to bad consequences later on.

Doctors, take Black patients seriously. There is a well-documented phenomenon of Black patients facing racism in the medical world. Doctors are less likely to take Black pain and symptoms seriously, and Black people often receive sub-par health care; the maternal mortality rate for Black mothers in America parallels that in developing nations. Since there are many South Asians in the healthcare world, we can really make a difference here.

Please stop saying the n-word. This one goes out to brown teenage boys — yes, you in your Dad’s Tesla, listening to Drake, and wearing chains! The n-word has a horrific history, and does not belong in non-Black mouths. Your use of the n-word, even casually or in rap lyrics, normalizes racism and puts unnecessary stress on Black Americans. It is hypocritical for you to enjoy basketball, rap, and hiphop, and stay silent on issues of police brutality. You can’t appropriate Black culture and not defend Black people. It’s simply not cute.

Read, follow, and support Black writers, thinkers, and leaders. We don’t learn anything about race or justice in school, so we need to educate ourselves. Some of my favorite thinkers are Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Brittany Packnett. They’re all brilliant educators on social media. Re-share their posts and diversify your social media bubbles. My friend Brea Baker also compiled this essential reading list. Learn alongside your friends, even if your education has to be socially-distanced.

Most importantly, don’t stop talking about racism. The world has been shut down by Covid-19, but brutality against the Black community has not. In the past weeks, we’ve learned that Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by the disease, due to historic lack of access to healthcare and healthy living. In enforcing social distancing orders, police have over-targeted Black communities. And in the past month, we’ve grieved multiple Black lives lost to white supremacist and police violence, including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Our silence continues to normalize the problem. Use this guide to talk to your friends.

Thank you so much for reading. Together, we can make a better future! <3

in solidarity,