Calling out our own community when such dilution happens is important and urgent.
The recent murder of George Floyd, in a spate of a long line of similar murders of unarmed black men, women, children, and transfolk, at the hands of a white police officer has shaken the consciousness of a whole nation and the world. Floyd’s murder not only adds to heaping evidence of unwarranted police brutality against African Americans, which are rarely punished, it has also become a symbol of the long history of systematic discrimination, slavery, and racism that African Americans have had to endure over several centuries. Their struggle, both past and present, is an important topic for all South Asians to recognize and stand in unequivocal solidarity with. However, unfortunately, we must call out some troubling patterns of hijacking that we have noticed in some South Asian groups. Consider, for example, the following tweets that seem to have the exact opposite of the intended effect.
This is problematic for two reasons. First, they divert attention from the issue of systemic racial discrimination in America to past events in India. The tweet, made by a lady who frequently appears on Fareed Zakaria’s show, doesn’t once mention the names of any Black victims. Anyone reacting to this tweet, will NOT talk about George Floyd, but about Rana’s highlighted cause. This is not only in poor taste, it is an appropriation of Black people’s movement against police brutality and racism. It is morally and ethically wrong.
Second, the parallels drawn here are not even historically accurate. India and the US are nothing alike when seen from the lens of historicity. India is a post-colonial country that had two waves of colonization, one by a settler-colonial group and another by British colonizers (non-settlers) which finally got political independence through the brutal violence of Partition. America, on the other hand, was colonized by Europeans, who took the lands from indigenous peoples and brought enslaved people along with them. The colonizers never left. Black people never ruled America, unlike the Islamic rulers of India. They never raided or broke any places of worship of white people or any other group, they did not rape or pillage lands, they did not enslave people, and they did not impose religious taxes on people who had a different faith. Colonizers did these atrocities to colonized peoples. Black people were never colonizers. In fact, Black people were brought to America AGAINST their will; they did not have a choice. Those interested in learning more about this aspect of the history of colonization of India, make sure to follow this fantastic discussion by Prof. Meenakshi Jain: Flight of Deities – Meenakshi Jain.
How can People of Color (POC) become better allies?
- Stop making harmful, inaccurate equivalences. Such false equivalences do not help Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) people: in fact, it hurts all of us and our causes.
- Resist the urge to turn #BlackLivesMatter to a form of #AllLivesMatter. As important as it is for people of colour to stand in solidarity with Black activists, it is imperative for people to understand that any form of discourse that deviates the discussion away from the issue at hand is a perversion to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. This sort of co-opting is a slippery-slope to #AllLives Matter. Several Black activists have highlighted the problems with this trend, but it appears that this is not something our community has fully understood. When you use language that piggybacks on BLM or engage in discourse that could lead to some version of #AllLivesMatter, you divert the attention from the systemic problem of race in America to your pet cause. As allies, we are supposed to encourage more conversations about the issue at hand, ie, the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, Travyon Martin, George Floyd and the hundreds of other Black men, women and children who have suffered and NOT divert attention to our causes. Because if a conversation is about everything, it is actually a conversation about nothing. We understand the temptation of using every opportunity for your cause. We do. For instance, we would like nothing more than to seize every opportunity we can to discuss the mob-lynching of helpless Sadhus in India (aided by the police) or the genocide and exodus of Kashmiri Hindus to which the state turned a blind eye, but we resist. We must resist. Because we understand that this is the time to grieve for George and, even though we too are in pain, it is disrespectful and insensitive to go to another person’s wake and grieve about yourself. Doing that diverts attention from the purpose of the cause at hand.
- We must call out similar behavior in our own communities. We are calling this out within our own South Asian community because we CANNOT and SHOULD NOT expect Black people to carry additional emotional labour to explain or object to our own community’s attention seeking behaviour. If you see similar behaviour of appropriation in your community, please call it out as well.