To our fellow South Asian immigrants and children of immigrants

Wednesday, June 10, 2020 - 3:17pm

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Graphic by Hibah Chugtai

Black Lives Matter is a peaceful organization — created after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2013 — that fights to support Black innovation and excellence and combat acts of violence, which are the result of systemic racism. While the recent protests are certainly sparked by George Floyd’s killing, this is not what the fight is about nor does it end with the conviction of his killers — Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Keung and Tou Thao. And Black Lives Matter doesn’t end with Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery either. Activists are seeking a disruption of the system that has been working to appease the white supremacist narrative and society. Black Lives Matter is seeking freedom, an end to police brutality and the inequalities in the justice system, brought about by the violence against Black people on the basis of their skin color. 

According to a study conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the USA, Black men and women are 2.5 and 1.4 times respectively more likely to be killed by police over the course of their life than white men and women. Additionally, several white police officers and white perpetrators, in general, have gotten away with killing black men and women despite the existence of evidence that could convict them. For example, Philando Castile was killed at a traffic stop and his killer was caught on tape, and instead of his killer being convicted, the city paid Castile’s family a large settlement. Terence Crutcher was experiencing car trouble, and officer Betty Shelby said she shot him because she “feared for her life.” A video showed he had his hands in the air and made no threats towards her. Tamir Rice was playing with a toy gun when an officer shot him for allegedly pointing his pistol at people. The officer was simply fired. The Black Lives Matter movement is a peaceful and legal movement, currently pushing for change in our policy about excessive use of force in law enforcement on the basis of race. This also points to outrage over the overcriminalization of Black people and the decriminalization of caucasian people by the justice system, as according to the United States Sentencing Commission, “Black male offenders received sentences on average 19.1 percent longer than similarly situated White male offenders.” Additionally, a study conducted by the Sentencing Project shows how implicit bias has led people to associate criminality with Black and Hispanic people. 

We want to express how we, as South Asian Americans, can help, because being South Asian or any other Non-Black person of color is not an excuse to dismiss this discussion. We, as a community, benefit from this oppression and if we do not inform ourselves and our peers to create change, we remain a perpetrator of the problem. Being brown can sometimes feel like a get out of jail free card — I’m not white, I’m brown, how could I be racist to black people? You’d be surprised; a lot of this is due to the “model minority” myth. 

For those who are unfamiliar, the “model minority” myth is the idea that certain POC groups (like East Asian and South Asian Americans) are the ideal immigrant group. If you have parents with the immigrant success story, you’ve probably heard the age-old tale: “We came to America with so little, we worked hard, climbed the ladders, ignored discrimination and are now well-off in the land of dreams.” But some who tell this tale do so by putting down other POC: “If I did it, why can’t they?” 

The success of minority groups in America is largely a result of Black activism in the 1960s, but also the stark difference in treatment in this country in the modern day. Yes, Asian Americans and South Asian Americans have faced horrible discrimination in this country — the Chinese Exclusion Act, internment camps and the fears of “Turban Tides”/“Hindoo Invasions”, but in 2020, these communities do not continue to face the same century-lasting racism Black Americans have via segregation, slavery, police brutality and systematic racism.

Regardless, this isn’t a competition between which minority group has been treated the worst — it’s simply an understanding of “model minority” groups, a myth we must dispel. By pitting the success of certain minority groups against others, society creates a racial wedge when in reality, we must help and empathize with our Black brothers and sisters. And, just because our community isn’t white, or has also felt discriminated against in this country, we do not have an excuse to not participate in the fight for Black equality.

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Graphic by Hibah Chugtai

We want to use this platform for actionable results. So, to my fellow South Asian Americans, here are just a few tactics to combat racism in POC settings:

  1. Reject the idea you are a model minority. The model minority myth minimizes the effect of racism in this country by saying it doesn’t necessarily hurt all groups. It drives racial wedges between POC and takes away from the empathy which goes towards Black American struggles. Although we have been discriminated against, the plight of South Asian Americans is different than that which Black Americans have faced. 

  2. Remember history. The reason East Asian Americans and South Asian Americans are able to build success stories in this country is largely due to the work of Black civil rights activists paving the way for all POC to succeed in America. Not to mention, the reason many of these families are successful are due to the advantage they had in being well-educated in their origin nations and the choice to immigrate. The Atlantic slave trade wasn’t much of a choice. 

  3. Start a conversation at the dinner table, with your friends of color, with your white friends — address microaggressions against Black people in serious, meaningful and non-defensive ways. Letting these small mistakes slip through the cracks is what perpetuates implicit racism in people we love. And do not let these conversations die out in the coming weeks — make sure you are actively anti-racist for the rest of your life.

  4. Check your privilege. Like any racial group, some South Asian Americans hold great socio-economic power. Additionally, we inherently have privilege in society via the lower discrimination we face versus other groups. Use this power to speak out, contact authorities, donate to bail funds and BLM organizations. Do not sit in silence!

  5. Continue the anti-racism dialogue in every context: against white people, Muslim people, Hispanic people, everyone and anyone! Even within India, there exists a stigma around individuals with darker skin — many people deem them less attractive and desirable. In fact, skin lightening products like Fair & Lovely have existed in India for years for individuals to achieve “better” and “prettier” skin color. Do not condone or support this attitude, whether it be within yourself or during a conversation with your family. Anti-racism calls for us to oppose racism, not only against other groups, but within our own communities as well.

  6. Be active in pushing for physical change. Donate to organizations like Black Lives Matter, Know Your Rights Camp, the Innocence Project, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative, etc. Protest alongside your community to show solidarity and demand change (if you can). It is understandable that this is not an option for everyone, and you can support protests in other ways. You can show public support for it on social media; donate supplies like masks, water bottles and signs; keep an eye out for comments on posts from protests and their live streams, you can try to (peacefully) educate people on the purpose of these protests and the issue at hand. Contact your local officials to understand what they are doing to attack systemic racism and racial inequality in your community. Email and call them to show support to pieces of legislation that could greatly benefit your community in this regard. Sign and share petitions and VOTE!

  7. Educate yourself. To Read: “White Fragility” (Robin DiAngello), “Me and White Supremacy” (Layla F. Saad), “Women, Race, & Class” (Angela Y. Davis), “So You Want to Talk About Race” (Ijeoma Oluo), “The New Jim Crow” (Michelle Alexander), “Six Ways Asian-Americans Can Tackle Anti-Blackness in Their Families” (Kim Tran), etc. Try to shop at Black-owned bookstores that ship through their website, instead of Amazon. To Watch - “13th,” “Just Mercy,” “Injustice,” “The Hate U Give,” “When They See Us,” “Selma,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Farming,” “Hidden Figures,” “The Great Debaters,” and many other essential films. Keep an eye out for misinformation - not every news outlet shows the whole story. Social media is not CNN or Fox, but can provide first-hand stories and information from people who are at the forefront of this movement. 

This list was created with the help of Habib Bello, a friend and a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion board of the BBA Council, and outlines some things you can do to show support for Black Lives Matter.

This movement — especially the protests — has accomplished so much. They forced the Minneapolis Police Department to fire the four officers responsible for George Floyd’s death. They pressured the DA to press charges against these four officers. They pushed for the implementation of Breonna’s Law, which bans “no-knock” warrants, in remembrance of Breonna Taylor. This movement pushed for the removal of more than one monument dedicated to white supremacist leaders. They pushed for the removal of the Louisville police chief after the shooting of David Mcatee. We must keep supporting this movement as the people in power push back. With numerous cities beginning to ban the use of smartphones to videotape police brutality, and with the suspension of habeas corpus by New York City, we must be aware of our rights as we peacefully push as hard as we can for a change. 

Freedom is long overdue, and the systemic oppression of the Black people in this country is nowhere near justified. As members of the South Asian community, it is our responsibility to not only support Black Lives Matter, but also to amplify the Black voices in our community. I also think that it is important to acknowledge that not everyone is in a position in which it is safe to outwardly support BLM (this is often in regards to minors living with families that have different beliefs). Your safety — mentally and physically — is a top priority. As a whole, we as a community must work our hardest to quash the issue of racial inequality in our country. We can no longer play into this habit of keeping our heads down and following the path that is set for us. We must be brave and challenge not only ourselves, but the status quo of our communities — the Black community of America deserves our support. 

Love, 

Prisha Grover and Sunitha Palat

 

Prisha Grover can be reached at prishag@umich.edu

Sunitha Palat can be reached at spalat@umich.edu