The anti-Blackness in non-Black communities of color is often a taboo subject. In the wake of the assault of Indian national Sureshbhai Patel by an Alabama police officer, South Asian-American organizers decided to fight back by tackling the problem head-on—with their own families.
In a new piece for The Aerogram, five community organizers and racial justice advocates whose families originate in Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan spoke candidly with their parents about the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality against both communities and the potential for Black and South Asian solidarity. Although they do not represent the full diversity of the diaspora (something they address explicitly), their perspectives offer insight into how non-Black communities of color experience the contemporary racial justice climate.
Although the whole piece is worth a full read, a few quotes highlight the complexity of how South Asian Americans and their families engage with Black Lives Matter, anti-Blackness and state violence. For instance, the organizers’ parents exhibite different degrees of anti-Black sentiment, with at least one parent rejecting that rhetoric:
Some parents contrasted South Asian and Black communities, explaining police violence against Black people by appeals to stereotypes about the two groups. South Asians were described as “non violent” by Naaz Diwan’s parents, while words like “drug dealers” and “broken families” were used by Alex’s parents to characterize Black people. These stereotypes have a history that goes back decades and have frequently been used in the United States to blame Black people for the racism, and racist police violence, they face, while holding up South Asians as a model minority.
Vinitha said, “Police need more common sense—White folks need common sense. They need patience and they are so arrogant.” Anjali’s appa, Srini, said of his grad school experience in Newark in the early 1980s, “when we were young, it was very difficult not to turn into an anti-Black racist, because if you were a pathetic, weak Indian kid you’d be mugged….It was a scary place.” In part due to his relationship with his children, he has now become a racial justice activist in Milwaukee, far from Tamil Nadu, India or Kuwait, the two places he spent his childhood.
Parents also had illustrative comments about their children’s work in racial justice, ranging from pride to disillusionment:
Some parents took pride in the ways their kids were fighting for a better world. As Naaz’s father said, “I wish more people were like you and get involved. It’s a very positive thing to do. Not just for Black people, but people of all dark skin. The more dialogue we have, the better relations we’ll have…that’s what I think.”
For others, pride was mixed with fear. This may be because many South Asians come from countries with recent histories of political turmoil and state violence, and the fear of backlash from political work is ever present.
Vinitha said, “I’m happy. At least someone is doing something. At the same time I’m scared. I’m not sure what kind of threats you will get. You have to be careful.” Alex’s mom, from Colombo, Sri Lanka, shared these fears. “With you, the biggest problem I have is your safety. That is the biggest problem I have, which is why I pray for your safety.”
Other parents expressed a sense of cynicism. Jahanzaib, Alina’s Karachi-raised father, asked, “You understand the world is horrible and people are looking out for themselves only and it’s easier for some people. But that’s life. You think you’re going to sway anyone with feelings or convince them to give up their power? Why would people do that?”
The featured organizers were approached for comment by API Resistance, a collective of Asian- and Pacific Islander-descended (API) activists who formed to support Black Lives Matter protest activity in Washington, D.C. The piece is attributed to API Resistance, and they are accepting other contributions and questions from South Asian Americans interested in speaking with their parents about these topics at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to read the full piece at The Aerogram.
*Note: This post has been corrected to reflect that organizers featured in The Aerogram’s piece are not all members of API Resistance, but that they were approached for the piece by the activist collective.