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COVID Slams Ethnic Minorities

As the COVID-19 vaccination program rolls out erratically across the US, research increasingly shows that health inequities underlying who gets infected will also affect who gets vaccinated.

In telling statistics reported by the CDC and KFF, people of color are more likely to be infected or hospitalized, and more likely to die from the coronavirus.

The numbers are stark.

Compared to whites, American Indians are 1.9 times more likely to be infected, African Americans nearly 3 times more likely to be hospitalized, and Latinx people 2.4 times more likely to die.

Asian Americans are the highest risk for hospitalization and death among any ethnic group. In San Francisco, it’s reported that  Asian Americans consistently account for nearly half of COVID-19 deaths.

It’s impossible to ignore the disproportionate toll of the pandemic on racial and ethnic minorities. Even though all communities are at risk for COVID-19, the socioeconomic status of people of color, and their occupations in frontline, essential and infrastructure jobs puts them at greater risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

For minority communities, it means that where you live and where you work shapes how the virus impacts your health, while inadequate access to healthcare makes you more vulnerable to its consequences.

“The pandemic has exposed the “underlying health disparities, social determinants of health, systemic inequalities and discrimination contribute to the disproportionate impact the virus has had on all communities of color,” said Adam Carbullido of AAPCHO, at an EMS press briefing on February 12, about health inequities in the pandemic.

Health advocates predicted that an inequitable distribution of vaccines was inevitable, given the high rates at which Blacks, Latinos and other ethnic groups were being infected and dying in each wave of the pandemic.

This is borne out by data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) which is tracking vaccine distribution. For example, fewer black people are getting vaccines despite a higher rate of COVID 19 cases. In Delaware only 6% of Blacks were vaccinated though 24% were infected, and in Louisiana, only 13% of Blacks received vaccines though 34% were infected, while in Mississippi, 38% of Blacks were infected but only 17% got the vaccine.

However, the lack of disaggregated racial data at the state and national level is hobbling equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, noted Dr. Daniel Turner-Lloveras of the Latino Coalition Against COVID-19. Currently only 20 US states are reporting racial data.

Given that it’s primarily Black and Latino workers in essential jobs,  it’s imperative to consider who’s at high risk when making decisions about reopening the economy, he added.

If we cannot quantify racial disparity in vaccine distribution, warned Lloveras, it will be difficult to develop interventions to ensure vaccines are given to those who need it most.

Health disparities between whites and people of color that are impacting vaccine distribution, are “gaps that have become chasms,” said Lloveras. The vaccine roll out “inherently prioritizes a population that is not reflective of the people who are disproportionately affected by the coronavirus”, added Virginia Hedrick, of the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health.

In American Indian country, inequitable vaccine distribution is merely a reflection of the historical trauma inflicted on indigenous communities that has negatively impacted their health and wellbeing over the long term, said Hedric resulting in the highest rates of diabetes, heart disease and substance use disorders. Its only because of advocacy that the Indian Health Service has a separate vaccine reserve allocated to urban and tribal Indian American communities.

Barriers to Better Health  & Vaccines

Several other factors create barriers to better health and getting a vaccine among people of color.

Ethnic minorities tend to live in densely populated areas which makes social distancing difficult, and often in multi generation family homes which put elders at risk. They may use public transportation which could expose them the virus, and lack health insurance or healthcare access.

Farmworkers and the elderly face similar barriers in the form of digital literacy, language barriers and internet access, said Lloveras.  With stay at home orders in place, telehealth depends on who has access to technology. He suggested providing Internet access hotspots and community classes on computer literacy to expand digital access for underserved minorities.

The lack of a robust public healthcare system requires that we provide the technology to help people see a doctor and register for vaccines.

In Asian communities, added Carbullido, patients of Asian descent report fear in getting help they need because of emotional trauma caused by racism and xenophobic attacks associated with the virus.

Yet, many ethnic minorities are reluctant to get their shot because they mistrust the government. Kaiser Family Foundation’s vaccine tracker data reports ‘fear of side effects” prevents people from obtaining the vaccine.

Lloveras proposed ‘a gigantic digital patient engagement project’ to address vaccine hesitancy to set the path to herd immunity and a semblance of normal life .

Missteps in California

Each state’s scramble to acquire and distribute vaccines signaled an unpreparedness for a public health crisis like the coronavirus, said Dr.David Carlyle, President and CEO of the Charles R. Drew University of Science and Medicine, calling California’s missteps in the pandemic a “failure of public policy.”

When MLK Community Hospital, a 130-bed facility at the epicenter of the pandemic in Los Angeles County tried to transfer its sickest patients to nearby tertiary hospitals for oxygenation, they were repeatedly refused because because their patients did not have health insurance. When the vaccine roll out flatlined mid-February, high volume vaccine centers (LA Forum, Dodgers Stadium) in LA county closed mid -February, because supplies of vaccine doses ran out. Commercial pharmacies placed vaccination sites in smaller, less diverse towns like Huntington Beach, Irvine and Newport Beach, while Los Angeles, a city of 8 million was allotted just one site.

“In my estimation we weren’t prepared for COVID 19.” Carlyle concluded.

A Robust Rescue Package

Given the lack of a robust public health system, panelists urged Congress to bolster the public health infrastructure with a bold COVID 19 rescue package for testing, treatment, vaccine distribution.

They called for increased investment in public health and community-based organizations (CBOs) that serve marginalized communities which have more chronic medical issues and higher risk factors for complications of COVID19.  CBOs are vital in reaching communities of color and other hard hit communities, by providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services where government and private institutions have fallen short. Supporting CBOs could mitigate the health inequities of the COVID19 crisis, said Carbullido.

The pandemic overwhelmed most healthcare systems which were not prepared or adequately funded creating crises like the MLKCH that Carlyle called “a  perfect example of the inhumanity of equities in healthcare.”

But “the pandemic has not created these inequities,” concluded Hedrick, “it’s simply highlighting them.”

More information is available at:
https://bit.ly/vaccines-race-data
https://ccuih.org/


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents
Photo by Ivan Diaz on Unsplash

Is Kamala Devi Harris Desi Enough?

I just spent the last fifteen minutes enjoying a new TikTok cultural phenomenon. Wakhra Dougie.  It’s blowing up on TikTok.   Combining the Dougie with bhangra dance moves is certainly fun, but on a deeper level,  isn’t it a lot more? What could be a better way to express joy in the choice of Kamala Harris as the next VP candidate for the Democratic party?

Kamala Harris made history last week when she became Joe Biden’s running mate.  Immediately, every desi had an opinion on it.  While most were excited to see a person from their part of the world represented, it brought on the doubters. She is often described as the “first Black woman” every time she breaks another glass ceiling.  That irks the Indians.  Is Kamala Harris desi enough?  She’s only half Indian and why doesn’t she speak to it more often? She only comes to our community when she needs to raise money but not much else. How can she represent us?

I am sure there is a reason for that, part deeply personal and part, a commentary of our cultural expectations. 

Senator Harris was raised in the East Bay in the sixties, but it was not the Bay Area we know of now.  Her mother Shyamala Gopalan fell in love with a Jamaican economist, married him, and had two daughters. Raising two girls who were mixed brown and black was not that easy then, and not now either.  If we desis are honest with ourselves, we know that we are not the most open of cultures to “otherness”.  

My guess is that her mother recognized this and decided that she would raise her children in a culture that would be more accepting of them.   As Ms. Harris described in her memoir, “My mother understood very well that she was raising two Black daughters. She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as Black girls.” Going on to study at a HBCU (Historically Black College and Universities)  Howard University helped cement this identity.  

Then, there is the larger society as well.  Since they were racially half Black and appeared Black, they would always be identified as Black.  As research by the Pew Center says, “How you were raised, how you see yourself and how the world sees you have a profound effect in shaping multiracial identity.” 

I always found it very curious that President Obama, who was essentially raised by his white mother and grandparents, identified as a Black man.  

What does that say about our society’s cultural expectations?

My daughter, raised in America to a Sindhi dad and me, a Tamilian mom, says “Because I can’t speak any Indian language, my friends tell me I’m not actually Desi-American—that I’m just a coconut—brown on the outside and white on the inside.”  A friend of mine in San Diego was lamenting how her half desi-half Peruvian teenage daughter is not invited to the Indian parties of her peers because she is not “Indian enough”. 

What in the world does that even mean? If we are this quick to judge kids, who for the most part are proud of their biracial identities, imagine the Harris family in the 1960s.  

Kamala Harris has often admitted herself that she struggles to define herself for others. For me, she is a representation of our multicultural, blended, fluid society where everything is up for grabs.  Why not race?  She “is both”  Black and Indian.  

Why are we expecting her to be everything to both communities?

But as we are all learning through the stories of the BLM movement this year, our histories ( Black and Asian Americans) are intertwined.  Rev. Martin Luther King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his Satyagraha movement which led to the Civil Rights movement here in America.  The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 led to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act which directly affected most of us Asians in this country.  It opened up the door for us to immigrate.  We would not be here if not for the thousands of Black Americans who took to the streets to fight for their rights.  

At a time in history now, where civil rights and immigration are at the center of our civil and political discourse, Senator Kamala Harris uniquely brings a viewpoint and life experience that could help us move forward.  

The fact is that both parties in the United States use racial identity to segment the voting blocs to their advantage.  Although the financial power of the Indians is increasing, statistically we do not make up a large part of the electorate yet.  Eleven million Asian Americans will vote this year but the number of Black voters is estimated at 30 million.  

But the funny thing is that the population of people who are two or more races is projected to be the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group over the next several decades, followed by Asians and Hispanics. So, does it really matter how Desi or how Black Kamala Harris is?  It should not. 

She is both and uniquely American at the end of the day.   Let our lack of imagination not box her into one identity.

Her story, her blended heritage will speak more to our children and grandchildren than we can imagine and inspire them to public service and politics.  There will come a time very soon, where people like her will be the norm, not the exception in this flat world. 

But it would behoove Senator Harris to reach out to our community in a more meaningful manner.  We would love to be a part of her journey and have our voices amplified.  

Vote for Harris and Biden if you think their policies will be good for America, not what Kamala looks like and which race she belongs to. 

We have come a long way, America!  I am excited by the journey ahead and I remain optimistic.  Maybe doing a Wakhra Dougie mashup TikTok video will be the most patriotic thing you will do today.  And Vote!


Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Where Do South Asians Stand on BLM?

Silence is the language of courage 

that lost its way home to the heart 

It’s the dialect of the unspoken things

that fester between our bones, it’s the dungeons 

of distraught eyes that have seen enough

to stop watching. 

But my tongue holds gardens that cannot fit 

between my teeth, and my words grow in 

places where injustice cannot. 

And the leaves that sprout from this throat

take the shape of a language that knows no chains, 

a language that refuses to disrespect the body 

that houses it.    

-Kanchan Naik      

There is a difference between shouting “Black Lives Matter” into the void and appreciating this statement for what it truly means. The former, which has been reappropriated in the latest wave of corporate desperation, brings its own layer of superficiality. But to accomplish the latter, there is a process of introspection involved. In order to initiate constructive change in the name of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, we have to analyze our own privilege as Asian and Indian Americans — a kind of scrutiny that goes beyond merely posting the infamous “black square” on Instagram or sending a heart emoji to our black friends. Racism against African Americans does not occur within a vacuum. As immigrants, we often paint systemic racism, the prison pipeline, and police brutality as a ‘black and white issue’. While every minority community is shaped by its unique experience with bigotry and oppression, there is an unspoken race hierarchy in our country — a hierarchy that we benefit from by maintaining our silence. 

The stereotypes surrounding Indian and Asian Americans do more than oversimplify our relationships and cultural practices. Rather, they are weaponized against marginalized and disenfranchised communities, and used as an excuse to vitiate their narratives. We are marketed as the so-called ‘model minority’, lauded by white supremacists for our complacence. Our socioeconomic status is cherrypicked to reinforce the flawed, one-sided American Dream. While the man who forced his knee against George Floyd’s neck was white, he is not the only one to blame for an innocent, unarmed black man’s death. Derek Chauvin was flanked by  Hmong-American Tou Thao, who made little to no effort to stop this egregious violation against human rights. Instead, he fielded complaints from an outraged audience with glacial indifference. The man who called the police against George Floyd was an Arab-American. Whether we like it or not, immigrants play an active role in shaping America’s race relations. To dismantle police brutality, we must address the issue from the inside-out. 

Here are some notable South Asian organizations that made the choice to speak up, and speak out against racism.  

SAALT

Exactly one week and two days ago, a white police officer held his knee down on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Three other police officers stood by, doing nothing to stop Floyd’s murder.

Since that day, people have taken to the streets in protest in over 350 cities in the U.S. demanding to live in a world where the police stop killing Black people with impunity. Instead of elected officials committing to this, we have seen them deploy militarized violence on protestors.

We’ve been heartened by the solidarity that so many in our communities have already expressed, like Rahul Dubey who sheltered at least 70 protesters in his home in DC and Ruhel Islam, a Bangladeshi restaurant owner in Minneapolis, who said “Let my building burn…Justice needs to be served.”

As South Asians, we have a duty to address and fight anti-Blackness on both systemic and interpersonal levels. If we don’t, we are complicit in the deaths of Black Americans.

We pulled together the following resources from powerful and vital organizations to help you find ways to stand up for Black lives right now and always. As we mobilize during this flashpoint, we must also commit to the long-term work.

—-

APIA Vote

In response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, Executive Director Christine Chen of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) issues the following statement: 

“We, and the broader Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community, must stand in proactive solidarity with black men, women, and children who continue to be oppressed and die by the forces and policies of systemic racism and discrimination. The recent anti-Asian attacks across the country spurred on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the AANHPI community to come together and fight for, and along with our brothers and sisters at this critical moment in history. We can no longer make any more excuses to stay silent against the injustices witnessed by the world in the last week.”

“I urge our community to ally themselves with the Black community and fight injustice. This includes making sure all of us are counted and our voices heard through the U.S. Census count. This means showing up to the polls and demanding change at the local, state, and national levels of government. Voting is a key way to institute reform and it is up to us to show up at not only presidential elections but also elections for your state representatives, district attorneys, judges, local board positions and governors.” 

“APIAVote will continue to educate our communities, fight for fair access to the polls, and get-out-the-vote. In order to continue our mission for inclusion and change, we must demand justice for the Black community and prove with our actions and our vote that black lives matter.”

Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) is a national nonpartisan organization that works with partners to mobilize Asian American Pacific Islanders in electoral and civic participation. APIAVote envisions a world that is inclusive, fair, and collaborative, and where Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are self-determined, empowered, and engaged. See our website for more information at http://www.apiavote.org/ 

South Asians for America condemns the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and numerous other instances of abuse, societal inequities, and systemic racism across the United States We stand in solidarity with the families of the victims and the African American community in a united call for justice. 

We encourage others in the South Asian American community to speak out against violence and police brutality. As fellow minorities, South Asians are in a unique position to understand and support the African American community. South Asian-owned businesses and communities have also been affected by protests including the Gandhi Mahal Restaurant in Minneapolis. As Bangladeshi-born owner Ruhel Islam said to his daughter after his restaurant was destroyed, “Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover…let my building burn, justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.” 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. This spirit embodies the kindness and empathy of our community.

South Asians who immigrated to America after 1965 benefited from the civil rights movement started by African Americans. Our communities are intertwined and all deserve the same freedom. We must stand together, we must unite, and we must collectively combat the systemic injustices faced by our African American brothers and sisters.

—-

South Asians for America

South Asians for America condemns the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and numerous other instances of abuse, societal inequities, and systemic racism across the United States We stand in solidarity with the families of the victims and the African American community in a united call for justice. 

We encourage others in the South Asian American community to speak out against violence and police brutality. As fellow minorities, South Asians are in a unique position to understand and support the African American community. South Asian-owned businesses and communities have also been affected by protests including the Gandhi Mahal Restaurant in Minneapolis. As Bangladeshi-born owner Ruhel Islam said to his daughter after his restaurant was destroyed, “Don’t worry about us, we will rebuild and we will recover…let my building burn, justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.” 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. This spirit embodies the kindness and empathy of our community.

South Asians who immigrated to America after 1965 benefited from the civil rights movement started by African Americans. Our communities are intertwined and all deserve the same freedom. We must stand together, we must unite, and we must collectively combat the systemic injustices faced by our African American brothers and sisters.

We encourage you to fill out the census, vote in your local elections this summer, and visit our website to learn about our endorsed candidates

—-

World Hindu Council of America

 World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), the oldest, and one of the most prominent Hindu organization in America has launched a grassroots initiative- Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective USA (HinduPACT USA). HinduPACT USA aims to bring Hindu ethos and dharmic values of unity in diversity, plurality, compassion and, mutual respect amongst religions to policy and advocacy for human rights, environmental protection, gender equality, and, interfaith dialog. HinduPACT USA will partner with community organizations, government officials, civil rights organizations and other organizations who share our values to achieve our vision. We will work with civil society organizations, mandirs, thought leaders and others to become a premier policy research & advocacy organization. HinduPACT will identify and influence issues of interest to Hindus at all levels, train Hindus for grassroots advocacy and create advocacy internship opportunities for Hindu youth. HinduLounge, VHPA’s weekly Facebook Live program on contemporary Hindu issues in America is the first HinduPACT USA project. Political candidates from across the country, regardless of their political affiliation, are being approached to ascertain if their positions are consistent with dharmic and American values. HinduPACT USA will not take any partisan political stand and will not endorse any candidate for political office. Over the course of next year, HinduPACT USA will formulate Hindu view on contemporary American issues such as school prayer, race relations, gun control, environmental awareness, abortion, gender equality, legalization of marijuana, immigration, sanctuary cities / states, without taking a partisan political stand on the issues. We welcome Hindus across the US to join us in this important initiative.

—-

VPHA

Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective USA (HinduPACT USA), an initiative of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), has issued the following statement on the killing of George Floyd. Commenting on the killing on police killing of George Floyd, Ajay Shah, Convener of HinduPACT USA and Executive Vice President of VHPA said:

We condemn the brutal killing of George Floyd. We stand for racial justice, equality, and civil rights. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” embodied in our Declaration of Independence should be our guiding spirit. Hindu ethos, as expressed by a Hindu poet eloquently says, “A true Vaishnava (Hindu) is the one who feels the pain of others.” Currently, as people of faith we feel the pain of injustice and the killing of George Floyd. We call for a national dialog on race relations. We fully endorse the right to peacefully protest injustice. As Rev. Martin Luther King said, “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” However, we are unambiguously against riots and looting, and the attacks on those entrusted to protect us. Utsav Chakrabarti, Executive Director of HinduPACT USA and Director of Advocacy and Awareness for VHPA said:

The murder of George Floyd is a reminder that we must reinvigorate our pursuit for equity in our society. But those groups that are using this tragedy and the cover of the protests for looting businesses and resorting to violence, are doing a great injustice to the cause of civil rights. It is shocking to see Pakistani-American anarchist Urooj Rahman along with Colinford Mattis, pass along fire bombs to some protestors in an attempt to kill law enforcement officers and peaceful protestors in New York City. There is nothing more sinister than trying to use injustice towards Black lives, as a tool to further one’s geopolitical agenda. Today, the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in front of the Embassy of India was vandalized by some of these elements, masquerading as protesters. I urge Hindu Americans who form a big section of the ‘South Asian community’ to be cognizant of such mala fide efforts, and promote peace and healing in the communities they live in. HinduLounge, HinduPACT USA’s weekly Facebook Live program on Hindu American issues extensively covered the killing and the aftermath. The local VHPA chapters are working with the interfaith and community groups to work towards justice and equality. The Cincinnati, OH chapter of VHPA has signed the letter seeking justice by EquaSion and the Interfaith Community on the killing of George Floyd.

—-

Hindu American Foundation

US police must acknowledge and eliminate systemic racism, excessive use of force in their ranks

Washington, DC (June 1, 2020) — The Hindu American Foundation stands in solidarity with peaceful protestors across the nation condemning the horrific killing of George Floyd and calling out systemic racism and excessive violence against African Americans by our nation’s police.

HAF calls upon police departments across the country to:

  • Meaningfully address the twin problems of systemic racism and excessive, disproportionate use of force by officers in their ranks, working with local communities to end both;
  • Hold accountable officers with misconduct and excessive force complaints;
  • End the practice of militarized policing of peaceful protests;
  • Cease arresting and targeting journalists covering demonstrations.

We offer our sympathy and support to those families and communities struck by police violence.

We strongly condemn the actions of those, regardless of political ideology, using the cover of peaceful protests to cause destruction and further violence.

And we believe ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (truth) are the most powerful tools for bringing about much needed change.

HAF is committed to doing its part and using our platform to bring about positive change. We’ve therefore joined The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) and other leading civil rights organizations to ask Congress for ‘swift and decisive legislative action in response to ongoing fatal police killings and other violence against Black people across our country.’

And we will also be joining a taskforce organized by LCCHR Congress to ensure that any congressional action taken is aligned with our federal priorities on policing.

HAF Executive Director Suhag Shukla issued the following statement on how we can move forward:

“As Americans, we must wrestle with two dissonant truths: that the founders of the United States created a nation philosophically promising freedom and equality for all people, and that this nation was built on the backs of enslaved Africans and the spilled blood of Native Americans. Throughout our history, other immigrant communities and people of color have also faced racism and xenophobia, but these two communities have born the brunt of a racism that is institutional and systemic.

The collective negative karma of our nation’s past and centuries of subjugation has yet to be resolved.

This is where Hinduism’s fundamental teaching — that we are all embodied souls — if assimilated by more and more people, promises transformation of our implicit biases and the way we treat one another. Recognition of our shared divinity renders color, caste, gender, sexual expression, ability, or creed irrelevant, and compels us to treat one another with dignity and mutual respect.

Systems and institutions need to be fixed. However, in fixing them they will only be as great as our mindset.”

Read this on the HAF website

—-

Brooklyn Raga Massive

We stand in solidarity with the Black community against a history of violence, oppression and discrimination. We stand together with those who peacefully protest to express their pain and anger over the death of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many others.

The foundations that have been built by African Americans, especially in the fields of music, art, literature, pop culture, education, spirituality and social change have been cornerstrones of American society and the world at large. We recognize these invaluable contributions and the immediate need for fundamental change to our society. 

#TheShowMustBePaused is in observance of the long-standing racism and inequality from the boardroom to the boulevard. Tuesday, June 2nd is meant to intentionally disrupt the work week. It is a day to take beat for a honest, reflective, and productive conversation about what actions we need to collectively take to support the Black community.


Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the Director of Media Outreach for Break the Outbreak, the Editor-in-chief of The Roar, and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton.

Featured Illus­tra­tion by @sapnasscribbles

In Solidarity…

India Currents stands in solidarity with the Black community. The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor at the hands of those who have sworn to uphold the safety of our communities, brutally remind us of the racial injustices that exist in our society. We demand action against hate and racism. 

For our Black brothers and sisters: You are not alone. Know that South Asians owe a deep debt of gratitude to you. Our very presence in this country has been made possible by your leadership in the Civil Rights movement. 

I quote from our archives:

Why would a Hindu monk speak out against anti-Black racism? Why would a gay African American civil rights leader repeatedly face arrest fighting for India’s independence? South Asians and African Americans have been standing up for each other for over a century. Our histories are deeply intertwined, even if our communities don’t always know it. – from Black & Desi: A Shared History. 

Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. “

We stand with you to build a community that offers “liberty and justice for all”. Black Lives Matter.

Vandana Kumar, Publisher
India Currents Team

Why I Took Down My #BlackOutTuesday Post…

I care so deeply and strongly for the minority communities in America. This is not a question of a singular time point but a story that transcends time and geographical location. I dedicated my life to the cause when I began to see how profoundly entrenched the problems were within our government. 

In just a few short months, compounded factors have exposed that network.

Ask yourself the questions:

Who is working on the frontlines?

Who doesn’t have food access? 

Who doesn’t have healthcare access? 

Who doesn’t have shelter access? 

Who has lost their job?

Who is being abused?

Who is being targeted by the police?

You will find that the same people can be grouped into the answer to many of those questions. 

Violence creates a response. I see that. I understand that. I am with that. When Trayvon Martin died unarmed, at the young age of 17 in 2012, the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction and I saw a path forward.

“I can’t breathe”, said Eric Garner as he was ruthlessly murdered by cops in 2014 – for what reason – possibly selling untaxed cigarettes.

And so many more have died. Here were are today – #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd, #JusticeForAhmaudArbery, #JusticeForBreonnaTaylor.  

None of their murderers have faced prison time. 

In 2016, I felt helpless when I was pulled over in Alabama and asked to step out of my vehicle and come to the back of my car to speak with a white officer. The person in the passenger seat had no view of me and was not allowed out of the car. I was cited for driving 5 miles below the speed limit but my stop had nothing to do with my driving and more to do with my skin color, a brown-skinned woman traveling with all her belongings on a road trip home to California. She must be an illegal immigrant.

I was let go but so many aren’t. I feel the injustice. I want to protest. But now I find myself asking the question, in the middle of a pandemic, is that the smartest move?

As I scroll through my Instagram feed, it seems that every person I know is engaged in the BLM movement – even the ones who have been apolitical till this point, the ones rapping the n-word without being part of the black community, and the ones who have shut me down for being too “political” for talking about these issues. 

I’m unsure how to feel. 

Is this a product of unrest or restlessness of being at home? 

Unfortunately, killings by police are not isolated to a few times a year. Mapping Police Violence is a great resource and presents a reality that is not surprising to me. Out of 365 days last year, there were only 27 days that the police did not kill someone – an indication of oversight in due process.

This is not a singular time point. We are not in this for instant gratification.

So we quickly share the information we see on social media, join the cause, spread awareness. We see something happening and we are quick to act, rightfully so. BUT then the next hashtag comes around and we forget the last one…

Social media activism can be beneficial, as we’ve seen with #MeToo and #BLM, but with #BlackOutTuesday, there was criticism, almost immediately. People began the day by posting black squares but soon after, black and brown activists were cautioning people to spread information rather than suppressing it by blacking out Instagram feeds. 

Even as an engaged, politically active person, I was confused about what stance to take. Eventually, I took down my post with a black square. I am in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, which I will execute through my actions, spread of information, donations to groups, and dialogue with my family and friends. It doesn’t need to be on social media. 

What I AM seeing: people coalescing in a way like never before. 

Who cares if you were unaware before. I’m glad you’re part of the movement NOW. 

Social media doesn’t need to be performative. But it can remain informative. Take the time to reflect and find the best way for yourself to get involved. Keep in mind your social responsibility with the ongoing pandemic:

  1. Protest with a group of fewer than 6 people at your neighborhood street corner. Maintain social distance.
  2. If there is a curfew in your city, like the one in San Jose, go outside and walk around for 10 minutes after curfew (only if it is safe for you to do so).
  3. Start conversations with people you normally would not.
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Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and could not have written this piece without the help of all the black and brown activists sharing valuable information. Most of the information within this article is compiled with the help of Ritika Kumar. Thank you to all the black and brown people committed to change! 

Black and Desi: A Shared History

On January 28, 1900, Swami Vivekananda looked out at the white audience at the Universalist Church in Pasadena, California, and spoke out against anti-Black racism. “As soon as a man becomes a Mohammedan, the whole of Islam receives him as a brother with open arms, without making any distinction, which no other religion does … In this country, I have never yet seen a church where the white man and the negro can kneel side by side to pray.

Half a century later, a young Black man sat down inside the British Embassy in Washington, DC, and refused to move. African American pacifist Bayard Rustin became director of the Free India Committee in 1945, working to end British rule in India. But it wasn’t enough to just talk, so Rustin began leading sit-in protests at the British Embassy, repeatedly getting arrested as he worked to help free India, two decades before he went on to organize the 1963 March on Washington, site of Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I have a dream” speech.

Why would a Hindu monk speak out against anti-Black racism? Why would a gay African American civil rights leader repeatedly face arrest fighting for India’s independence? South Asians and African Americans have been standing up for each other for over a century. Our histories are deeply intertwined, even if our communities don’t always know it.

I don’t know if Vivekananda was scared to condemn American anti-Black racism. But I heard fear, or at least a great discomfort, when I talked to a young Desi activist speaking out against anti-Black racism. She wasn’t scared of engaging in civil disobedience, but the thought of talking to her parents left her speechless. “When I act in solidarity with Black people in this movement, I want to call my parents into the struggle,” she explained. “After an action, when Ma calls and asks if I’ve eaten and if my health is well and how is school, I want to tell her everything … Instead, I say, ‘My health is good, Ma.’ And it breaks my heart.”

South Asians and African Americans have been standing up for each other for over a century. If we knew our shared history, would it make the conversations easier?

The Black Bengalis of Harlem: 1880s-1940s

Growing up in California, many of my South Asian friends were instructed by their parents that they weren’t allowed to marry someone African American—racism cloaked as “tradition.” But over the last several years, historian Vivek Bald has uncovered a history we were never told: when we were new to the United States, we were welcomed by African American communities, to intermarry, and built rich mixed lives together.

Between the 1880s and 1940s, two waves of South Asian men came to the United States, marrying and building new lives in African American, Creole, and Puerto Rican communities. Bald traced the story of these men and their lives in a strange new country in his groundbreaking book Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America.

The first wave of these immigrants came to the United States from the Hooghly district of Bengal between the 1880s and 1910s. They worked as peddlers across the East Coast and the South, selling embroidered silks and “Oriental” goods from Bengal. These dark-skinned Muslim immigrants found homes in communities of color, with many settling in New Orleans. Bald found records of about two dozen South Asian men in New Orleans who married African American and Creole women.

Moksad and Elizabeth Ali married in 1895 and had six sons and a daughter. In 1900, they were living in a joint family in New Orleans’ Third Ward: Moksad, Elizabeth, their children, Elizabeth’s sister, and brother-in-law, and her 80-year-old grandmother, a freed slave from Virginia. The Alis later moved to Mississippi, and by the 1920s, the next generation of Alis had moved to New York’s Harlem neighborhood, where a new Black Bengali community was about to form.

From World War I to the 1940s, the second wave of working-class Bengali ex-seamen was finding their way to New York, often settling in Harlem, the heart of African American New York. Vivek Bald, an intrepid history detective, scoured New York City marriage records to uncover the stories of Harlem Bengalis marrying African American and Puerto Rican women.

The community eventually spread outside Harlem, but the Bengali men, their wives, and their mixed-race families would continue to come together to celebrate Eid-al-fitr, and host an annual summer celebration bringing together hundreds of members of the scattered community.

Dreaming of Freedom, Standing Up for Civil Rights: 1920s-1947

From the 1920s onward, Indian and African American freedom fighters started recognizing the links between their struggles against colonial rule and racist oppression. Gerald Horne, Sudarshan Kapur, and others have written extensively about this history, often focusing on African American scholar and civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois, who corresponded with Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, Lala Lajpat Rai, and others.

By 1942, Horace Cayton, Jr. would write “it may seem odd to hear India discussed in pool rooms in South State Street in Chicago, but India and the possibility of the Indians obtaining their freedom from England by any means has captured the imagination of the American Negro.” The NAACP, the prominent African American civil rights group, passed a resolution supporting Indian autonomy that same year, with accompanying statements from major African American artist-activists like Paul Robeson, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes.

African American poet Langston Hughes, a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote eloquently about the shared struggle of Indians and African Americans. “It just does not make sense,” he wrote, “for the Allied leaders of the Western world to make beautiful speeches about freedom and liberty and democracy with India still in chains and Negroes still jim-crowed.”

One of Langston Hughes’ several poems about Indian liberation, “How About It, Dixie” connected Indian political prisoners and African American victims of racist police brutality. It reads, in part:

“Show me that you mean / Democracy please— / Cause from Bombay to Georgia / I’m beat to my knees / You can’t lock up Nehru / Club Roland Hayes /  Then make fine speeches / About Freedom’s way.”

Jawaharlal Nehru was devoted to solidarity with African America, connecting both with friends like Paul Robeson, and through intermediaries like Cedric Grover. After India gained independence, solidarity was complicated by the need to maintain good relations with a white-led American government. However, in a secret memo to the first Indian ambassadors to the U.S. and China, Nehru remained clear about India’s position: “our sympathies are entirely with the Negroes.”

How African Americans Created South Asian America: 1950-1960s

We are in the United States today because African American activists organized, bled, and died to overturn the racist laws keeping us out. American laws long restricted immigration from South Asia. While several thousand South Asians had journeyed to the United States by the early 20th century, the Immigration Act of 1917 explicitly barred our immigration. Three decades later, the 1946 Luce-Cellar Act loosened the restrictions—but allowed in only one hundred Indian immigrants per year.

From the 1950s onward, new waves of African American activists took on the policies upholding American racism. Civil rights activists organized in the face of social pressure, mob violence, police brutality, and domestic terror. In Mississippi, NAACP activist Medgar Evers was shot and killed in his home. In Alabama, four little girls were killed when their church was firebombed. In South Carolina, three students were shot and killed by Highway Patrol officers on a college campus. In Tennessee, Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as he stood in support of local African American union workers. The list goes on.

Some early South Asian immigrants participated in the civil rights movement. For example, in his book Colored Cosmopolitanism, historian Nico Slate describes how in the mid-1960s, two professors in Jackson, Mississippi stood with their African American students to help desegregate the city in the mid-1960s. Hamid Kizilbash (from Pakistan) and Savithri Chattopadhyay (from India), both faculty members at Tougaloo College, challenged racial segregation and terror, taking advantage of their ambiguous racial status. (In one instance, a white mob stopped attacking a bloody Kizilbash after a priest yelled “he’s not Negro, he is Indian.”)

The civil rights movement won one of its biggest victories with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965, which created South Asian America as we know it today. This law ended the racist restrictive immigration quotas, allowing us to become one of the fastest-growing populations in the United States, with over 3.5 million South Asians in the United States today.

While the burden of the civil rights movement was carried largely by African Americans, perhaps no group has benefited as much from African American activism as Indian (and particularly upper-caste Hindu) Americans. Fifty years after the civil rights movement, the median Indian American household income is over two and a half times higher than that of African Americans, in part because of immigration policies favoring the selective import of skilled foreign workers like my father.

I grew up in the United States, and never questioned my right to be here. But my wife Barnali Ghosh came to the United States as a graduate student; and stayed on as an H-1B worker. Learning history made a deep impression on her. “I realized that my presence in this country, and the existence of our Desi community, was possible only because African American activists helped overturn anti-Indian immigration laws. How do we repay the deep debt that we owe?”

South Asians for Black Lives: 2014-

Seventy years ago, Bayard Rustin, a gay African American civil rights activist, repeatedly engaged in civil disobedience to support Indian independence. Across the country, South Asians are starting to repay the debt, at a time when African American activists are asking other communities for their support as they organize against racism and police brutality.

In Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was fatally shot, South Asians whose businesses were impacted by protests stood with their African American neighbors and often saw their neighbors stand up for them. Ferguson resident Anil Gopal, president of the St. Louis Asian Indian Business Association, described to India Abroad how “Black people came to help the (Indian) community … Some of them even kept vigil outside the store as long as they could, to protect the stores.”

In New York City, the DRUM (Desis Rising Up And Moving) South Asian Organizing Center brought together over a hundred community members to discuss race and policing in light of the killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, before starting a march against racism and for immigrant rights.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, South Asians organizing with #Asians4BlackLives have been engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience against institutions responsible for killing African Americans.

Across the country, South Asian Americans are divided about how we understand our relationship to African Americans; many community members have never given much thought to the topic. The Queer South Asian National Network developed a free curriculum on confronting anti-Blackness in South Asian communities, which is being used for 1–2 hour workshops in New York City, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and beyond. Little by little, some community members are choosing to repay the debt, continuing the century-long tradition of solidarity.

Growing up, I learned a version of our community’s history where we desis worked hard, pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, never connecting with other communities of color.

But for over a century, South Asians and African Americans have lived entangled lives—Black-Bengali marriages, Vivekananda speaking out against anti-Black racism, satyagraha in the civil rights movement, Indian Muslims offering Black Muslims a more global perspective, Dalit activists learning about Black Power, long histories of individual friendships, and African American activists who first fought for our independence, and then helped end the barriers to our immigration.

Knowing our history leaves us with a choice. Behind closed doors, I’ve heard some of us openly express anti-Black racism; perhaps this is linked to casteism or colorism, or maybe we’re mimicking what we see and hear around us. Will we ignore our history and give in to some of our worst instincts? Many community members are choosing a different path, celebrating our shared histories, and helping add a new chapter to one of our best and oldest traditions.

Anirvan Chatterjee is a community historian. He’s one of the curators of the award-winning Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour, and the author of the Secret History of South Asian and African American Solidarity


First published on the 1st of June, 2015.

Fears of Undercounting People of Color Rise Before 2020 Census

By Michael J. Fitzgerald, Richmond Pulse/Ethnic Media Services

Combatting a predicted major undercounting of people of color in the 2020 U.S. Census was the focus of a national roundtable discussion, featuring key representatives of civil rights and voting rights organizations, earlier this month.

In sometimes heated presentations, representatives of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the Urban Institute, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) and the New York Immigration Coalition hammered home how important a full count will be.

“We are not going to stand by and be undercounted,” said Jeri Green of the Urban Institute, which on June 4 released a study asserting that the upcoming census is likely to be the least accurate since 1990, or possibly worse, and that among the people likely to be overlooked will be 1.7 million kids younger than age 5. It expects California to have the highest percentage of people not counted, followed by Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Georgia, New York and Florida.

Part of the concern expressed repeatedly in the national teleconference was the possibility that the 2020 Census will include a question inquiring about a person’s citizenship status. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to soon issue its decision on whether to allow the question. Three federal courts have ruled against allowing the change to census procedures, but it is widely feared that the Supreme Court may overturn those rulings.

“Regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision, we will not idly stand by as others attempt to undermine the progress of the Latino community and suppress the count of the nation’s second largest population group,” NALEO CEO Arturo Vargas said. “We will continue to fight for a just Census 2020 and a full and accurate count of Latinos and immigrants.”

“But even if it doesn’t get put on the census, just the discussion of it has already done harm,” John Yang of the AAAJ said.

 The harm, Yang explained, is that people who are already skittish about government in general  or their citizenship status  are less likely to fill out any census form, thinking it might put them at risk.

 Steven Choi of the New York Immigration Coalition said that the most effective strategy will be to have as much person-to-person contact with individuals to convince them to fill out the census because of its importance in determining federal funds and national representation.

 “Clearly the Trump administration effort (wanting the citizenship question included on census forms) strikes hardest at immigrant-rich states,” he said.

 In New York, the state Congressional delegation is bracing for a likely loss of two seats.

 “And in terms of money and power, for every person lost  or not counted  it’s estimated to cost the state about $3,000 per person,” Choi said.

 That’s money lost to all manner of public spending.

 This year’s census will also be the first to extensively use the internet and online data gathering, in favor of deploying the traditional door-to-door census takers.  The Census Bureau is planning to send out an electronic request to 80% of U.S. households, expecting a response rate of about 45%. Non-responsive households will eventually be mailed a paper census form to fill out, either in English or Spanish. Online questionnaires will have more languages to choose from

 Eventually, if no response is forthcoming, a Census Bureau field worker will be dispatched to contact the household in person or via telephone.

 The consensus among the teleconference panelists was that if the citizenship question is included in the census, people should answer it and not leave it blank.

 “You really must answer,” Choi said. “There are legal ramifications.”

 Panel moderator Beth Lynk, census counts campaign director for The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said her organization is worried about an undercount of as high as 4 million minorities with a possible concomitant over count of Caucasians.

“Everyone relies on census data,” she said.

 Sulma Arias of FIRM said her organization is already holding community meetings, engaging people of color online, and getting the word out about how important this census will be.

 “This is an attack on our rights to fair representation,” she said. “We refuse to be erased.”