In 2018, when Prince Harry married Meghan Markle, the world watched with awe. The event was a royal departure from the expected for Markle, an American actress. But since then much water has flown under the bridge. The interview given by Harry and Markle to American talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey in March fired up the disturbing issue of racism. Both the guests revealed on the show that the royal family expressed concern over the skin color of their son Archie, leaving shocks and gasps in its trail across the globe.
I have always admired Serena Williams for her sheer strength. Williams, married to Alexis Ohanian, also went through the same ordeal. The tennis queen faced barbs over the skin color of her unborn child at the time of pregnancy. She also penned a letter to her mother on how she faced criticism over skin color and body shape.
The ugliest side of racism shook us all when we heard about the tragic death of 46-year-old George Floyd. The incident received widespread criticism across the world over the way African-Americans are treated in the US and lent much-needed support to the Black Lives Matter movement. As a mark of protest, Bollywood celebrities expressed their solidarity with the movement. Actor Kareena Kapoor Khan went a step ahead by posting on Instagram All Lives Matter, which also received a fair amount of flak.
In Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye, published in 1970, the author highlighted how African-Americans are treated solely based on their skin color through the character of an African-American girl, Pecola Breedlove. Pecola also desires blue eyes as an end to her troubles in life, a fact that has been deeply embedded in our young minds through fairy tales where princesses are always fair and beautiful. Dolls for baby girls invariably have blond curls and blue eyes.
However, it is not just the African-Americans who are often at the receiving end, but Asians too. Last month, the brutal killing of four Sikhs in Indiana has sent shockwaves across the community. Sikhs are among the most targeted groups in the US, according to The Sikh Coalition. Anarticle states, “Since 9/11, dozens of Sikhs have been assaulted because of their appearance, often by perpetrators with white nationalist beliefs.”
The ghastly incident, which took place on April 15, rapidly gained solidarity movements providing much-needed comfort in times of racial discrimination. A week later, 10,000 people gathered in a virtual vigil and the message given was Stand Together in Solidarity. The reminder was that America is a multiracial country. Grassroots organization They See Blue, founded in 2018 to advance South Asian engagement, has also come out in solidarity and demanded a full investigation into the incident.
Colonialism has helped foster the belief in white supremacy. Little doubt then that in India, a British colony for over 200 years, fair skin is still desirable. Unfortunately, women are judged more for their skin color than men.
Back in school, many students made fun of a fellow classmate because of her dark skin color. I remember once during an excursion, a male student remarked that as he is a man, it does not matter that he is dark but for women, it matters. The notion that women have to be more desirable is problematic in itself, and skin color is one of the yardsticks to measure a woman’s beauty.
A 2018 study by Itisha Nagar mentioned that fair-skinned attractive people received higher ratings than dark-skinned attractive ones based on profiles shown for marriage. The study also says that Asian immigrants in the West desire lighter skin tone. It is believed that fair-skinned women draw better husbands, a fact amplified by matrimonial ads where the majority wants submissive homely bahus (brides) with fair skin.
In 2018, I went on an assignment to the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. In a small village shop, I found sachets of a popular fairness cream which has now changed its name by removing the word fair. All the ads for this product had the same recurring theme: a dejected dark-skinned girl on the verge of despair suddenly achieving success in life by becoming fair after applying the cream.
But things are changing. The BBC reported how matrimony site Shaadi.com was forced to remove skin filters after major backlash. More such steps are welcome.
Bollywood has also come of age. In the movie Bala, Latika Trivedi, played by Bhumi Pednekar, is finally accepted for being dark even though her Instagram pictures are all airbrushed at the request of her aunt. I hope that with such campaigns, discrimination based on race and color finally ends…
Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi
(Featured Image: Denel McMahan speaking with ABC News)
Weeks before a youth-led Black Lives Matter protest that took place outside the Dublin Civic Center, owner of local gun business Mike Grant posted a picture of the 17-year old organizer, Denel McMahan, on his Facebook page. The caption read, “Please bring your vests and helmets in case these BLM people start trouble. Remember this group is known as a left-wing anti-government group. Take Dublin back!”
Within days, the veiled threat garnered a swift and strong backlash from the Dublin community and beyond. From city residents to Congressman Eric Swalwell, people came together to defend “these BLM people” and the cause they champion.
When I first learned about the situation, I was curious to know who “these BLM people” were, and how Grant’s social media targeting has affected them in this increasingly polarized climate. I had a chat with high school senior, Denel McMahan, president of Dublin High’s Black Student Union, member of the Tri-Valley Black Lives Matter movement, and recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award at the City of Pleasanton’s annual Community of Character Collaborative. Denel was inspired by the string of protests that captured the heart of America this past summer and wanted to bring peaceful advocacy to his city.
Denel McMahan’s Thoughts
1) You’re a staunch supporter of racial equality and a member of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a Gen Z activist, how do you think social media and the Internet Age have affected both racism and social advocacy?
I think that social media has been a great resource throughout this period of COVID-19 and quarantine. The thing that I love about it is that social media has no boundary when it comes to education. People are free to post about whatever in its true form. This includes history. In school, history is heavily censored and manipulated in order to make students comfortable. However, to make real change we need to stop desiring comfortability. We learn about history to avoid repeating it, but we are right now due to sheltering students from traumatic concepts. The same goes for the internet too. I’ve learned more Black history myself through Google than I have in my 11 and a half years of schooling. My parents are also a great resource, but not everyone has parents who understand Black history in its entirety or are Black in general. So, if you want to learn more about truthful history, I recommend looking through Social Media and researching through Google.
2) At school, you’re the president of the Black Student Union. How has this experience shaped your journey of raising awareness and initiating change in your community as a whole?
My presidency has allowed me to earn a platform that is being taken seriously by our administration. For 3 years, I sat and watched the past presidents and how they ran the BSU. Through that, I began to shape my leading style and figured out what I wanted to do with my position. With it, I wanted to do the best I could. I not only wanted to improve our BSU and increase its presence on campus, but I wanted to make sure that we were involved in the Black Lives Matter movement efforts in Dublin. A protest was held in Dublin and there was so much support. Eventually, the other BSU officers and I drafted plans for school change, and our admin engaged heavily with us and is even making more opportunities for us to help the community out more.
3) Post the election, we find ourselves at the precipice of extraordinary political change. What legislative changes do you hope our new administration will bring to address racism, criminal justice, and police brutality?
I just hope that there’s some sense of accountability that comes with a new president. Of course, the President doesn’t have all the power in the federal government, but I feel that at least when incidents of brutality happen, we will have his support. The other big thing that I would want to see is national reparations. Those have been promised to Black Americans since the end of Slavery, but they haven’t been done. They are currently planning a reparations task force in California, so that would be interesting to see what they try to implement. However, they need to be done at the national level since slavery was pretty much a national thing before it ended.
4) If you’re comfortable speaking about this, what was the experience of seeing Mr. Grant’s Facebook post like? Was this kind of backlash something you’ve experienced in the past?
It was very worrying for me. When I saw the post, I was in Las Vegas for my sister’s 21st birthday. When I got word of the post, I was physically shaking. My face had been posted in a public, alt-right Facebook group for many conservatives to see. I saw that it had 29 shares, so that was 30 people who saw me as some thug trying to destroy Dublin, which in no case I was. The event was passed unanimously and was city-sponsored. A huge part of my nervousness was also because this was the first time I received public backlash. I knew I would eventually get some, but never that quick and never by a grown man.
5) In a conversation with ABC News, you mentioned that you’re willing to have a conversation with Mr. Grant. Do you feel like conversations like this are possible at a larger scale, where protestors and counter-protestors can reach a middle ground in constructive, innocuous ways?
Honestly, I believe that the political climate has destroyed any possibility of large-scale, constructive conversations. I think the best way to have them is in private so that all you need to do is to listen. A simple one-on-one conversation to get to a middle ground is the most effective way to do so. However, I hope that one day, groups of people from different beliefs can come together and conversate without it becoming ineffective or violent.
6) What advice do you have for other young people who want to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement?
My advice is to be vocal. In this time, silence also means compliance. Take the time to understand it and bring it close to you. Even in this time of COVID, there are social media platforms. Making and sharing posts are still great ways to advocate for the movement. If you find yourself wanting to protest, don’t be scared. The supporters will always outweigh the opposition.
These are wise words, especially coming from an individual who helped organize a Black Lives Matter protest on November 15th. The demonstration was both peaceful and successful, with Denel and his peers giving speeches about racism, their participation in the Black Student Union, and the harsh realities of police brutality in America. In a creative display of solidarity, this protest featured a ‘Sign Garden’, where signs and posters supporting the Black Lives Matter were placed everywhere from City Hall to the Civic Plaza. These signs were both positive and united, some of them including messages like, “Fear and hate have no place here” and “Color is not a crime”.
Personally, I’m both relieved and overjoyed that this demonstration, despite the initial conflict, remained peaceful and constructive. It was interesting to see this single cause bring together different generations, ethnicities, and cities to reflect on racial justice. But I can’t help but harken back to Denel’s comment about initiating a conversation with Grant. What does the exchange between these two political antipodes suggest about the future of race relations in America?
In a flash of optimism, I’d like to believe that recorded displays of police brutality, such as the tragic murder of George Floyd, will bring different ends of the socio-political spectrum together. As said by Will Smith, “Racism is not getting worse; it’s getting recorded.” Before videos of racism had the opportunity to go viral on social media and mainstream news outlets, it was far easier for American citizens to exist within an ideological bubble, where systemic oppression did not exist. That’s much harder to do when they’re being confronted by a live video of police brutality and racial profiling at its worst.
Furthermore, I do think that the coronavirus outbreak may offer a moment for the public to self-reflect, and consider how racial and socio-economic privilege has ravaged the very ideals we consider the ‘soul’ of America. After the strong online response to his incendiary post, Grant discussed how he became ‘educated’ about what it means to be a person of color in the United States in a phone interview with ABC.
“I never thought a 17-year old-boy could teach a 65-year-old man something, but he did,” said Grant. “For the last four-and-a-half days I’ve lived it. Just with phone calls, and texts, and hate mail and stuff. Now I think I understand why this young man is doing this, to try to educate people.”
The First Amendment of the American Constitution offers each one of us a voice, but these voices are muffled or confined in echo chambers due to political polarization. And personally, I can attest to subscribing to certain echo chambers myself. My social media feed is primarily consumed by individuals who shared the same political views that I do. My choices in mainstream media are a reflection of my opinions as well.
As an Indian-American, I think my identity as an immigrant has definitely been splintered along the lines of these echo chambers as well. During the 2020 election, for example, I found myself isolating myself from certain subsets of the Indian-American population who identified as Trump supporters. Amid the growing strength of the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve seen so many Indian-Americans distance themselves from conversations about racial equality because they don’t learn (and perhaps don’t want to learn) about racial hierarchies and the myth that is America’s “Model Minority”. As immigrants, the echo chambers of this nation have only made our ignorance of the issues that plague our communities more convenient.
And while these tendencies may be very normal on both ends of the spectrum in our heated political climate, they also contribute to ideological myopia. Men like Mike Grant have no idea what it’s like to be a young black man, constantly targeted and unjustly policed. They read and watch media which feeds them highly distorted narratives on race in this country, and it shows.
Prior to this incident, I can’t help but wonder if Grant has ever had a constructive, honest conversation with a supporter of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Could this gap be bridged? Perhaps the path to an educated America — an America willing to recognize its racism for what it is — requires a space where these conversations can take place.
Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. Kanchan is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, and was the Global Student Editor for the summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication.
I penned a thoughtful article on BLM to celebrate Feb as Black History Month. This is an honest attempt to contribute through Indian Classical dance to the movement. Many asked me to write about this for a long time. February is the ideal time.
We need to understand Black history, and learning more about systemic racism is essential as our country faces backlash to civil rights activists such as the George Floyd protests. We should know Black History Month and how to celebrate it appropriately. The second week of February coincides with Frederick Douglass’s birthdays, a famed abolitionist who escaped from slavery, and President Abraham Lincoln, who formally abolished slavery. Feb. 1 is National Freedom Day, the anniversary of the approval of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865. Richard Wright, who was enslaved and became a civil rights advocate and author, lobbied for the day’s celebration.
Young African Americans and all young adults of all colors need to understand and be proud of the heritage and history. The outpouring of support, particularly from white Americans and brown Indians, and all colors, for the Black Lives Matter movement during the nationwide racial justice protests in the wake of Floyd’s death, was a positive step toward recognizing more enduring structural racism forms. Racism is baked into the American system in many ways.
As we know, the world changed after Derek Chauvin put his knees on George Floyd’s neck for 8 mins and 46 seconds. Our collective conscience about the injustice of policing was shaken to the core. But this was not the first in the struggle against police brutality. A century-long journey, through the days of slave patrols, segregation during Jim Crow’s south, civil rights movements, through the beatings of Rodney King, the killing of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, the struggle and the protest goes on. Taking a critical look at South Asians in this movement, mostly Indians, we can do more to stand with the oppressed black communities and the racist American state.
Piyali is a Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher in Seattle foregrounds, collaborating with talentedJasmine Forrest, BFA (Contemporary Dance, Boston Conservatory @ Berklee). Jasmine has a long ongoing history of struggle as a Black ballerina and Contemporary Dancer in the professional world. The renaissance of Indian Classical Dance itself is an outcome of white colonial supremacy and upper-caste demand to be a custodian of “Indian Culture”. White supremacy in contemporary and ballet became standard in the western world.
This is an honest, collaborative attempt to support BLM through art. In this video mix of Bharatanatyam and contemporary dance and music collage, we wanted to portray the movement’s long history against police brutality. Dr. King said, the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” But we ask, how long would it be before justice prevails? When enough is enough?
Piyali Biswas De
Sadhana is a 501-(c)(3) non-profit organization established in 2019 based in Seattle WA, USA. It aims to explore and highlight ways in which various art-forms can be used to create social campaigns and awareness, to explore and highlight issues that impact everyone, and explore a common thread across diverse cultural forms around the globe. Art is truly a global language; it speaks to our need to express, reveal, heal, and transform. Sadhana aims to nurture and promote arts such as Dance, Music, Theatre, Photography, Creative Writing, Painting, and Fashion to highlight and educate about issues relevant to all of us.
If you would like your opinion or perspective expressed at India Currents, do not hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a submission or note.
Six years leading to the current election have illustrated that we are far from united. Fractured by politics, region, race, gender, religion, education, and socioeconomic equity, our country almost came to the verge of a lost democracy on January 6, 2021. This documentary offers solutions to bridge the chasm by recruiting all citizens of the country and encouraging them to really listen to why others are hurting?
The film is easy to follow and touches on the lives of many disenfranchised Americans. The narrative empowers us to address critical issues at hand in a more coherent way. Democracy is not easy.
Division is a human problem. For a democracy to survive, we have to recognize our rights and work through differences. The Reunited States forces us to do the work. We have to acknowledge our shared dark history regarding Native Americans and African slaves. After that, we can lay our current problems on the table: racial and gender inequality; crumbling education systems; inadequate healthcare; failing education; unemployment; regional differences; crumbling infrastructure; climate change, and misinformation.
Once everyone has their skin in the game, it may be possible to navigate difficult conversations, break psychological barriers and understand the meaning of peaceful coexistence. The film addresses that it may not be too late to realize that the “two party” political system might be misusing American dollars to keep themselves in power rather caring for the voters. Misunderstanding and othering spurs hate.
Hate is not only caustic to the person who hates but it also disseminates fear. We cannot remain United by being out of rhythm with our neighbours and trying to protect ourselves with our guns. We have to care for our injured veterans, our elderly, our sick and make sure no one feels that they have “a boot” on their neck. It will not be an easy road, but if we take one deliberate step at a time we will be able to stomp out conspiracies and make an authentic Reunited States, where “good”, “inclusive”, “courageous” words matter. What promises hold.
If we wear the mantle to reunite our country and save the United States, we can hope to secure a better future of our progeny. To quote Megan McCain “there is a path forward, together!”
A must watch to save our United States! I strongly recommend all South Asian Americans to get involved in this dialogue to save our democracy. If we don’t have our skin in the game, we will be sidelined.
The Reunited States team had South Asians take the lead: Ben Rekhi, Raj Krishna, and Nisha Anand. In an exclusive Q&A session with India Currents, Co-Producer Raj Krishna, a second generation Indian American, said he was unsettled about the future of the United States in the wake of troubling racist events of 2016. His involvement with this project depicting the hope and unity among everyday Americans was cathartic to his personal mounting anxiety. Raj emphasized that it’s crucial for the South Asian community to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and present a cohesive front with them. Raj believes that we can draw “important lessons against social discrimination by revisiting the problems created by Indian caste system”. We can lessen the divide by realizing that “we all need one another”.
Nisha Anand, the CEO of Dreamcorps recounted her personal family story of the Indian partition. At the time of 1947 division, it was the people around her who chose to honor our shared humanity. Nisha recalls having a Muslim family swear on the Quran that they were not hiding any Hindus (her family). This neighborly act of compassion surmounted religion. What a wonderful lesson of hope!
Anand accepts the ingrained stigma against dark skin complexions in the Indian psyche. She promotes antiracist sentiment to older South Asian Americans by patiently telling them: “I see it a little differently”. This is a good way to make them acknowledge her point of view without antagonizing them.
After viewing the film and communicating with the filmmakers, I believe that these young South Asian Americans are using the tools of their multicultural heritage to “build bridges” and to realize the somewhat elusive American Dream!
They have taken a good first step in the right direction. The film does not convey a biased Left versus Right political view. It just exposes why people are hurting. What disparities communities are facing? We all need to get involved at grass root levels, as students, teachers, parents and engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs and lawyers to advocate for a fair playing field. It does not take a village. In this case, it takes the whole country. Let’s all answer their call to action and walk with them.
Monita Soni has one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity. Monita has published many poems, essays, and two books, My Light Reflections and Flow Through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.
I struggled with 2020. What was it all about? All over the world this year people weren’t just fighting COVID-19 and lack of freedom, but were also standing up against violence and discrimination.
The year 2020 has been the first of many things:
The first time we experienced lockdowns and felt an urgency to grab every wet wipe in sight.
The first time people spent their holidays without family.
The first time people worked and studied from home, where the first twenty minutes of every Zoom interaction were spent discussing poor connections, muted microphones, and turned off cameras.
Someone’s first graduation or first year in school.
Someone’s first day at work and someone’s last.
All these firsts occurred so naturally that we became increasingly comfortable in them and they became our seconds, thirds, and constants. Most importantly, however, this year has been a space of growth for people, not just individually but as a community – something that perhaps a fast-paced, capitalistic society might’ve prevented in the past.
These movements highlighted that people are born human. It’s ironic that the biggest divides are made by people. We divide the day with time, divide people with everything we possibly could, and yet, believe that the solution to atrocities that occur from such divide is to further divide a community that is already disintegrating.
For once, in perhaps a long time, Black people were not alone in fighting their own battles against institutionalized oppression and racism. Teenagers and senior citizens walked on the streets to empower and protect a future that should be built on equality, regardless of skin color. But the BLM movement isn’t a trend, it didn’t ask people to post a picture once or twice on Instagram with captions like “Black Out Tuesday” and call it a day.
Instead, it created a space that supported black-owned businesses. It gave a platform for students and employees who were discriminated against in the workplace because of the color of their skin. It united people, as the privileged stood with black people and worked as allies. While all these events are a change in the positive direction, this movement isn’t close to ending. It has just begun.
To add to this, India’s nationalist government wanted Hindutva to prevail as the dominant (and only) religion. The government was and is vehemently against people who identify as Muslim. From crass WhatsApp jokes that highlight the ingrained discrimination against Muslims in India, to the police and government using violence against Muslim people on the streets, the divide and inequality reached a high this year.
These violent crimes against Muslim and Dalit people caused rage all over the country (as it should). Caste-ism, sexism, and religious discrimination reared their ugly heads and Indians came out in hoards to globally speak out against it. Calls for equality were heard as thousands of protests were held to fight against the violence these minorities face.
It irked me to say Muslim People, Hindu People, Dalit people, Black people. It irked me because it has come to a world where people are defined more by a part of their whole identity and less as just people. Rather than giving equal weight to ‘Dalit’ and ‘people’, we have begun to stress on the former and neglect the latter. It irks me because we take humanity away from humans. This year, however, it irked the whole world. These movements, these calls for equality forced people to stand up for each other. There is unrest still, there is discomfort, but what I learned this year is that we are tirelessly hopeful beings, even when we ourselves don’t see it.
So while 2020 had some of the worst to give, the best part of it has been the people living in it.
Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person.
The year 2020 has been so dramatic that mere words are not enough to capture its uniqueness, absurdness, and plain scariness. It needs phrases. And not surprisingly, the top phrases of 2020 seem to fall into two neat catastrophic categories: health and politics. And one can’t forget the inevitable categories: life and future.
Definition: CO for corona; VI for virus; D for disease; 19 for 2019.
Origin: Ironically, we had never even heard of it in 2019, although there were already some rumblings of the disease in China. And even when we first became aware of it in early 2020, we were referring to it as “the coronavirus”. Then on February 11th, Dr. Tedros (Director-General of WHO) declared it officially as Covid-19. Many of us who had grown used to calling it “the coronavirus” were disturbed to learn that there are also other coronaviruses. And we were more perturbed by the suffix “19”. Does that mean there could be a “covid-20”? “Covid-21”?
Related phrases: pandemic; and for the non-believers, plandemic.
Definition: What we really mean to say is “physical distancing”, meaning staying 6 feet away from anyone who is not a member of your immediate household in order to minimize chances of catching covid-19. Social distancing can actually be detrimental to our health, especially when we’re also physically distancing. In fact, to maintain our mental health, we need to be socially close to our family and friends at this time via phone, texting, video chats, social media, etc.
Origin: No one knows, but as long as we practice physical distancing until a vaccine is available, no one cares. However, physical distancing can be very difficult in mega-cities like Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and New York City – especially for the poor.
Related phrases: isolating; quarantine; lockdown; wear the mask (it’s not a political statement); flatten the curve.
The cure is not the vaccine; the cure is the vaccination.
Definition: The CDC defines a vaccine as “a product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to the specific disease, protecting the person from that disease”. It defines vaccination as “the act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease”. Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical experts have stressed that simply developing a vaccine against covid-19 is not sufficient; people have to take the vaccine to protect themselves against covid-19.
Origin: The reason to make such a seemingly obvious statement is that there are a substantial number of anti-vaxxers: people who believe that vaccines are harmful. A recent study in Lancet reports that “31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, with 17 million subscribing to similar accounts on YouTube”. The anti-vaxxer movement has, if anything, grown during the pandemic. And it may also be influential in other parts of the world – e.g., India, Brazil.
Antonyms: I don’t believe in science; The world is flat; I died.
Related movies: Worryingly, a recent study concludes that “Cinematic portrayals of immunization are increasingly unrealistic and negative”.
Definition: Polarized used to mean the special lenses on our sunglasses that reduced glare. But now it means breaking up into opposing factions – as in Republicans vs. Democrats.
Origin: The word is old, but it is becoming more ubiquitous and more dangerous, as it relates to an increasingly divided United States. It denotes disagreements on core issues and more worryingly, core values.
Definition: President Trump is saying that he has lost the US 2020 election because of large-scale election fraud: including voter suppression, accepting voters who are not eligible, and manipulation of voting systems. However, the election has been declared legitimate by the OSCE and many other neutral institutions.
Origin: President Trump.
Synonyms: The election was rigged; Stop the steal; Disinformation.
Definition: those that need to show up to work despite lockdowns due to covid-19. Includes frontline workers in healthcare, childcare, water, energy, food production, food retail, construction, transportation, and social services. Hopefully, this will lead to well-deserved recognition and better remuneration for those whose services we need in our daily lives.
Definition: a political and social movement protesting against police brutality and racially motivated violence against black people. Not a new phrase, but one that unfortunately needs to be repeatedly voiced.
Origin: It began in the US in 2013 with the acquittal of a white man in the shooting death of a black teenager. The movement has since gone global, with over 450 major protests in 2020.
Definition: An easy way that multiple people can have a video chat. It’s also free if you keep your chat under 40 minutes.
Origin: Hot-shot executives may have known about ZOOM since 2013 but they were keeping it quiet so that they could keep traveling all over the globe on business class. Now even your grandma likely knows about ZOOM and uses it to talk each week to all the members of her bhajan group. However, if your grandma is a Palestinian activist, she may be banned from using ZOOM.
Related phrases: Skype, Microsoft Team, Google Meet, JIO Meet, Say Namaste, etc. etc. etc..
Related movies: None…yet. And therein lies a business opportunity.
The next normal.
Definition: While ‘the new normal’ connotes change to a different and stable condition, ‘the next normal’ connotes an ongoing succession of changes. Given climate change, growing inequality, refugees, aging, and future pandemics, our world seems poised for a series of next normals. Hopefully, the next ‘next normal’ will again include trips to India.
Origin: likely the management consulting firm McKinsey, early on in the covid-19 pandemic.
Related terms: the usual unusual; same new, same new.
May 2021 be less dramatic and less phrase-worthy than 2020. And may the next normal bring with it a subsiding of Covid-19, less noxious politics, greater pay for frontline workers, more racial equality, and face-to-face, hug-to-hug, meetings with all our beloved family and friends.
Ranjani Iyer Mohanty is a writer, editor, and phrase-lover.
From Surabhi’s Notepad – A column that brings us personal essays and stories, frivolous and serious, inspired by real-life events and encounters of navigating the world as a young, Indian woman living outside India.
Beyonce does not need an introduction. She is arguably one of the most influential artists in the history of pop music. An inspiration to millions of women, especially women of color, an ally of the LGBTQ community, and a powerhouse of an artist— Beyonce is an international icon.
Brown skin girl, ya skin just like pearls
The best thing in all the world
These are the lyrics from her song “Brown Skin Girl” released last year in July. The lyrics bolster Beyoncé’s crusade for cultural pride and female empowerment; the song went on to become the most-streamed female song of the year. In the video, black and brown-skinned women are portrayed beautifully in celebration of their skin color and diversity. For me, the highlight is the part where the video features a dark-skinned South Asian woman in all her glory.
Back at home (India), a group of educated, young creatives decided that a song titled “Tujhe Dekh K Goriya, Beyonce Sharma Jaegi” (Beyonce will be ashamed when she sees you oh fair lady) is what the world needs. Barely a month or so after the whole #FairAndLovely debacle in India and #BLM campaigns worldwide, women found themselves back to square one with this inappropriate song.
A Sad State of Affairs
Composed by India’s leading music composer duo Vishal-Shekhar, sung by Nakash Aziz and Neeti Mohan, featuring lyrics by Kumaar and Raj Shekhar, this song was released last month with a promotional video on YouTube. Soon after the launch, the video, starring young actors Ananya Pandey and Ishaan Khattar, amassed over a million downvotes and widespread criticism due to its racist undertones, and for unnecessarily dragging singer-actor Beyoncé’s name.
The film director Maqbool and lyricist Kumaar apologized and said that they never intended to offend Beyonce’s fans and that the “lyric in question was never intended racially”. If this is true then the state of affairs is scarier because if in 2020 learned practitioners of art do not even realize that they are being racist or sexist or colorist, then we probably haven’t progressed as much as a society as we’d like to think.
In an interview to an Indian national daily, the film director Maqbool said, “The term ‘Moriya’ has been so often and traditionally used in Indian songs to address a girl, that it didn’t occur to any of us to interpret it in a literal manner.”
Secondly, the very idea of using Beyoncé’s name in the song and reducing the Grammy-winning icon to just her skin color reflects poorly on the mindset of the creators. In a culture where the colonial hangover is still quite relevant and cinema is more than just a form of entertainment but a social agent of influence, it is high time that filmmakers, actors, and songwriters start taking some responsibility.
From Plato to Aristotle and Kant: Exploring Art and Its Impact
The debate of art as means versus art as an end has been ongoing for centuries and this song brings us back to it. While Plato was completely against artists and poets and wanted to banish them from his Republic because he believed that art was corrupting, Aristotle, on the other hand, saw art as therapeutic and cathartic. Later, Kant came up with the ends and the means theory where he stated that treating anything as a means to an end is problematic.
I personally believe that the extent of the impact of art and its influence depends on society. In India, art is never welcomed as just an end in itself. Bollywood is big and people (literally) worship actors. Cinema has the power to influence young minds and when it comes to sensitive challenging issues like domestic violence, crime against women, colorism, sexism, and casteism, can India as a society afford to have such “item songs” blaring on loudspeakers? India accounts for 37 percent of global female suicides. Last year, in October, a 21-year old woman killed herself over dark complexion taunts in Rajasthan. In 2014, a 29-year old girl’s husband drove her to suicide by taunting her over her dark complexion— this was in close proximity to the national capital (Gurgaon). In 2018, a 14-year old girl in Hyderabad burned herself alive and succumbed to death after she was bullied in school for her dark complexion.
Even today, most, if not all, matrimonial ads say that the groom is looking for a fair bride. We all saw the Netflix show Indian Matchmaking— an embarrassing but sadly, mostly, true tale of the realities of arranged marriages in India.
However, we need to remember that this is not just an issue in India. It is everywhere— it is a universal challenge. As a 30-year old Indian living in Singapore, I get comments like “for an Indian, you have great skin” or “how come you are not that dark” and sometimes a direct “are you Malay or Indian”. I see whitening and skin lightening treatments and cosmetics everywhere I look in a mall. In Korea, I’ve heard people gift cosmetic surgeries to their daughters as soon as they turn 16. In the US, a recent study has revealed that racism is linked to cognitive decline in African American women.
Young girls are fed with a singular idea of beauty and suffer major self-worth issues growing up. Colorism is affecting the mental as well as the physical well-being of women all over the world. It is high time that we realize the gravity of these issues and stop obsessing over fair skin on a global level.
Surabhi Pandey is a former Delhi Doordarshan presenter, is a journalist based in Singapore. She is the author of ‘Nascent Wings’ and ‘Saturated Agitation’ and has contributed to more than 15 anthologies in English and Hindi in India and Singapore. Website | Blog | Instagram
White supremacy groups are proliferating, targeting people of all races while social media organizations, like Facebook and Twitter, have been accused of shielding racist posts. In times of COVID when the pandemic has redefined our lives and heightened our exposure to digital content, the danger of online hate is real.
Racist posts are couched in clever ways. Chris Gray, who left Facebook in 2018, said to the New Yorker, that racist or violence engendering posts were “constantly getting reported, but the posts that ended up in my queue never quite went over the line to where I could delete them. The wording would always be just vague enough.”
Additionally, social media companies are reluctant to take action unless forced to by a public media backlash. Content with sizable follower counts, or with significant cultural or political clout – content whose removal might interrupt a meaningful flow of revenue, have been left to multiply. Former employees say that only public media storms have forced social media organizations to take action. Fear of political repercussions or loss of revenue makes their response to racist posts sluggish.
At the core of the problem is the monetization of attention. Algorithms are trained on augmenting posts that generate eyeballs. The content-moderation priorities won’t change until its algorithms stop amplifying whatever content is most enthralling or emotionally manipulative. This might require a new business model, perhaps even a less profitable one, which is why objectors aren’t hopeful that it will happen voluntarily, the New Yorker reported.
At an Ethnic Media Services briefing on, October 9th, Neil Ruiz, associate director of Global Migration and Demography Research at the Pew Research Center, shared the findings from his new report: “Many Black and Asian Americans Say They Have Experienced Discrimination Amid the COVID-19 Outbreak”
Panellists discussed how hate is contagious, much like a virus, and that President’s social media posts are not helping. His use of terms words like ‘China virus’ feed the fear of a ‘yellow peril’ stereotype, and incites violence against Asian Americans. And yet the social media companies do nothing.
Donald Trump’s Facebook post in December 2015 calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” insinuated that Muslims – all 1.8 billion of them, presumably – “have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”
According to the Times, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO was personally “appalled” by Trump’s post. Still, his top officials held a series of meetings to decide, given Trump’s prominence, whether an exception ought to be made. In order to avoid incurring the wrath of Trump and his supporters,Trump’s post stayed up.
Going into the elections, violence against races increases, said Mike German, at the briefing. German, who served as an FBI agent for 16 years and infiltrated violent white nationalist organizations, spoke of the government’s failure to include racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and xenophobic violence committed by white nationalists within its counterterrorism mandate. The government does not track white supremacist violence, he said.
“Only 12.6 percent of law enforcement agencies actually acknowledge hate crimes occur within their jurisdiction,” he said. On the other hand victim-reported hate crimes are as high as 230,000 this year.
John Yang, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) said the rise in hate against the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, AAPI community, was fueled by the President’s racially-divisive rhetoric. Stop AAPI Hate, has recorded 2,583 incidents of hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Many people of color say they have experienced hate-motivated crime and discrimination amid the COVID pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.
“As our world continues to be redefined through digital services and online discourse, the American public has become increasingly aware of and exposed to online hate and harassment. The Asian, Jewish, Muslim, and immigrant communities in particular are experiencing an onslaught of targeted hate, fueled by antisemitic conspiracy theories, anti-Asian bigotry, and Islamophobia surrounding the novel coronavirus. The pandemic has heightened exposure to toxic content and provided new opportunities for exploitation by those seeking to harm others using digital services and tools”, the report said.
We are being invaded by this hatred. It’s everywhere. It’s silent. It’s as deadly as this disease.
Fear of political backlash or loss of revenue is not a good reason for a sluggish response to racist posts. Social media giants must fight hate speech.
“The white supremacist violence is not going away. The backlash against Arab/ Muslim/Sikh community after 9/11 has lasted over 10 years,” said Manju Kulkarni, executive director of AP3CON.”We are at the 210,000 fatality mark.”
Ritu Marwah is a long term resident of Silicon Valley and has seen the Sun Microsystems campus turn into Facebook HQ.
Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents
(Featured Image: Srishti Prabha at the September 23, 2020 protest at San Jose City Hall)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of India Currents and India Currents does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
Imagine you were sleeping in your house and you heard someone break-in. Would you protect yourself and your family?
Kenneth Walker, Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, fired his gun in self-defense, in accordance with Kentucky gun laws, which permits the shooting of someone trespassing on your territory. He was immediately arrested with an attempted murder charge and his partner was fatally shot.
The three white Louisville Metro Police Department officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove, who shot and killed Breonna Taylor, roamed free after the incident. Last week, September 23, 2020, they were cleared of the first-degree murder charge, with only one officer receiving a lighter indictment for wanton endangerment.
A protest was in order. In a case so clear, how could these men be let off with a slap on the wrist? I took to the streets of San Jose to show my support for the injustice inflicted upon Breonna Taylor’s memory and her family.
A bright and beautiful black woman, who served her community as an EMT, was taken in her sleep.
“Black women matter!,” we chanted as a group at SJ City Hall. A group much smaller than what I had seen earlier this year.
“White supremacy and far-right violence in the US is a problem that…is poorly understood, partly because the federal government deprioritizes it and the state and local governments don’t want to pick up the slack,” informed German. A consistent issue and a potential threat since the 90s, the ideology of white supremacy cannot be dismantled unless it is understood.
Why do I bring up white supremacy in relation to Breonna Taylor? It’s this simple.
The initial act of entering unannounced and shooting an unarmed black woman comes from the fear of her Blackness. The potential cover-up of her murder and the subsequent ruling in favor of the three white cops is the influence and power accrued from fear and oppression of colored communities.
There is always some ambiguity in a case or the possibility of nitpicking a story. Here is the question that should be asked…
Did the warrant put out related to a drug offense that was MAYBE loosely linked to the use of Breonna Taylor’s house require an unwarranted attack?
The fact remains that black people are disproportionately exposed to such encounters or convicted of crimes. Why is that?
Brennan Center for Justice finds that “structural or institutional bias against people of color, shaped by long-standing racial, economic, and social inequities, infects the criminal justice system.” And these systemic inequities are exacerbated and can lead to implicit bias when the law enforcement interacts with the public.
In any ordinary job, negligence would lead to the loss of a job, at the very least. Even insider trading has a consequence. And killing an innocent person has little to no repercussion?
“Crime in the United States has been a highly politicized issue,” Michael German very succinctly states. Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove did not do their job. A job where their first and foremost duty was to provide safety to the community they served, to the people they served, to Breonna Taylor.
A study by The Sentencing Project provides some historical basis for the drivers of this disparity. They find three recurrent explanations from a multistudy analysis: policy and practice, the role of implicit bias and stereotyping in decision-making, and structural disadvantages in communities of color which are associated with high rates of offending and arrest.
The structural disadvantage for communities of color permeates through and beyond policing. Societal thought and implicit bias are part of the quotidian. Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight and her nonprofit organization, Mothers in Charge, work to understand the violence in their communities. Johnson-Speight didn’t need to be part of the criminal justice system to live through the injustices faced in her community. As a mother who lost her adult son to gun violence, she poignantly said, “You don’t really have a clue, if you haven’t walked in those shoes.”
During the briefing, she mentions case after case where there is video evidence that speaks contrary to the police narrative. She uses Breonna Taylor’s murder to highlight the multitude of ways that powerful people use untruths to support the violence inflicted in her communities.
“She has never had any criminal history but to save the face of the corrupt police officers…to get them off [for murder]…they create these untrue stories. These are the kinds of things that have been happening in communities of color for years.”
What needs to happen for these narratives to be revised? Where do we start?
No one understands this better than community activist and CoFounder of Silicon Valley De-Bug, Raj Jayadev. “Communities have been sacrificed in the name of safety”, advocates Jayadev and very quickly makes the adverse correlation between safety and policing. The premise of law and order has been synonymous with policing, surveillance, prosecution, and incarceration, yet, evidence proves those two are antithetical.
Jayadev’s organization runs out of San Jose, a rather progressive city with a low crime rate. Despite this, he points out that San Jose has a relatively high rate of death caused by police violence. White supremacy is not limited to one particular space, it is national. We are all having the same political discourse.
Jayadev probes, “How do we reimagine safety, safety for all, if law and order isn’t the mechanism to get there?”
“Defund The Police” reads my sign that I hold up to passing cars at City Hall. I hear a call, “What is her name?!” The group responds, “Breonna Taylor!”
In unison we chant, “Black Lives Matter” to anyone who is willing to hear us.
Black Lives Matter. Say Their Names. Defund The Police.
The words are different but the message is one. We are hoping and praying for a reimagined world in which safety means communities of color are part of the whole. A world where safety means equal access to mental health services, education, livable wages, rehabilitation, halfway homes, housing, and social services geared towards the benefit of all.
Deprogramming what we know is difficult and will take time. Together we can reimagine…
Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.
Performing artists have been hard hit during the pandemic. With nowhere to go and no space to perform at, Sunny Jain, Red Baraat‘s founder, drummer, and composer has turned to the social distanced visual medium for expression. He began the Quarantet series engaging with different emotions and movements occurring in our current timeline.
His second video in the series, Heroes, was released on Breonna Taylor’s birthday and addressed the Black Lives Movement. Fusing his music with a moment, singer John Pfumojena bellows in the language, Shona, “There are rebels and mighty people out there.”
August 14th-15th marked the anniversary of the partition and independence of India and Pakistan. The state of Punjab was split up by the British upon exiting the subcontinent. This caused the largest mass migration in world history, something Jain’s parents went through themselves.
Sunny comments, “Punjabi people and really the entire subcontinent have so much shared culture that’s often pushed aside for political and/or religious reasons. It’s a shame, but I’m thankful the many people I know of the South Asian diaspora feel more as one, than not.”
Rhodes to Punjab was released in celebration of the ancestors, people, and culture of Punjab on the 73rd anniversary of India and Pakistan’s independence. Raaginder‘s violin croons as images of Punjab in 1947 splash across the screen and we are transported to another time.
In his most recent video, Family, Jain’s young twin daughters sing Hai Apna Dil To Awara from the 1958 Bollywood film, Solva Saal. He remembers his father jamming out to it when he was a child.
“My twins heard it for the first time last year as I was working on my Wild Wild East album. They fell in love with Ganavya’s voice, who recorded a version of it. Family, chosen and/or blood, is everything, and maybe some of us are lucky enough to have people that are with us through the many phases of life. We hope you all are finding love and support with your family during these times,” Jain notes.
Music has the ability to unify, evoke, support and Sunny Jain capitalized on that. The Quarantet series is innovative and finds ways to connect with diverse voices, giving sounds to emotions felt during the pandemic. Find the entire series here!
Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.
The phone rang. It was my daughter. “I can’t talk now, I’m rushing out to join a South Asians for BLM march,” I said hurriedly heading towards the front door. Immediately she asked me, “Are there going to be black people there?” “I don’t know – I think there are only south Asians,” I replied.
It had been two weeks since George Floyd’s death. I sensed her unease and was surprised. Why wasn’t she happy that I was speaking up? “I don’t know if this is a good thing, ma. Do you even understand the problems faced by black people?” she said. My daughter’s parting comment haunted me as I marched along with others near Boston city hall later that day.As a south Asian mother, the last year has been hard in recognizing the rampant anti-blackness and casteism within my community. Harder still is admitting my own silent acquiescence.
When I talked to other family and friends, their responses were often defensive. “We came to this country with nothing and worked our way up,” said a cousin who is now a venture capitalist. What he actually meant was “I worked hard to be here, and I deserve it. If other people worked hard or harder, they’d get what they’d want.”
I realize now that my own responses to my daughters when they first began questioning me was no different from my cousin’s. Like other middle-class immigrants from India, I’d internalized the belief that America is a meritocracy where anything is attainable if you’re prepared to work hard for it. If I was aware of the racism that black people faced it was only in the most abstract sense.
This meant when my children were young and still at home, I never spoke of racism and certainly of anti-blackness. Worse yet, like many in the south Asian community, I was fearful of anyone black. This despite having heard numerous stories from my husband of being racially profiled. Like me, he too had been born and brought up in South India and had come to this country as a graduate student.
“I was stopped when I got out of the flight,” is how he’d start the tale usually to a rapt audience at a party. He made his racial profiling experiences, fodder for post-dinner entertainment at parties. Once when he was finishing his spiel, I caught myself saying, “Oh my husband has a doctorate from Berkeley!” Both my daughters, now young adults, laugh like hyenas when they hear this story. “Ma, how can you be so desperate to join the model minority bandwagon?” When I vehemently protest, they ask me, “How many black friends do you have?”
The week following Floyd’s death, as my daughters began conversations about waking up to the reality of racial identity, my bubble burst. “We’re the white people in India,” my daughters said. I realized how easy I’d had it till now. In India, I was born into privilege, by caste and class and of course was blissfully unaware and therefore never had to acknowledge it.
In the US, I belong to the “model minority myth” where we continue to believe and propagate the ‘hard-working immigrants make good’ tropes. This does not allow for any failures or deviation from the straight and narrow. If there are academic failures, mental health issues, job loss, or queerness we tend to sweep these out of sight as anomalies. They are not to be acknowledged when they happen in our families and grist for the gossip mill when they do in someone else’s family. Social media too reinforces this overachieving minority myth.
Hearing the stories of the black community makes my own travails as a brown person seem silly. Even as I began to speak up, I realized there was so much more I had to educate myself about. My growth arc had taken a long time, something that I’d like to see shortened for others. As South Asians, we need to ask ourselves the following questions. Are we having conversations about anti-blackness within our families? Are we listening to our children and other young people when they point out that personal discomfort is a small price to pay for social change?
Recently I watched a video put out by Northeastern University. In it, for eight minutes forty-six seconds—the time George Floyd was gasping for life as he was held down by a white cop—over a black screen the names of the black lives lost to police brutality appeared.
And what about the many others who have survived the trauma of police brutality like Jacob Blake?
Like many others, I learned that those eight minutes and forty-six seconds is a very long time and we cannot be quiet for even another minute.
As comedian and television host Haasan Minhaj pointed out in his show, South Asians cannot stay silent. It’s time to not just be good listeners but also changemakers as we shout out, “Black lives do matter.” We can begin by asking ourselves “How many black people do I really know?” and follow it up with “Why or why not?”
Chitra Srikrishna is a writer and musician living in Boston
Growing up as a South Asian girl, society, media and even family had always ingrained in me that light was beautiful. Days in the sun would always be followed by the dreaded moment of evaluating how much I had tanned and then a series of home remedies, skin lightening products like fair and lovely, and even milk baths. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that this experience, one shared by many South Asians, has a name: Colorism.
This summer, as our country reeled from the Black Lives Matter movement, I started to think about anti-blackness or colorism in my own community. Inspired and motivated by national activists, I sought to take action in a way that felt authentic to myself. Drawing on my experiences as President of the Palo Alto Youth Council and Co-founder of a Real Talk, where I facilitate conversations between people with different political perspectives, I knew I wanted to start an intergenerational discussion about the role of the South Asian community in the Black Lives Matter movement. So, I reached out to the Bay Area Indian Community Center to take over their weekly Thursday morning virtual yoga class for seniors to lead a seminar on Black Lives Matter.
Coming into the seminar, I worried about what the response would be to my presentation. Talking about skin color with South Asians has always seemed taboo to me. I knew that starting this conversation would be uncomfortable, especially with individuals much older than me, but also a critical step in the culture shift around beauty and race that needs to happen in our community.
I started off the seminar with a presentation on Black Lives Matter, explaining the parts of the movement, especially on social media, that many seniors lacked information on. I next moved into a lesson about the connection between the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and Indian independence movements, highlighting the influence of Mahatma Gandhi on Martin Luther King Junior. Finally, after presenting some statistics about the booming business of skin-lightening products, the dowry system, and colorism, I opened the floor up to discussion, and to say the least, I was blown away.
My initial fears of silence and anger quickly dissipated as seniors started to share their own experiences. They spoke passionately about housing discrimination they had faced in America, personal insecurities about their skin color, and the beauty standards associated with marriage. I also received pushback – some uncles and aunties highlighted my own lack of knowledge growing up in America and argued that this was just how the system worked. However, overall, the conversation ended on a hopeful note, as seniors reflected on the power of the younger generation to start shifting old beauty standards to reflect our community’s core values of good character, equality, and justice.
As communities across the country fight for racial justice, I believe we, the South Asian community, not only have an opportunity, but rather a responsibility to look within at how we perpetuate racism. This means educating ourselves, showing up as allies to support other people of color, but also having uncomfortable, even taboo, conversations about race. My call to action for you as a reader is to start and lead these conversations with your parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends. That is how we will begin to shift our culture.
Divya Ganesan is a senior at Castilleja High Schoolin Palo Alto, CA. She is passionate about connecting different cultures, ages, and political perspectives through leadership, collaboration, and technology.