Tag Archives: racism

Ethnic Hostility Simmers In Axone Cookfest

With the world wide furore created by the Black Lives Matter movement and the soul searching about discrimination and xenophobia in countries around the globe, it’s time that Indians look themselves in the mirror and ask an honest question.

How racist are we as a culture?

The answer, conveyed subtly and with empathy in the movie Axone, is extremely. 

However – and there is a however – we’re also open to change, to understanding with exposure, to the fact that the principle that allowed our civilization to survive waves of invasions over the centuries – live and let live-  is  still alive, even if it sometimes appears to be on life support. 

Axone is a gentle satire – funny at times, and at other times, dark and  thoughtful on culture and cultural clashes, on unabashed bigotry towards people from the ‘Northeast of India’ (are they really Indian?) and on the meaning of neighborhood and the importance of acceptance.

It doesn’t try to make grand statements or indulge in preachy messages – it’s a simple, authentic recreation of the ugly reality of discrimination and stereotypes prevalent in Indian culture, and the personal and psychological cost paid by the minorities subjected to them.

The plot revolves around a single day of misadventures, as a group of friends from the northeast of India (Nepalis, Manipuris and Khasis are lumped together here, so much the better to make the movie’s point) try to cook a special, particularly pungent Naga dish called Axone,(pronounced Akhuni) for their friend’s wedding. Their Punjabi landlady is a terror who screams bloody murder whenever this noxious smelling (at least according to her ‘delicate’ Punjabi nostrils) concoction is prepared, and forbids the use of her kitchen.

The friends resort to all sorts of devices to prepare the dish and move it from location to location, revealing in the process how the young Northeasterners deal with daily slights and ethnic insults which are as commonplace as stray dogs on Delhi’s teeming streets.

There are hilarious moments, but also situations which make one angry that their Northeastern origin lets others automatically assume they can be pushed around. 

Sayani Gupta stands out as Upasana, a Nepali girl who forges on with the project even as Chanbi, her Manipuri friend (played by Lin Laishram) loses heart; all the young actors in this movie inhabit their roles as naturally as a second skin.

Director Nicholas Kharkongor handles the casual way Northeastern women experience daily doses of racism and sexism particularly well.  Having grown up on the streets of Delhi, I identified totally with the rage Chanbi experiences when local men talk dirty around her because she is perceived as Northeastern and therefore ‘loose.’

My heart bled for her friend, who was too cowardly to defend her honor against a bunch of goons (why should he have been put in that position in the first place?)

Dolly Ahluwahlia as the aggressive Punjabi landlady brings the same delightful ferocity to her role that we first saw in Vicky Donor, whether she’s berating her no-good son-in-law (played by Vinay Pathak), or rebuking the girls for trying to use her kitchen or, eventually joining forces with her grandson to help the girls finish the cumbersome process of cooking.  

In the end, the simplicity and  humor with which the movie tackles a disturbing everyday reality makes it an experience that stays with the viewer. 

Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Contributing Editor Meera Kymal

 

Foreign Worker Visas Are the Tech Industry’s Dirty Secret

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order that bars hundreds of thousands of foreigners from seeking employment in the United States by suspending new work visas.

The argument against the most significant of these visas, the H-1B, has always been that they harm employment prospects for Americans and depress wages. Some of the criticism is justified: The H-1B visa, which U.S. technology companies and outsourcing firms use to hire 85,000 new foreign specialists each year, is indeed problematic because it puts both American and foreign workers at a disadvantage. These visas are the U.S. tech industry’s dirty secret. They tie the foreign workers to their jobs and allow the employer to pay them less than they could be earning—which drives down pay for American workers as well.

But the solution isn’t for the government to lock the doors or try to control wages; it is to let competition on the labor market do its magic. The simple fix is to allow H-1B visa holders to work for any employer that pays them the highest wage or for the start-up that offers the most rewarding work.

This is something I have written about a lot, including in a 2012 book titled The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent. I warned then about the deep flaws in U.S. immigration policies and predicted that China and India would greatly benefit from these flaws—and, unfortunately, that prediction was correct. With help from workers who honed their skills in the United States but couldn’t stay, both of those countries have built innovation capabilities that rival the United States’, and both now have many technology start-ups valued in the billions of dollars.

Here is the problem: For decades, the United States has been bringing in large numbers of workers on temporary visas such as the H-1B, but it never increased the numbers of permanent-resident visas (“green cards”) available for those who want to stay. There are 140,000 green cards issued per year to employment-based visa holders, and the law stipulates that each nationality may receive no more than 7 percent of the total number of employment-based green cards. My research team documented in 2007 that this limitation had trapped more than 1 million skilled immigrants and their families in immigration limbo. The Cato Institute found that number to be unchanged in 2020 and forecast that the backlog would increase to 2.4 million by 2030. Today, skilled Indian workers make up 75 percent of the employment-based backlog, and those who recently arrived face a wait of 90 years.

Technically, any H-1B worker can change jobs by filing a petition with the government, and some do take advantage of this rule. But there is a catch: The H-1B visa allows a path to permanent residency only when an employer sponsors a worker. And this is the carrot employers offer, one that most people coming to the United States want. Once they accept this carrot, they are trapped in immigration limbo because they can only change sponsoring employers or take new jobs at their current companies if the new job is in the same category and at the same level as the old one—otherwise, they risk losing their status or having to reapply. Most don’t take the risk. Therefore, visa holders shun promotions and changes in their job descriptions, leading to stagnating careers and lower salaries than they could otherwise make.

Opponents of the H-1B visa are correct in claiming that the visa disadvantages American workers, who are effectively competing with bonded labor. To the would-be immigrants, this indentured servitude is compounded by the employment restrictions that their spouses now face once again: The H-4 visas that permit them employment have also been suspended by Trump.

The overall problem could be fixed if the number of permanent-resident visas available for skilled workers was increased and the wait times decreased dramatically. But that is not going to happen in this era of pandemics and xenophobia. The most realistic solution is to untether the visa holder from the hiring company. In other words, allow an employee who enters the country on an H-1B visa and gets an offer of a higher salary to change jobs regardless of the status of his or her green-card application—without cumbersome additional paperwork. This way there’s no cheap labor anymore, and market forces take over. And, of course, the spouses of H-1B workers must not be prevented from working; no civilized society can place such restrictions on a group that is mostly women.

Technology companies don’t propose such a fix because it would cause them to lose power over the employee. Politicians won’t propose such legislation because it is not what tech-industry lobbyists want. Instead, we get a series of convoluted proposals that increase the role of government and disadvantage all workers, both American and foreign—and create the immigrant exodus.

Sadly, there is unemployment in the tech industry, and there are many heart-breaking cases of Americans being displaced by cheap foreign labor. This is not an acceptable situation, and it is why smart immigration reform would fix the salary disadvantage. Having more highly skilled, job-creating immigrants will lead to more innovation and more jobs. It will make the economic pie bigger for everyone.

The key to competitiveness is to allow the tech industry to hire the best talent, no matter where it comes from. The economy thrives on competition of every form, including technology and skill. Attacking immigrants and demanding that companies hire Americans over people who are more skilled, as Trump is doing, is the fastest way to destroy the United States’ remaining competitive advantages—and prolong the recession.

Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow and professor, Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering, Silicon Valley.

This article was republished with permission from the author and can be originally found here.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

Racism Is The New Public Health Crisis

From Boston to San Bernardino, California, communities across the U.S. are declaring racism a public health crisis.

Fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, as well as the killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police, cities and counties are calling for more funding for health care and other public services, sometimes at the expense of the police budget.

It’s unclear whether the public health crisis declarations, which are mostly symbolic, will result in more money for programs that address health disparities rooted in racism. But officials in a few communities that made the declaration last year say it helped them anticipate the COVID-19 pandemic. Some say the new perspective could expand the role of public health officials in local government, especially when it comes to reducing police brutality against Black and Latino residents.

The declarations provide officials a chance to decide “whether they are or are not going to be the chief health strategists in their community,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“I’ve had a firm view [that] what hurts people or kills people is mine,” said Benjamin, a former state health officer in Maryland. “I may not have the authority to change it all by myself, but by being proactive, I can do something about that.”

While health officials have long recognized the impact of racial disparities on health, the surge of public support for the Black Lives Matter movement is spurring calls to move from talk to financial action.

In Boston, Mayor Martin J. Walsh declared racism a public health crisis on June 12and a few days later submitted a budget that transferred 20% of the Boston Police Department’s overtime budget — $12 million — to services like public and mental health, housing and homelessness programs. The budget must be approved by the City Council.

In California, the San Bernardino County board on Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. The board was spurred by a community coalition that is pushing mental health and substance abuse treatment as alternatives to incarceration. The coalition wants to remove police from schools and reduce the use of a gang database they say is flawed and unfairly affects the Black community.

The city of Columbus and Franklin County, Ohio, made similar declarations in June and May, respectively, while Ingham County, Michigan, passed a resolution June 9. All three mention the coronavirus pandemic’s disproportionate toll on minority residents.

Those localities follow in the footsteps of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, which last year became the first jurisdiction in the country to declare racism a public health crisis, citing infant and maternal mortality rates among Blacks. The county’s focus on the issue primed officials to look for racial disparities in COVID-19, said Nicole Brookshire, executive director of the county’s Office on African American Affairs.

Milwaukee County was training employees in racial equity and had launched a long-term plan to reduce disparities in health when the pandemic hit. “It was right on our radar to know that having critical pieces of data would help shape what the story was,” said Brookshire.

She credits this focus for the county’s speedy publication of information showing that Black residents were becoming infected with and dying of COVID-19 at disproportionate rates.

Using data to tell the story of racial disparities “was ingrained” in staff, she said.

On March 27, the county launched an online dashboard containing race and ethnicity data for COVID-19 cases and began to reach out to minority communitieswith culturally relevant messaging about stay-at-home and social distancing measures. Los Angeles County and New York City did not publish their first racial disparity data until nearly two weeks later.

Declaring racism a public health crisis could motivate health officials to demand a seat at the table when municipalities make policing decisions, and eventually lead to greater spending on services for minorities, some public health experts say.

The public is pressuring officials to acknowledge that racism shortens lives, said Natalia Linos, executive director of Harvard’s Center for Health and Human Rights. Police are 2½ times as likely to kill a Black man as a white man, and research has shown that such deaths have ripple effects on mental health in the wider Black community, she said.

“Police brutality is racism and it kills immediately,” Linos said. “But racism also kills quietly and insidiously in terms of the higher rates of infant mortality, maternal mortality and higher rates of chronic diseases.”

The public health declarations, while symbolic, could help governments see policing in a new light, Linos said. If they treated police-involved killings the way they did COVID-19, health departments would get an automatic notification every time someone died in custody, she said. Currently, no official database tracks these deaths, although news outlets like The Washington Post and The Guardian do.

Reliable data would allow local governments to examine how many homeless or mentally ill people would be better served by social or public health workers than armed police, said Linos.

“Even symbolic declarations are important, especially if they’re accurately capturing public opinion,” said Linos, who is running to represent the 4th Congressional District of Massachusetts on a platform of health and equity. “They’re important for communities to feel like they’re being listened to, and they’re important as a way to begin conversations around budgeting and concrete steps.”

Derrell Slaughter, a district commissioner in Ingham County, Michigan, said he hopes his county’s declaration will lead to more funding for social and mental health as opposed to additional policing. Slaughter and his colleagues are attempting to create an advisory committee, with community participation, to make budget and policy recommendations to that end, he said.

Columbus City Council members coincidentally declared racism a public health crisis on May 25, the day Floyd died in Minneapolis. Four months earlier, the mayor had asked health commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts for recommendations to address health issues that stem from racism.

The recent protests against police brutality have made Roberts realize that public health officials need to take part in discussions about crowd control tactics like tear gas, pepper spray and wooden bullets, she said. However, she has reservations about giving the appearance that her office sanctions their use.

“That definitely is one of the cons,” she said, “but I think it’s better than not being there at all.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

I Went to Take Photos, I Left Empowered

It is a disheartening reality we live in where people won’t attend protests in their community due to misinformation. The reporting and headlines have highlighted the few instances of violence, instances that may have nothing to do with the protest itself. I was also very hesitant about going to the protests in my community. I saw news channels, YouTube videos, and articles all over the internet explaining how violent these protests are.

I wanted to take photos, so against my better judgment, I attended my first protest. Quickly I realized that protests can be very peaceful and that a majority of them are.

At the protest, I was astonished to see so many members of my community come together in solidarity to fight racial injustices in our nation. I had expected to see students, young adults, and the black people in my community show up to the protest, but to my surprise, I saw Indians and Asians in my community show up as allies as well. I have never seen these many Indians and Asians in my community actively speak out about the racial injustices within the black community. It was really empowering to see older members of my community come together in solidarity. 

My photo journey began as we marched around the city. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to capture. I took shots of people marching peacefully around our community and different protest signs.

Image taken by Ashwin Desai

One picture stood out to me as I went through my camera roll. It was of a speaker, carrying an Indian flag and advocating for Indians to help their black brothers and sisters. 

The theme of Indian allyship continued.

One speaker was a middle-aged, first-generation Indian man who helped black men and women out of the judicial system in Oakland. He talked about how the Indian community needs to be there for their black brothers and sisters because, without them, many immigrants wouldn’t be here today.

The Immigration Act of 1965, the law that allowed many of our own parents to come to the United States, was made possible because of The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Without black people fighting for their rights in the Civil Rights Movement, there would be no Asian-Americans in the United States.

He then spoke about the model minority myth. The model minority myth is the notion that since Asian-Americans are doing well in the United States, all minorities should be able to achieve the same level of success, perpetuating that racism does not exist. But as the name states, this is just a myth.

He concluded by talking about the biases within the Indian community. There is a stigma within the Indian community about dark-colored skin. Since the time that India was occupied by the British, Indians have continued to adopt the same beauty standards as the British, i.e lighter skin is more beautiful. Indians actively oppress and chastise those with darker skin. The problem still persists as many celebrities endorse skin bleaching products. This innate bias towards people with lighter complexions has caused a divide between Indians and black people, keeping Indians at an arm’s distance from black people – never allowing us to truly understand them or their struggles. 

At the end of his speech, he told us to self-reflect. He asked us, “What can you personally do, with what you have, to make a difference? What type of member do you want to be in this community?”

In this process of self-reflection, I knew that I couldn’t just attend this one protest to fight racial injustice. At that moment, I finally had a purpose for my photos. I can spread awareness about racial injustices by using my current photography platform, Desai Photography, and use it to show others how peaceful protests are and capture the Indian-Americans in my community who are doing their part in supporting the cause.

I will try to influence others that think protesting is inherently dangerous and change their minds, and I want to inspire other Indian-Americans in my community to be allies. I want to make a change and I can start by using my photography as a means to do so.

This is just the beginning…

Ashwin Desai is currently a Junior at Monta Vista High School. He has a passion for photography and business.  He also operates as a pro-bono marketing consultant for businesses suffering from COVID and is the marketing lead for a climate change newspaper called theincentive.

Juneteenth: Examining Our Own Bias

This Juneteenth, I reflect on the state of our nation. I’m heartened to see many South Asians protesting in solidarity with the Black community, but saddened that some in our community remain indifferent. I worry about deep-rooted biases that remain unaddressed within our community. 

Even as we speak out, we must also look inward. We need to change the ways we think and speak and act in the privacy of our homes and families. 

Growing up in India, I was, unfortunately, no stranger to racist biases. Some of my aunts believed fair skin was more beautiful. Villains in books I read were usually portrayed with darker skin (some written by and for Indians). A South Indian friend who moved to Bombay was teased and called “Kaalu” (black) at school. We might try to pass off these examples as “small things” but they aren’t. At the very least, this sort of insidious prejudice damages our self-confidence and instills self-hatred. Worse, even subtle bias against dark skin can build a wall between South Asians and other communities of color.  

Unfortunately, I noticed that immigrants continued to harbor insidious (and overt) prejudices.  I’ve rarely seen art by Black artists adorning the walls of South Asian American homes or books by Black authors on shelves. We rarely question the history our children are taught. We buy into the model minority myth; few of us question where it came from. Some of us deny the cruelty our own communities suffered as a result of colonial oppression. And when we experience racism, we often try to explain it away or excuse it or pretend it didn’t happen, as though we fear that admitting it might lead to our expulsion from America. 

When I came to Southern Virginia, I saw a noose hung in a yard; I was pulled over by a policeman whose hand went to his gun holster when I reached for the identification he demanded; I was told, by a well-meaning neighbor, how pleased she was that I, a “colored girl”, hadn’t created any trouble in their neighborhood.

Whenever I speak to young people, I work up the courage to mention these incidents, because to pretend they never happened would, I believe, do a greater disservice to their generation than any discomfort that I – or they – may feel if I share these difficult memories. I also acknowledge the privilege I have despite all that I’ve experienced because my skin isn’t Black (which is why I live to tell the tale about my frightening encounter with the police).

In addition to speaking honestly to our children, raising our voices on social media, and supporting organizations that seek change, there are a few other simple steps we can all easily take. We can actively seek to support black-owned businesses.

We can read books by authors like Dunbar-Ortiz and Kozol that speak about aspects of history or our nation today that are too-often overlooked. We can take pride in well-researched and documented achievements by South-Asians and people of color and distinguish these from unproven or exaggerated claims.

We can add books by diverse authors (African-American, South-Asian, indigenous, Latinx etc.) to our children’s shelves. We can educate ourselves about anti-racism. We can listen to music and comedy and watch current films and TV  created by and for people of color.

We can examine and eradicate racist expressions from the language we use. And we must celebrate joy and beauty in communities of color, too – because it is by embracing other people of color today that we move toward a more equitable tomorrow.

It’s hard enough to alter our own behavior and admit and accept our mistakes; it’s harder still to counter racist assertions when they’re made by family or friends. Especially when these members of the community are older than us. We uphold the notion that elders are to be respected. It’s an important, fundamental and undeniably compassionate aspect of our culture, which should be maintained. That doesn’t mean we ignore racist rhetoric; it means we devote time to cultivating individual ways to persuasively and persistently call attention to racism when we encounter it. A commitment to creating permanent and fundamental change sometimes involves engaging in uncomfortable conversations with those we love. Speaking up may be perceived as disrespectful, but remaining silent is worse – it is not only disrespectful to humanity but also a form of violence that aids the oppressor. 

If we ignore injustice, we set an example of cowardice to our youth and we endanger their futures by allowing oppression against people of color to continue. We also dishonor the thirty-five million South Asians who lost their lives because of white colonial oppression and forget how many of us – or our parents or grandparents – were driven here in part because of the floundering economy left behind in their countries of origin after years of white rule. Participation in protests is a wonderful beginning; we must continue by creating lasting cultural change.

Padma Venkatraman at a protest.

Black Lives Matter to our South Asian Community for two reasons. The first and far more important reason, which has been explored already in India Currents, is that we owe the Black community our gratitude because if it weren’t for the battles they fought, we wouldn’t be in this country today. The second and more self-centered reason to speak up and stand up is the one expressed in this article: we owe it to ourselves, our elders, and our children. 

Happy Juneteenth!

Dr. Padma Venkatraman is the author of The Bridge Home (a 2019 Global Read Aloud selection and winner of the Walters, Golden Kite, Crystal Kite, and South Asia Book awards), A Time to Dance, Island’s End (winner of the Paterson Prize) and Climbing the Stairs (a Julia Ward Howe young readers award winner).

On Racial Tensions, From an African American Hindu

I grew up in the South during the 1950s and 60s. Those were troublesome times for the African American community. We were identified as Negroes and as an ethnic minority, it was very difficult to understand what our place in the world was. Honestly, there was an element of shame associated with being black.

During the late sixties, I became involved in the “Hippy culture” which exposed me to the concept of “Universal love.” I was not familiar with this Vedic concept of universal love, which is foundational to the true Hindu/Vedic culture. 

My first exposure to this culture was through my association in 1971, with Transcendental Meditation introduced by the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I was a performing artist in Atlanta and the surrounding areas and heavily involved with the culture of “Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll.”

Eventually around 1972, I came in contact with disciples of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder Acharya of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. They introduced me to the Bhagavad Gita, which is the most well-known of all Vedic texts. This holy book is very dear and sacred to all Hindus and Westerners who have adopted these teachings and practices.

Central to the Hindu/Vedic philosophy is the concept that we are not these material bodies but that we are eternal spiritual beings, temporarily inhabiting these material bodies. So whether we identify as an African American, Hindu American, Asian American, White American, or an American of color, we are all spiritual beings equal in the eyes of the Supreme Lord. 

During the present time of racial tensions in America, I along with other Hindu/Vedic leaders are considering what we can do to impact and help change this painful and distressful situation.

One thing that I have learned during my several efforts to share Hindu/Vedic principles in the primarily African American community, is that these communities are not looking for a handout. They are desperately in need of help in building up their communities, especially in the areas of affordable housing not just gentrification. Jobs and other meaningful social activities for their youth and young adults are also a major concern along with educational help.

Some years ago, I partnered with a young African American community activist who was working in my hometown of East Point Georgia and during that time some local people who knew about my association with the Hindu community said to me, “Mr. Tillman, could you ask your Hindu friends to teach us how to do business like they are doing.” One reason for this question is that many of the small businesses in their communities are owned by Hindu community members.

I serve as the president of the Vedic Friends Association, an organization focused on preserving and presenting the various aspects of the Hindu/Vedic culture, in a manner suitable for the present environment which is plagued by such issues as racism. This is the first time to my knowledge that they have elected an African American as the president of a major Hindu based organization. I am honored to serve in this capacity and the support and encouragement have been tremendous. 

I am confident that with the vast resources of our Hindu/Vedic community, we can have a positive and powerful impact on developing our communities of color. 

Benny J Tillman (Balabhadra Bhattacarya Dasa) is the President Vedic Friends Association, a Leader in the Hindu Community, and a disciple of Rapanuga Dasa.

Caught In The Grip Of A Triple Crisis

In the Grip of a Triple Crisis

The first week of June 2020 was cataclysmic for the US.  The unrelenting Covid pandemic continued to disproportionately impact people of color while the economic downturn exhibited Depression-era rates of unemployment and layoffs. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death by a kneeling police officer, the country erupted in protests against persistent racism and racial injustice towards African Americans.

The events formed a triple crisis that slammed a nation grappling for ways to simultaneously stave off a deadly virus, an economic crisis and systemic racism in its police force.

How will the nation extricate itself from the grip of an unprecedented debacle and learn to move forward?

A panel of civil rights advocates and health experts shared their perspectives on next steps at a briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services on June 5.

COVID19 is Spiking: The Facts

Covid-related infections and deaths continue to rise around the world said Dr. Tung Nguyen Professor of Medicine at University of California, San Francisco.

  • To date 6.5 million people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and nearly 378 thousand deaths recorded worldwide.
  • In the United States over 1. 8 million infections and more than 107,000 thousand deaths have been reported.
  • Cases are rising in 17 states including California, Texas, Florida and North Carolina, and the CDC is forecasting nearly 118,000 to 143,000 deaths by June 27th.
  • And, a significant finding on ER data indicates that ER visits are declining, but it could simply mean that people with severe medical conditions unrelated to COVID19 are avoiding the ER and getting worse due to conflicting priorities.

Dr. Nguyen remarked that the large crowds protesting police brutality could contribute to a possible rise in infections. He recommended that police stop using teargas to dispel protesters because it causes coughing and teary eyes that could increase the risk of spreading COVID-19.

He also urged people to wear face masks, as over 72 studies of more than 25,000 patients proved that masks were effective in preventing infection, and that high risk individuals like healthcare workers should wear N95 rather than surgical masks for protection.

The CDC Director told Congress that race, ethnicity, age and zip code data must be added to testing collection to make testing more effective in addressing disparities.

On the treatment front, the good news said Dr. Nguyen, is that 17 vaccines are in human trials, with Moderna due to enter phase 3 testing in July. However, he warned against the use of hydroxychloroquine after exposure to COVID19, as studies show it does not prevent infection.

The Disease of Racism and Police Brutality

Dr. Nguyen described racism as a disease that inflicts health disparities to people exposure to it. Racism is similar to social determinants like  poverty, education, the environment and healthcare access,”  he said, adding that “chronic exposure to racism causes the body to change adversely to the release of stress, hormones, and neurotransmitters.”

“We also know that acute exposure to racism can lead to death,” stated Dr. Nguyen, “as in the case of the recent killings of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others.”

In Nguyen’s view the pandemic has “severely stretched our dysfunctional systems – health, economical, legal and political, to their limits and broken them. We can no longer pretend that they are good enough. They were never good enough except for those of us who enjoy privilege.”

He also suggested that the pandemic had ripped off the ‘so called’ color blindness from our eyes so people can no longer pretend we all benefit or suffer in the same way. Racial and ethnic minorities, especially African Americans, suffer more from disparities in income equality, education and environment degradation, he said.

In fact, stated Nguyen, “One of 2000 black Americans have died in the pandemic, and their mortality rate is two to three times more than white people.” As a disparity expert, Nguyen was not surprised  because data shows that black people, even at high socio-economic levels, have shorter life expectancies than middle class whites.

However, he called for more and accurate data because for decades before the pandemic, data on racial and ethnic minorities has been insufficient.  “Whenever the data is not there, it’s because someone powerful does not care.” So it’s no accident, added Nguyen, that there are few minorities in positions of power.

“In the absence of data America can pretend there aren’t so many health disparities.”

The health implications of racism & police brutality

Nguyen called racism and police brutality disease vectors that need to be controlled and eradicated. “Statistics confirm that one out of 1000 black men can be expected to be shot at by police in their lifetime.”

The protests, he predicted, are beginning to look like interventions against the disease of racism.

Nguyen’s view was endorsed by the other panelists who discussed the need to reform law enforcement and systemic exclusionary practices.

Color consciousness not color blindness combats stereotypes

As the BLM movement gathers steam, “Nothing’s changed but what year it is.” said Professor Jody Armour. He described a futile cycle of  “wash, rinse, repeat” interventions initiated over the years to address systemic racism and brutality in the police force, but “which have solved nothing.”

Armour’s 1997 book  ‘Negrophobia & Reasonable Racism: The Hidden Costs of Being Black in America’, documents the repetitive sequence of commissions, public hearings, policy wonks, hashtags, implicit bias training, body cams, de-escalation, community policing and interventions that came to nought.

Fast forward to 2020. “That police department in Minnesota had all these interventions” noted Amor, and yet, “three officers stood by” as an officer kneeled on George Floyd’s neck.

“Black lives haven’t mattered since the inception of this nation”, remarked Armour, adding, “Black lives did not matter under Jim Crow.”  On Skid Row in Los Angeles, the largest homeless encampment in America, “75% of the faces are black”.

The Fix for Structural Racism

The fix is change at a fundamental level of policing said Armour. That means cutting back on the police department and its budget, and reallocating resources to schools, ‘houselessness’ and social services.

“Right now, these resources are being ‘sucked  up’ by law enforcement,” explained Armour. In LA, nearly 54% of the mayor’s staggering $5.5 billion budget went to the LAPD. “That money should be going to schools,” he urged.

“The trope for our problem is Hurricane Katrina when there was no collective empathy for the black lives standing in water up to their necks in the 9th Ward,” said Armour.

“There is relative indifference to the suffering of those who don’t belong to your ingroup.” In addition, police officers are insulated from accountability and transparency by Union Collective Bargaining Agreements.

The way forward is to revamp, test and reform how we hire Police Officers,” advised Armour. The solution is not technological intervention or policy tweets. He suggested that diverting funds to address disparities will drive better outcomes in health, violence and unemployment. In most cases violence is triggered by law enforcement of ‘low level, non-violent offenses.

“African Americans are being criminalized in schools,” he stated, creating a pipeline from juvenile hall to the  prison system.”

Police need to focus on murder, rapes, violent assault and robbery which are only ‘being solved at a 40-45% rate” in many cities because police work is being diverted from investigation toward proactive, “broken windows policing.”

“You can reduce police presence without reducing public safety,”  noted Armour. “When ‘Stop and Frisk’ was reduced in New York, the crime rate went down.

Before moving forward from the triple crisis,  Thomas Saenz, President,  Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), urged that an examination of the underlying culture in society and law enforcement was necessary.

“There are systemic discriminatory practices embedded in the culture that have clear exclusionary impact,” he said, though he finds it ironic that “today we are experiencing these crises under perhaps the most openly racist and exclusionary president.”

However, Saenz suggested that the culture in law enforcement has to change “through structural reform not only in how its financed but also in how we select and entrust with law enforcing our community.”

He also advised looking at a deeper level at our underlying culture that still accepts discriminatory, race-linked disparities that “ we perpetuate and facilitate,” if we cannot attribute them to intentionally and openly expressed racial discrimination.”

Steps taken to counter the pandemic at the federal level continue to “embed within them” discriminatory policies that excludes minorities, added Saenz.

Recent legislation excluded largely undocumented workers from receiving economic stimulus checks  because they pay taxes with an Individual Taxpayer id number. As a result, comments Saenz, every member of their families (including US citizen spouses and children) are also excluded .

“We know that that exclusion has a racially discriminatory impact particularly on Latin and Asian American communities,” said Saenz. The Department of Education under Betsy DeVos provided advice with clear racially discriminatory intent that prevents some immigrant students from receiving relief from federal allocated emergency financial aid that other students got.

Exclusionary practices with clear racially discriminatory impact, dehumanize people of color and demonize protestors who have “risen in righteous indignation against George Floyd’s murder,” said Saenz.

As the economy recovers and jobs are restored,  “We will see longstanding patterns of discrimination recur,” said Saenz. “White employees will be hired back first while African, Latino and Asian Americans will be hired later on.”

He cautioned that, “With these crises we are doing what we have too often done. We are continuing, perpetuating and lengthening our acceptance of ongoing discriminatory exclusions “because we cannot attribute them to blatant racism “even though we know they are driven by racist ideology.

This is a problem that will feed into the response and recovery of these crises, said Saenz.

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents


Photo by Robert Metz on Unsplash

 

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

Hate Unmasked In America

“You are the most selfish f—ing people on the planet.”

I jerked my head to the left, where I saw a neighbor glaring at us from his driveway while unloading groceries from his trunk.

“Where’s your f—ing mask?” he said. “Unbelievable.”

 

Marigold Ganz, 3, wore this mask for five minutes outside and then threw it away. We haven’t been able to find it since. In the background is her grandfather, Jovit Almendrala, trying his own mask out for the first time. (Courtesy of Anna Almendrala)

My jaw dropped. I had just walked three blocks home with my toddler and my dad in our leafy, mostly empty Los Angeles neighborhood because my kid had thrown a tantrum in the car.

And we had forgotten our masks. Four days earlier, Mayor Eric Garcetti had ordered protective face coverings anytime we left home, not just when we entered essential businesses.

I pointed out my house to the neighbor to explain how close we were, just a few doors down from him. He cut me off.

“I don’t give a f– where you live, and I don’t give a f– what your reason is.”

Then my dad jumped in. “Sorry, sir, we forgot our masks. I’m sorry, sir.”

Still, the man didn’t soften.

“You should be sorry. And you should make her be sorry, too,” he gestured toward me. After a few more agonizing seconds, he dismissed us.

Our neighbor’s mask, by the way? It was off his face, hanging loosely around his neck. All the better to shout at us.

As a health care reporter, I had covered America’s evolution on masks as the coronavirus spread across the globe. Back in January, I wrote an article about why Chinese immigrants insisted on wearing surgical and construction masks in the U.S., even though it went against official health recommendations at the time. In February, I wrote about Asian families in California clashing with schools over whether their children should be allowed to wear masks in class.

At that time, Asian people wearing masks were targets for verbal and physical abuse. Attackers saw masks on Asian faces as signs of disease and invasion; people were punched and kicked, harassed on public transit, bullied at school and worse.

Now, of course, masks are the norm. And they’ve become more than just personal protection; they are symbols of courtesy and scientific buy-in. They have, to some extent, also become political signifiers. In a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 70% of Democrats said they wear a protective mask “every time” they leave their house, versus 37% of Republicans. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is an editorially independent program of KFF.)

After our verbal beatdown, my dad and I walked home stone-faced, and then retreated to our separate rooms to nurse our wounds.

I have no idea if the neighbor’s comments had a racist undertone. But it felt like the times in my childhood, first in New Zealand, then in a Bay Area suburb, when I had seen my Philippines-born parents, stunned and silent, get dressed down or humiliated by angry, callous white people. Now it was my 3-year-old daughter’s turn to see me dumbstruck. As I began telling my husband the story, I started crying so hard that I got a headache.

After my tears came reflection, and an attempt at empathy.

My neighbor was obviously scared. He was older, and potentially more medically vulnerable. His trunk had been packed with overstuffed shopping bags ― probably enough food for weeks, to avoid leaving his house.

He had just come from the grocery store, an enclosed space full of things and people that could potentially infect him. I understand the stress that comes with shopping during the pandemic.

Like many of us, my neighbor could be struggling with how to live in mortal fear of the coronavirus. And for him, at least that morning, that struggle got the better of him.

Later that day, I wrote the neighbor a card introducing ourselves. I apologized for making him feel unsafe and acknowledged that he was right about the masks. But I also said he had unfairly used us as a target for his fear and frustration, and I told him I was shocked and saddened he would treat a neighbor with so much hate. I haven’t heard back from him.

My dad spent the rest of that morning praying that the man didn’t get the coronavirus — lest he blame us and all Asians, forever.

Since that day, no one in my family has left the house without a mask on their face, and I’m anxious to train my daughter to wear one, although she resists it the way she has refused hats and headbands in the past.

We can’t stop noticing that most other exercisers and dog-walkers in our neighborhood ― all white ― fly past us without them. They don’t seem to worry about getting caught on the wrong side of whatever America happens to believe about masks on any given day. But my family can’t risk it.


This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Images (Courtesy of Anna Almendrala)

#WashTheHate

As lockdown orders begin lifting across the United States, the Asian American community is not only concerned about protecting themselves from exposure to COVID-19 but also their physical safety. Since the outbreak of the virus, hate incidents against persons of Asian descent have surged throughout the country with reports of harassment, vandalism, and violent assaults. In March, the FBI assessed that hate crime incidents against Asian Americans would likely increase due to the spread of the virus and the assumption that certain individuals may associate COVID-19 with the Asian American community. 

#WashTheHate was launched in March following a series of violent assaults against Asian Americans and is a social media campaign created to raise awareness about COVID-related bigotry and xenophobia. It features videos of Asian American celebrities, leaders, and influencers, as well as community allies, washing their hands in accordance with CDC recommendations while sharing personal stories about how the pandemic and racism has impacted their lives. Notable participants include Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly), Panda Express founders Peggy and Andrew Cherng, Opening Ceremony co-founder Carol Lim, actor Ludi Lin (Aquaman), actor Osric Chau (Supernatural), singer AJ Rafael, actress Amy Hill (Magnum, P.I.), recording artist/producer Shawn Wasabi and former Miss America Nina Davaluri. Over two dozen national advocacy organizations have also endorsed the campaign. 

Comedian, Maulik Pancholy, on #washthehate

Due to the nationwide quarantine and social distancing restrictions, each of the PSA participants shot their portion of the spot in their homes using nothing but their smartphones. The self-shot footage was then compiled, edited, and transformed into the final product by Asian American communications agency IW Group, creators of #WashTheHate. To promote the PSA and social media campaign, #WashTheHate organizers and participants have embarked on a virtual speaking tour throughout Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. 

“As someone who’s come face to face with COVID-related bigotry, I understand the concern that many Asian Americans feel as the country begins to reopen and we start stepping back into the world,” said Tzi Ma, who experienced a racist encounter outside a supermarket near his home at the start of the outbreak. “We hope this PSA allows the public to see this situation from a different perspective while underscoring the need for solidarity during this critical time.” 

“Throughout history, there’s been a tendency to single out and cast blame on certain groups of people during difficult times. We must be vigilant in preventing this from happening again, not only to our Asian American Pacific Islander community, but to any community,” said Celia Au. “This PSA reinforces the need to stop bigotry and create solidarity, so that we can all come out of this pandemic standing stronger than ever before.”  

“A self-shot spot is usually the result of creative experimentation but, in this case, it was an absolute necessity,” said Telly Wong, Campaign Director of #WashTheHate and IW Group Chief Content Officer. “We needed to get this message out promptly, and this was the only way to do it. Our PSA was the result of a group of amazing individuals working together to address and elevate a serious concern within our community.” 

Our World is Online: Cyberbullying Rises

Digital culture has become all the more important in our social lives as we navigate a global pandemic. The face of a screen is no longer a source of personal entertainment, but our only real connection with the outside world. Most of my birthday was spent blowing out candles in front of a Skype monitor and finishing up a math test on Zoom. Everything from our next meal to our first meeting is defined by the version of ourselves we create for the Internet. And while I’m grateful that social media platforms can provide a surrogate for human interaction, I’m equally concerned by its implications.

Dr. Dhara Thakar Meghani MD

To discuss the troubling rise in cyberbullying amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Hindu American Foundation hosted a webinar featuring Dr. Abhay Dandekar MD and Dr. Dhara Thakar Meghani MD. A non-profit organization established in 2003, HAF is dedicated to educating the public about Hindus and their diverse culture. In their own words, they believe in, “promoting dignity, mutual respect, and pluralism in order to ensure the well-being of Hindus and for all people and the planet to thrive. Our positions are based on a relentless pursuit of facts; deep consideration of Hindu principles and American values, such as freedom, equality, and justice; and the input of subject matter experts.”

The webinar first outlined the nature of cyberbullying itself, which is unwanted and aggressive behavior transmitted through devices such as cell phones, computers, and tablets. While traditional cyberbullying refers to subjecting an individual to harsh criticism and public ridicule, other variants of this abuse have become more common in recent years. Doxxing, for instance, is an illegal practice by which a cyberbully releases the personal information of a victim, such as his or her home address, phone number, photograph, full name, etc. Because laws surrounding online harassment are still nebulous, Dr. Dandekar mentions, it crosses into illegal territory without detection or proper attention. And when left unattended, this digital abuse can lead to various health complications in the future, such as mental illnesses, appetite loss, and even heart disease. Just because

What makes cyberbullying such an apt topic for this webinar is how our lives have changed amid self-isolation. For one,  children’s internet activity is less likely to be monitored by their parents since they have to navigate their job and household responsibilities at the same time. The lack of structure and surveillance can often lead to destructive behavior. But children are not the only ones impacted by digital media. The virus has also led to a troubling spike in xenophobia and hate crimes, which seep through the cracks of Internet culture. A month ago, social media star Malu Trevejo was under fire for spreading anti-Asian sentiments during a session on her Instagram live. And the isolation policy makes individuals like Trevejo feel less accountable for their actions and the hateful messages they spread.

Before closing off the webinar, HAF provided some helpful advice regarding how to avoid toxicity on the Internet and forge substantial connections despite the pandemic. Dr. Dandekar recommended using platforms that allow at least some kind of physical interaction, such as video chat apps or phone calls. “If we’re going to use a device, let’s try to talk on the phone. Let’s try and have real-time visual content..these are easy things we can participate in as parents and teens and kids.” And I can understand Dr. Dandekar’s point. Personally, I find conversations with my extended family so much more meaningful when I can hear the sound of their voice or see them smiling.

It’s a gentle reminder that beyond our digital personalities are humans, all of us trying to understand the unnavigable.

To watch the rest of HAF’s webinar and find resources, click here!

——–

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, CA. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is the Editor-in-Chief of her school’s news-zine The Roar. She is also the Teen Poet Laureate of Pleasanton and uses her role to spread a love of poetry in her community.