Tag Archives: #southasianforblacklives

What was 2020 About?

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.

We experienced large movements all around the world, people came out to fight for each other and stand by each other. Black Lives Matter, Dalit Lives Matter, and Muslim Lives Matter were three such movements that were instigated by atrocities committed against these minorities in America and India. 

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. 

India also dealt with violence and inequality against minorities this year. In Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, a 19-year-old woman was raped by four men and her corpse was burned by the police while her mother cried in protest. The woman was of the Dalit caste (which is the “lowest”) while the rapists were from the Thakur caste (the “highest”). 

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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. 

‘Beyonce Sharma Jayegi’ is More Problematic Than it Appears

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 artistBeyonce 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. 

Enter Bollywood.

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.” 

First of all, this statement in itself is a glaring warning sign. If the urban population of educated creatives is so oblivious to the deep-rooted colorist trends in the Indian society, how can we expect things to change at the ground level. The term “goriya”, which means a fair girl has been used synonymously for “girl” in numerous hit songs like “Chura ke dil mera goriya chali”, “Goriya Churana Mera Jeeya”, “Goriya Re Goriya Re” and many more over the years.

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

 

Racial and Caste Apartheid: Are They Similar?

“No one is free until we are all free.”

Dr. King’s words continue to be a powerful message for South Asians throughout the U.S. 

Over the past month and a half, our country has been jolted by recent acts of violence against black folks. While systemic injustice and racism have existed in this country for centuries, there is renewed political engagement with the entrenched issues of race in our country. 

For the South Asian community, it is more important than ever to be “accomplices” in the fight against white supremacy and racism. Several South Asian activist groups and nonprofits are paving the way to help our community uncover some of its entrenched prejudices. Through education and civic leadership, these groups are helping the community discover how to participate in today’s movement. 

Why does this matter to the South Asian community? 

The human dignity of black folks is something so fundamental that has been repeatedly ignored by our country. South Asians have often ignored their complicity in this reality by hiding behind the bootstrap myth or perpetrating harmful anti-black ideologies

However, our communities are more interdependent than people might initially believe. 

“Our stories are very much interconnected and to deny that it is the doing of white supremacy and colonization that tries to keep our people divided,” says Sabiha Basrai, a member of ASATA, a grassroots South Asian activist organization in San Francisco. 

South Asians and black folks have a long and shared history. Black leaders have long fought for the liberation of South Asian communities. In the 1960s, the activism on the part of the civil rights movement banned national and racial quotas on immigrants, enabling the vast majority of today’s South Asian immigrants to come to America. 

Solidarity with communities of color is more than merely a thought, it’s been exemplified throughout the course of history. 

ASATA protests

“A specific example of that kind of solidarity is demonstrated through Bayard Rustin who was a civil rights leader. He actually committed an act of civil disobedience in support of the free India movement in the forties. He locked himself to a British embassy in the United States to protest the British occupation of India,” says Basrai. 

But over time, the South Asian community has forgotten about that solidarity. In today’s moment, it’s important to hear the call to action, Basrai advises. 

What’s Caste got to do with it? 

Equality Labs 2018 Research on Casteism in U.S.

“We must examine and reflect on our own complicity with hierarchical systems, like caste, which enables so much police violence within our communities and within home regions,” says Mahn, communications director at Equality Labs. Equality Labs is an organization that fights against oppressive systems in South Asian communities through political education and collective organizing. 

Holding complexity is an important part of this conversation, Mahn says. 

“Caste isn’t just a theory. It’s a real experience of hegemony for a lot of people.” Black and South Asian experiences are both tied to hierarchies of power. 

“Racial apartheid and caste apartheid depend on both racial abolition and caste abolition. They’re corollaries, they intersect in a lot of important ways for the South Asian community, but they’re parallel. They’re not the same thing,” Mahn says. 

Caste continues to be crucial to the conversation about the South Asian diaspora. Last month, technology giant Cisco Systems was sued for discrimination against Dalit employees. The employee experienced verbal harassment and fewer workplace opportunities due to caste. These systems of harm are real and have tangible consequences in diaspora communities. 

Progressive organizations like Equality Labs are encouraging South Asians to reflect on different vectors of privilege. While South Asians may be harmed by white supremacy in some respects, the community also benefits from the model minority myth. Similarly, it’s critical for South Asians to understand how they may propagate systems of harm. 

That’s great, but what do I do now? 

Being an “accomplice” to the movement can be framed in multiple ways, says Sree Sinha, cofounder of the South Asian Sexual and Mental Health Alliance (SASMHA). 

“The incredible thing about activism is that there are so many different ways to be involved and each of them matter, each of them are important in terms of what the work is that needs to be done and the change that we need to see happen,” she says. 

Getting involved can range from a variety of different activities, from attending protests, to donating to black non-profits, to starting conversations in one’s own community – the critical piece is personal education. 

“None of us are born with bias against anyone. It is taught to us. And the beautiful thing about that is it means that it can be unlearned as well.” Sinha says. 

Sinha says action is like a ladder. We have the personal-level, targeting biases in our own minds. We have the community-level, where we help people in our communities fight against these injustices. And finally, we have the policy level. It’s important to hold political systems accountable, “whether that’s through calling into different congressional offices and police departments, and being able to use your voice in whatever ways is comfortable to you.”

It’s important for South Asians to mobilize against anti-blackness. 

“Where I really want people to understand that rather than being a source of fear or holding you back or paralysis that in fact, making even those small changes helps buffer us against racism. So if you’re feeling a little helpless or a little stuck pushing yourself to act on any level is a major part of what makes us heal.” 

Today’s moment is different from anything in our recent history. Sinha thinks that shows promise. 

“People are thinking about these issues for many people in a way that they never have before. And that just speaks to the power of the possibility and power of growth and change for humans.”

South Asian history is now inextricably linked to American history. The radical nature of today’s moment is important and will define the way our society functions for generations. We must choose the side of justice, for our collective liberation. 

Swathi Ramprasad is a senior at Duke University. She enjoys learning more about the world through her South Asian heritage.

Audacity to Hope

I sat in my backyard reading Becoming by Michelle Obama on a hot Saturday afternoon. It was the 4th of July, and I had pages to go before I slept. During the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, I resolved to read more about the life of minorities, racism, civil disobedience, and much more. The children & I had painstakingly collated a list after reading several lists online, suggestions from friends, teachers, colleagues, and the companies we worked for:

While I sat reading, there was faint niggling guilt to the apparent normalcy of it all. Was it alright to be sitting calmly and reading in one’s backyard while the world around us was still reeling?  

I read as the sun overhead appeared to move towards the west and finally got up to take a long walk. If anything, I had several things to think about in the book. There was a section in the book where Michelle Obama writes about failure being a feeling that sets in long before the failure itself. She writes about this in the context to the South Side in Chicago, and how the ‘ghetto’ label slowly portended its decline long before the city did. Families fled the place in search of suburbs, the neighborhood changed in small, but perceptible ways at first, and then at an accelerated pace. Doubt is a potent potion, and when fed in small portions can quickly shadow everything.

The limitations of dreams are seeds planted in our subconscious slowly and surely so that we may fulfill what society thinks we ought to do, no more and no less. Minorities the world over know the feeling well enough.

Trevor Noah, in his book, Born a Crime, writes about the ability to dream being limited to what a person knows. If all people know is the ghetto, they can truly not think beyond that.

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.” – Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

The largest section of the population to know these limitations must be women.

In the Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates writes in her very first introductory chapter, “All we need to uplift women is to stop pulling them down.” 

It was, therefore, in a somber mood that I set out for the walk.

I walked on taking in the setting sun at a fast pace. My mask was hoisted on my face and I felt sweaty. Every now and then on the trail when there weren’t people nearby, I slipped it down to take a deep breath of the summer air. I was walking by the waterside, and feeling the calm strength of the waters. My thoughts were slowly lifting as the sun was setting, and the full moon rose in the opposite direction. Out in the distance, the sound of Fourth of July fireworks was providing an orchestra of sorts to the accompanying bird sounds, and the sound of water sloshing gently against the shores of the lake. 

“Bring the kids – sunset and moonrise marvelous and fireworks everywhere!” I texted the husband, and off we went in the approximate direction of the fireworks. We parked on a side road to take in the revels of the night. To stand there with the full moon behind us, and an array of fireworks going off in front of us in a largely residential neighborhood was marvelous. 

Later, as we drove on, we listened to songs chosen with special regard to the 4th of July. The children had aced the list, and we drove on through the moonlight, lilting and dancing to the tunes.

Behind the Clouds, the sun is shi—ii—ning. “ – What has to be one of our favorite Disney songs, rang through the car, as we pulled into the garage. 

I read the final section of Michelle Obama’s Becoming later that night, I found the audacity of hope (pun intended) stirring and this too felt different; worth examining. Politics is a dirty game, but Barack & Michelle Obama have shown us what is possible.

Dare we hope?  

Maybe hopes can translate to positive outcomes long before they happen…

Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.

Policies of Exclusion

“If they’re illegal, they don’t deserve to stay.” 

My mouth dropped as I heard these words from one of my relatives, an immigrant himself. 

My family emigrated to the United States from India about 30 years ago. They were fortunate enough to have been able to stay. 

Over the past couple of weeks, the fault lines in the American immigration system have begun to show themselves. The Trump administration’s fickle policies have been of concern to international students, many from South Asian countries. One week, they’re banned from entry into the U.S. without enrollment in a live class, and the next they’re allowed again.  

 As my relative and I kept arguing, I realized the flaw in his thinking.

 He viewed immigration as a meritocracy. He worked meticulously, and he was rewarded with a visa. Those who didn’t get a visa simply didn’t try hard enough. 

The reality of legal Indian immigration is more complicated than my family member suggested, mired in government regulation. Immigration policy has allowed the state to use and exploit Indian immigrants by capitalizing on the community’s financial success but restricting future entries into this country. Today, Indians are the quickest growing undocumented population in the U.S. Between 2009 and 2014, there was a 43% jump in the number of undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. from India.

It’s a miscalculation of economics. Studies show that immigrants grow the economy, but are still being turned away. In order to address this issue, there must be a shift in American policymaking. 

In the latter half of the 1900s, a series of immigration policies opened the doors for more immigrants to enter and stay in the U.S., owing fully to the history of the civil rights movement. After the decades-long fight of black activists, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed. During this period, there was mounting political pressure to abolish racial quotas and discriminatory policies in the U.S. federal system.

This long-standing work culminated in the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, which abolished exclusions based on national origin. Following this, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990 expanded visas for skilled workers, focusing on boosting immigrants with technical talent. Technology companies voraciously hired Indian workers, who had the requisite education and were cheaper than hiring locally. South Asian immigrants were able to get access to U.S. visas due to the historical organizing by our black brothers and sisters. 

Today, Indian-Americans are viewed as the “model minority.” This label affixed to Asian immigrants is born out of deeply anti-black sentiment. In lauding the “model minority,” the white establishment has created divisions among racial groups. Insidious parallels have been drawn between Asian immigrants and black folks in this country. Being the “model minority” implies that other minority groups have to follow suit, despite their systematic oppression and the lasting impacts of slavery. Indian Americans have reaped benefits at the expense of black folks. 

Our struggle should be viewed as a collective one, in solidarity with other groups of color rather than against them. 

While there is collective anger for the policies against international students, little is being discussed with regards to ICE’s human rights abuses. Migrant children are separated from their parents at the border. Immigrants are viewed as disposable because of their status. 

President Trump has now spun a narrative that immigrants harm the economy by stealing American jobs. The praises that Indian immigrants once received have now soured, mired by collectively mobilized hatred, stemming from misguided economic calculus. We are left in a grey area: Trump poses for pictures with Prime Minister Modi for Indian-American campaign donations while simultaneously denying entry for families of those same, coveted donors.

While America has capitalized on the financial success of this group, there are over 300,000 Indians still waiting for family-sponsored green cards. Today, it is much tougher for a highly educated Indian person to obtain an H1-B visa to move to the U.S. If my family wanted to leave India today, they probably wouldn’t be able to make it. 

Immigrants should no longer be viewed as use-and-throw seals in the leaking pipe of the American economy. Policy should not just favor immigrants when there is a gap in our labor force since there are more economic benefits to immigrants than just industry-specific work. 

The solution might answer my relative’s insensitive questions. We must make legal immigration easier for those seeking a better life in America. It is imperative to increase ceilings on visas to incorporate more than merely corporate-sponsored candidates. 

The key to this solution is consistency. Immigration quotas should not fluctuate drastically. We must welcome immigrants instead of adopting policies that disenfranchise them.  

While it might be easy to buy into rhetoric that immigrants take away from the opportunities of Americans, it is important to recognize that there is no roof on economic advancement. Immigrants, through entrepreneurship and population growth, actually create opportunity for all Americans. We cannot let powerful language guide bad policy. 

It’s our duty to understand why folks of color have made America great. It’s time to be open, with our minds and our borders.

Swathi Ramprasad is a junior at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.


Featured image by Jonathan McIntosh and license can be found here.