There is a lot to do, when there is the will to do it.
Have a look at this resource list, for some steps you can take now!
The brutal murder of George Floyd by the hands of a white Policeman in Minneapolis sparked a series of protests calling for justice, across the United States. The ripple effect was felt, not just domestically but across the world and people of all ages, backgrounds, classes, and ethnicities came (and are continuing to come) together to hold authorities accountable and challenge racist systems. What started as a public campaign calling for Justice for George Floyd has now erupted into a mass movement, with multiple sub-aims and categories including combatting police brutality, institutional and societal racism and racial inequalities, amongst others. Despite the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, this is the largest scale of protest and collective public action the world has seen in years.
(photos by Maria Rosana Correia, from a BLM protest in Edinburgh, Scotland)
Along with on ground protests, social media platforms including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook have also been forums of resistance and resource sharing. This has contributed to reaching out to wider audiences and in amplifying BAME and Black voices, calling for change through petitions, donations and education. However, in this world of social media, performative activism has been magnified, i.e. Those who post/share or pretend to be activist but only on the surface of it. Some examples include simply reposting a post that says 'Black Lives Matter', or posting a black square on one’s feed, without taking any tangible steps and actions to combat racism.
While this performative ally ship exists all over the world, it is particularly striking amongst South Asian communities who while 'identifying' with the struggles of being discriminated against are also responsible for creating and actively contributing to an anti-black rhetoric. It is well known fact that we South Asians (and often Asians more broadly) are highly selective when it comes to confronting and taking a stance against racism. We tend to only speak out when racism is targeted towards us. ‘Us’ here doesn’t even refer to the South Asian community broadly, rather only specific privileged ethnicities, castes, classes within the community.
Anti-Blackness, Racism and Hypocrisy plagues and South Asian Societies.
We are guilty of appropriating Black culture when convenient to us, making use of racial slurs, using our identity as POC as an excuse to throw it around in casual conversation (Indian rapper NAV repeatedly used the N word in his songs, because he thinks he can?). Our own perception of ourselves as 'model minorities' ; the belief that we are slightly 'better' because we are 'brown' and not 'black', reveals the extensive anti-blackness within our societies.
Black people in South Asia, often face the worst and most brutal kinds of discrimination. Over the years, there have been multiple incidents where they have been subject to intense abuse. This includes the use and normalisation of derogatory slurs in casual conversation as well as brutal physical attacks. Recently, Darren Sammy, Former Captain to the West Indian Men’s Cricket Team, revealed the dark side of the Indian Premier League (IPL) Cricket Tournament, bringing to notice the racist mindset of teammates and fans. Sammy recalled how both he, and Srilankan cricketer Thisara Perera, were called ‘kaalu', a common slur word used to single darker skin. With reference to the latter, African Students studying in New Delhi, India have over the past few years have been brutally attacked on multiple occasions, in the national capital.
Added to this, is our obsessions with 'fairness', and the extensive colourism engrained within us.
'She's dark, but she's pretty'
'Both your parents are so fair, what happened to you?'
‘You're already so dark, don’t go out in the sun, you’ll get darker!’
Colourism has had a long legacy in South Asian Societies, particularly India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and even Nepal, and while its exact origins are difficult to pin-point, it seems to be a culmination of factors going back to ancient times. A lot of people believe that British Rule contributed to majority of the problem, however there are suggestions to prove that colourism and casteism strongly inter-linked.
Today this obsession is propagated by, and sustained through media, advertisements and consumer trends. The advocacy of fairness creams is common throughout the subcontinent. All of you know the TV advertisement I'm talking about; A dark skinned girl gets bullied and then her saviour (a fair skinned fairy godmother like figure played by a famous celebrity), comes along and hands her a tube of fairness cream. She uses this, and lo and behold instantly she sees the 'change'. A shade card of skin colours shows her 'progress', and she is happy. Over the years, these ads and creams have been modified (as a result of criticism) and now claim to provide ‘nikhar’or an 'HD Glow', but the idea obviously remains the same.
Many famous celebrities across the subcontinent have long endorsed these products, contributing to the creation of a society strongly rooted in colourism, where dark and beautiful fall on opposite ends of a spectrum. After doing this for years, many of these public figures go onto share one odd post to show their ‘solidarity’ with the Black Lives Matter Movement. These public figures also represent the selective nature of South Asian Activism more broadly, through their silence on other fronts. Issues concerning the internal state of affairs never seem to gain as much attention or garner the same kind of support as international movements, most often motivated by the need to be ‘woke’, on social media.
While public figures and celebrities are examples in the public eye, this does not absolve us common folk of these crimes. We all are complicit. We all are hypocrites.
We are hypocrites, when we as condemn police brutality in the United States,
yet have nothing to say about the human rights violations in Kashmir.
We are hypocrites, when we repost a graphic calling for justice to George Floyd and sharing his story, yet casually ignore minority killings of the same kind.
We are hypocrites, when we condemn the use of racial slurs directed towards black people, yet continue to discriminate against individuals in our own communities.
To elaborate on the link between these acts, all based on similar principles, just in different contexts. Casteism, and Anti-Blackness are two sides of the same coin. While discrimination exists in our communities on multiple levels, this is the closest comparison absolving human beings of their right to be recognised as human beings. It’s the struggle for life, and the struggle to be recognised as a person. In 1972, the Dalit Panther Party was created in India to combat casteism in India. The founders were inspired by the Black Panthers and the Civil Rights movement, and since then the two struggles have been closely related.
(Photo credit: www.blackpast.org)
Similarly with faith based discrimination, one that remains rampant in so many South Asian Countries, where minority religions are most often cornered. Be it islamophobia in India, where right wing Hindu nationalism has resulted in the lynching, killing and cornering of multiple innocent individuals. Or in Pakistan, where religious minorities are being denied access to basic amenities in these harsh times. Even in Srilanka, where despite the end of the 30 year civil war, religion continues to be a point of discrimination.
These are somethings that needs to be recognised by us privileged, when we talk about equality, when we advocate for equal rights, when we sign petitions to combat anti-blackness, and when we campaign for a just world. Because you can't stand against a particular kind of action in one context and ignore it in another.
As an individual, you have the right to speak for and against what you think is right or wrong. You are not obligated to talk about everything that happens in the world or in your country. But token posting for famous and 'woke' activities and NEVER raising your voice for anything that takes place within your country, reflects the hollow nature of your activism. An activism that is merely optical, a farce.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t start being good allies now. All of us have been guilty of some form of performative activism at some point in our lives, but change can begin whenever we truly want it to.
You don’t have to take drastic steps to change the world, it’s about starting small but expressing genuine interest and a spirit to advocate for change; whether that is by educating yourself and others around you of the racist practices that exist within your community, or acknowledging the problems posed by colourism and their impact. Perhaps even donating to local funds, working towards similar issues within your area.
There is a lot to do, when there is the will to do it.
Remembers, ‘No lives matter until black lives matter’; yes this is a situation specific movement, yes, we need to stand in true solidarity – but this is also a time to reflect upon our own societies, practices and communities with relation to the Black Lives Matter Movement, and also vowing to combat racist, casteist, and discriminatory practices, institutions and individuals in every context; both in the world at large, but also in our own homes.
(I have compiled a resource list to help us put these steps into action. While there is an emphasis on South Asian Communities, these resources will be useful for anyone. The list is definitely not exhaustive, or even extensive as yet but a work in progress. Suggestions are welcome!)
(This narrative is slightly skewed towards conversations revolving around India, primarily because I am an Indian and completely appalled by what I see around me. But the reason I particularly chose to call this a ‘South Asian’ phenomena, is because such practices are rampant and normalised across the region. Special mention to all the lovely individuals who were open to discussing their views with me. )