About a week or so ago, I woke up (slowly) for work at Shahi and grabbed my phone for the daily check-notifications, stroll-through-insta morning activities. Instead of the usual Farmville invites, I found myself added to a Facebook message group by Miru, one of my close friends from Penn, with 45 or so other people on the thread.
I opened the thread to realize that Miru had messaged a group of APIA (Asian Pacific Islander American) Penn students interested in campus issues. Saddened and angered by the recent terror attacks, and further frustrated by the lack of media attention to them, Miru reached out to the group to ask if any kind of action could be done to show solidarity. Given that most of the students on the thread were not geographically close to each other (with some people, like me, being much farther away), it would have to be digital.
After we all started discussing and brainstorming, news about a white cop shooting Alton Sterling began to break. Confusion followed on the group, as some of us felt that we should now focus on supporting and showing solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter, while some of us felt we should also continue with the original solidarity action and show support for both.
While this conversation continued, my own newsfeed began to be filled with news of the shooting. I saw many of my black friends post statuses talking about pain and fear, and calling on ‘allies’ (both white and non-black people of color) to speak out.
As I was reading the posts, I started to think about my own privileges as a non-black person of color in the United States. Although these conversations do not happen enough, in recent weeks I have heard of different APIA circles calling on their communities to support #BlackLivesMatter. These have included a call to action, as well as an open letter from Asian Americans individuals to their families, talking about anti-blackness within our communities. The statuses, as well as the open letter, have undoubtedly started some much needed conversations within APIA families on #BLM.
While I was proud and happy to see this work, given that I am in India right now, I wasn’t exactly sure how to respond. I paused for a little bit, and part of me wondered, “should I say anything, if anti-blackness isn’t as relevant in India? What is my part in this conversation as an ally?”
After further processing and reading posts and articles of friends on Facebook and other media, it became more and more apparent that this thought of mine was completely misguided. Anti-blackness has existed in South Asia for centuries. And black people here have been trying to talk to us non-black South Asians about it. Just a simple Google search proves this. The first hand experiences of black Americans and Africans with racism, and even more despicable reactions of the Indian government to them, were appalling–but shouldn’t be surprising. If I am privileged as a NBOP in America, my racial privilege here in India is even more ridiculous, systemic, and ancient. Although racism does not seem to be discussed in the same way in India, it definitely exists. And it’s not solely verbal harassment either–there have been incidents of physical and sexual violence, and deaths from anti-black racism from Indians. In fact, even Bangalore, my home for the summer and supposedly such a cosmopolitan city, has had several incidents of anti-black racism. A couple of incidents, discussed in many of the linked articles, are harrowing: verbal abuse, beating, and Indian government officials responding by making statements that people from Africa “are like cancer.”
In fact, I can remember a number of times when my own brown family members have talked about anti-colonialism, white supremacy, and so on, and turned around an hour later to say something Islamophobic or anti-black. Whether I was in America or not, then, did not change my complicity in systems that have marginalized black folks.
While this conversation was happening, I had just returned from visiting my hometown of Hyderabad the weekend before, where there had been a terror threat that very weekend. It reminded me of a couple years before, when I woke up in the U.S. to news that one of my cousins was almost caught in a blast in Hyderabad, and another series of blasts had destroyed some of my mom’s favorite places from her college years. India has never been (and chances are, won’t ever be) affected in the same way as #Baghdad, #Dhaka, #Istanbul, and countless other places. But when the blasts in Hyderabad happened, I remember feeling angry that no one else in my immediate circle knew about them except my family and me. When I told one of my white, American friends about this, he shrugged his shoulders and told me “things like that are common in those places. They happen all the time. Hyderabad is so small in the large scheme of things, you know? Paris isn’t.”
As the conversation continued on this Facebook group, some APIA students (including myself) found ourselves struggling to ask how we can center #BlackLivesMatter while simultaneously mourning and standing in solidarity with victim/survivors of recent terror attacks in the Global South. How do we talk about both, without taking away from either?
This is when an article, shared by a mentor I admire, came to mind. There was one excerpt from it that really stuck with me:
“It is in the interest of the colonizer to rupture relationships between the colonized. The power of third world solidarity should never be underestimated. There is power in relationships between protesters in Palestine and Ferguson. There is power in Pan-African understandings of racial and ethnic systems of oppression. And there is power in understanding how our militarized government has impacted millions abroad.”
And in fact, what the article was saying, and many other black and brown activists and leaders have been saying is true: these two issues are inherently interlinked. The idea that the recent bombings abroad and shootings at home are mutually exclusive is a myth perpetuated by white supremacy. U.S. police states, anti blackness, colonial violence, Islamophobia, xenophobia are all interlinked. They survive off and sustain each other.
So where did this leave me, as an ally, as someone not directly affected but in fact privileged by many of these issues? A quote by bell hooks, a revolutionary black theorist, was perhaps the best way to frame it. She had recently said, “I don’t want allies, I want accomplices.” So I shared something, as a part of our solidarity action, reflecting my sentiments on these issues. However, in order to become a better ‘ally’ to these movements, the best thing I could do is to listen. So I went back to reading some statuses and articles by people directly affected by these issues. And most importantly, throughout this post and now, I wanted to share those words (with explicit permission, of course) and make room (which I can do as an ally) for voices of my black and brown friends: about #BlackLivesMatter, ally(accomplice)ship, what this means to them, and what it should mean to all of us.
*This post was meant to be primarily addressed to fellow nbpoc, especially those abroad, talking about how these issues manifest there. It is not meant to be an all-encompassing message regarding #BLM or the recent terror attacks.