February 25, 2021

3 things I’ve learned about South Asian Solidarity with Black Liberation

To end Black History Month, we're featuring our Policy Director Richa Poudyal and three things she's learned about South Asian solidarity with Black liberation.

I’m reflecting on my own role in Black liberation as a young, class and caste privileged, first generation Nepali-American in the United States. Here are 3 things I’ve learned (still learning!) about what South Asians solidarity with Black liberation can look like in practice ????

Understanding history: South Asian Americans (like me) wouldn’t be here with the rights we have if it wasn’t for Black people and Black struggles.

We have the Black-led civil rights movement to thank for reversal of racist anti-immigration policies from the 1920s. This allowed South Asians to immigrate to the US in pursuit of a better life. It gave opportunities to support our families back home, or refuge from unsafe climates in their countries. Until this past year, I haven’t reflected on my own privilege of my parents immigrating to the U.S. by choice. They immigrated from Kathmandu in the 1980s to be able to provide for their families back home and for the one they were about to start here. I feel humbled by the Black struggle that has allowed me and my family to exercise freedom. This reminds me to credit and elevate Black struggles while doing my work.

Black organizers have been in clear solidarity on South Asian struggles throughout history, inlcuding the movement to free India from British rule and Dalit movements against caste oppression (Read one of Langston Hughes’ poems linking racism/caste oppression). I am learning more about this history and trying to feel less insecure about just googling the questions that come up as I read!

Looking inwards: The systems that allow for rampant and violent anti-Blackness in the United States are the same systems that perpetuate oppressive systems within South Asian communities.

Black South Asians are often erased when we talk about South Asian identities. This is inherently anti-Black. I am guilty of this too. I am working on expanding my narrow understanding of the big and beautiful South Asian diaspora. I’m reading about diasporas like Indo-Caribbean and Guyanese communities, and Siddis of East African descent who have their own struggle against oppression in India. The more stories I hear, the more I can appreciate the beauty and complexity of South Asian and of Black identities.

Anti-Blackness and white supremacy hurts South Asians too. White supremacy asserts that white folks are superior to all other races. In South Asian spaces, superiority based on skin color, religion, and caste also causes deep harm. As a caste-privileged Nepali from a Hindu family, I am grappling with the Islamophobia and casteism that shows up within my own family and myself. I am starting by opening this dialogue with other South Asians to see if we can brainstorm ways to have these conversations with our families, and to hold each other accountable to actually making it happen.

Taking consistent action: I’ve learned that posting one article or donating one time may not demonstrate my long term commitment to Black and South Asian liberation. Here are some ways I am learning to more consistently act towards these goals.

  1. Decentering myself and recentering Black folks and those without caste privilege. It is too easy to co-opt or overshadow Black-led organizing, and I’ve been guilty of it myself. Black liberation is also South Asian liberation, and my intention is to work with other South Asians with that in mind!
  2. Redistributing my wealth through mutual aid and reparations, and doing it consistently: What would it look like to set aside 5%, 10%, or 20% of my income each month to distribute to Black people, mutual aid, or our houseless neighbors? For now, I am trying out to give 10% of my income each month and am using Resource Generation for more tips on thinking through where and how much to give!
  3. Pause before calling the police. Save this list, and have it readily available in an emergency. (You don’t want to google a hotline in the middle of an emergency). Have conversations with people in our community who rely on police. Pose the question: Do we need to call the police if your houseless neighbor is having a mental health crisis? Or if your friend is experiencing domestic abuse and needs someone to talk to? Can we explore what other options exist or should exist in our communities to keep everyone safe, including Black folks?
  4. Posing more questions to myself and my community! When have you seen anti-Blackness show up in our communities? When have you been anti-Black yourself? What will you do differently in the future? If you can’t think of any time you have been anti-Black, this is something to think on. We have all been anti-Black and benefited from it. It takes a consistent practice to identify and correct harmful behaviors on this front!

I’m thankful to be doing this work with you all, in community. Are you all grappling with any similar topics? What have you learned about what solidarity looks like for you and your community? What else should be included on this list?

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