South Asian Americans tend to view Black Lives Matter and racism through the white prism of ‘model minority.’
By Revathi Siva Kumar
The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people, said Martin Luther King, Jr.
Amid a re-energized Black Lives Matter movement ignited by the brutal killing of George Floyd under the knee of a white police officer, South Asian Americans are grappling with an uneasy question.
Have the people from the land of Mahatma Gandhi done enough for the oppressed African Americans? How many of them stood in solidarity with the protesters against police brutality and racism?
To be sure all the five Democratic lawmakers of Indian origin — Representatives Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal, Raja Krishnamurthy and Ami Bera and senator Kamala Harris — have voiced their shock and come out in support of legislation for reforms for police accountability.
Some community organizations like the South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) and the American Association of Physicians of Indian origin (AAPI) have condemned racism.
A number of Americans of South Asian origin did join in the protests. But a huge majority remained quiet, while many just looked away. Few acknowledged the immense gratitude they owe to the African Americans.
“Let us be clear: our community is not guiltless,” acknowledged the Indian American Impact Fund, a Democratic-leaning advocacy group, which encourages Indian Americans to participate in politics and run for elected offices.
Many people of Indian and South Asian origin have been, at best, “silent” and at worst, “complicit for too long and this must change,” it said citing the killings of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a black woman, at the hands of police.
Terming these killings symptoms of the underlying dreaded disease of anti-blackness and racism, the group said they exposed the horrifying reality of human greed and racism in America.
Asian Americans have benefited from the “myth of the model minority”. Using the age old tactic of divide and rule, white supremacists have pitted other communities against blacks, suggesting that the Asian community got ahead with the dint of their own hard work.
Asian Americans have tended to believe the myth ignoring the reality that no other community has faced oppression by majoritarian communities and groups for centuries as the blacks have. Many are convinced that the blacks have themselves to blame for their plight.
Fired Minneapolis police officer Tou Thao, a Hmong American, stood with his back turned as white officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, ignoring Floyd’s desperate cry of “I can’t breathe”.
This image of Thao, which has gone viral, has raised questions on why Asians not only refuse to support blacks, but also show solidarity with brutal, white supremacists.
As Kabzuag Vaj, founder of a nonprofit, Freedom Inc, a Hmong American, told NBC News, “People don’t have a baseline of an understanding of what anti-blackness even is.”
“Yes, we [Asian Americans] have pain and we suffer from oppression and discrimination and racism. Black people are in a different boat.”
Everything is learnt through the prism of white supremacy, which makes people give their support to oppressors, she noted.
The Asian community itself feels threatened and slams its own members who support the blacks. Many Indian Americans, who also believed the ‘model’ myth, have transferred blame on the blacks and identify themselves with the supremacists.
What the Asian community forgets is that it has benefited from efforts by the civil rights and black advocacy groups of the 1960s.
Working tirelessly to petition for better access and privileges from education, jobs and opportunities, the black community has put in immense efforts to open doors for racial minorities, including Asian Americans.
Black Americans pressurized President Franklin D. Roosevelt to establish the Fair Employment Practices Committee after World War II. It finally laid the road toward the rise of affirmative action in the 1960s.
Deepa Iyer, advocate and author of We Too Sing America; South Asian, Arab, Muslim and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future, calls for introspection by the Asian Americans in the aftermath of the Floyd killing and the struggle by the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Let’s not forget that state violence in the United States has affected Asian Americans, too,” she said asking them to inquire into these institutions of brutalities and oppression, especially on the black community.
Fortunately, the tide seems to be turning for the black community with the growing George Floyd protests around the world.
Indian American advocacy groups agree that it’s time to come out in support of and work with African American communities in their struggle to dismantle the instruments of systematic oppression and end the plague of racism in America.
Ami Bera calls for healing ‘the wounds of racial injustice’ (June 3, 2020)
AAPI says racism hurts minority communities’ health (June 2, 2020)