An Easier Route – Black Americans Paved the Way for South Asian Immigrants

Gandhiji, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. are the three most well known social reformers and freedom fighters of the last century. Each of these men represented an oppressed people whose land and/or livelihood was occupied or stolen by white people. Each of these leaders fought against the unjust nature of white dominance. During Black History month, I’ve been reflecting on the contributions of those such as Dr. King, and the ripple effects which the civil rights movement caused for other Americans of color.

gandhi-king-mandiba

Even though the United States has had South Asian immigrants for at least 100 years, Indians in America today have a complex way  of fitting into the race and cultural wars in America. With so many Indians in the media who own their cultural heritage, including Preet BhararaNina Davuluri, Mindy Kaling, Indra Nooyi, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Fareed Zakaria, Ravi Zacharias, and many more, there are still some who publicly chose to shy away from their Indian-American identity.

Governor Bobby Jindal is a prime example of a confused Indian-American.  In a recent statement, he encouraged NRIs (non-resident Indians) not distinguish themselves according to their ethnic background, but to call themselves “Americans” rather than Indian-Americans. He thinks somehow distinguishing and appreciating the cultures we came from will lead to discord among people groups, rather than fostering an appreciation.

The rhetoric of “America as a melting pot” is outdated and inaccurate. America should be described as a chunky stew where each bite gives you a variety of tastes, as individuals own their unique identities. Jindal’s one-size-fits-all philosophy is very 1970s where we were taught not to see color, but just hold hands and sing kumbaya while pretending we have all been given the same social power.  So called “colorblindness” as we attempt to form into one singular identity, has clearly not worked.

Instead of a adopting a one-size-fits-all identity, we should be inspired to own each of our ethnic identities and embrace the freedom to be who we are. This kind of freedom has only been made possible by respectable people like Dr. King, and all those who fought, and continue to fight for equality in our country.

The road of immigration to the US has been built on the civil rights movement. Not only the rights of black Americans were fought for, but an opening for many more people of color to gain access to the American dream was also created. 

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4 thoughts on “An Easier Route – Black Americans Paved the Way for South Asian Immigrants

  1. Thanks Jessica for this article. I would love to go around the world to every country and have done a appreciated delight in the cultures of each and to know the individuals of their country. Free at Last. Do we learn from these oppressions that have taken place and how long will it be?

  2. I’ve had similar thoughts. Many US communities that have a heavy immigrant component also exhibit a great deal of unbridled anti-blackness in their cultures. That’s often true in Indian communities as well as in Muslim communities. (Not discounting that many people are both Muslim and black or Muslim and of Indian origin.) Even some West Indian Afro-Caribbean or African immigrants hold prejudices against African Americans. Technically they all would be African Americans, but of course here I mean specifically the descendants of the African peoples who were forcibly brought to the mainland US during the trans-Atlantic slave trade, contrasted with recent immigrants of African descent. Though ironically the American-accented children of these immigrants experience being read as and discriminated against as African Americans, no matter their parents’ prejudices. People buy into all of the mainstream US racist messages about American blacks, and also use anti-blackness as a means to get closer to privilege…like, “whites may hate us, but at least we are not them, and look at how successful we are compared to them.” It’s a terrible mentality that occurs under a white supremacist system. Yet we owe so very much to African American activists who fought to eliminate social injustice and to attain equality for all, and whose struggle continues today. They made the country better in a general sense, of course. But it is they who paved the way for other civil rights battles by creating tools, setting up institutions, and developing strategies that contemporarily marginalized communities regularly use… in dealing with ever so pervasive Islamophobia, for example. So the anti-blackness is really ironic. In addition to being disturbing and racist, it’s downright ungrateful. But I think one way to combat anti-blackness in these communities is to make sure that the legacy of the heavy contributions of African Americans to advancements in social justice and civil rights are emphatically acknowledged, and that everyone understands how much it directly benefits all who face discrimination and marginalization struggles today. (Though this must be done while guarding against co-optation of specifically AA issues.) Those are my thoughts as an American Muslim as I reflect on what I observe in my local communities. Another cool thing is to acknowledge the connections between the Satyagraha Movement and the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. Or how Dalit empowerment movements were in turn influenced by the African American Civil Rights Movement. It’s very cyclical.

    1. Fatima, My original blog had many similar reflections and questions “why the racism against African Americans in South Asian communities?” However, I changed the message because I thought it was presumptuous of me as a white person to challenge South Asians in their racism when white people are really no better.

      1. I think it is something sensitive for whites to approach, so I get what you mean. If one were to acknowledge having been uncomfortable when observing anti-black racism in another community, I think it’s important to understand the full picture of where that racism comes from, understand the roles of white privilege and white supremacy in contributing directly to it.

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