Phoebe Kunitomi is the founder and CEO of okko, a bodywear brand for women.

Black & South Asian Solidarity Through The Decades

“The British are for freedom

But India ain’t free.

The colored weeklies tell me

In the British colonies

The White man stands on his two feet

But the Black man on his knees.”

— “Explain it, Please”,  Langston Hughes 

When people think about the leaders at the forefront of the American Civil Rights movement, the first person that comes to mind is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Often known for his righteous ideals, Dr. King preached that social reform would happen through peaceful protests and the power of love. He was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s independence movement, whose teachings of Non-violence revolutionized the fight for liberation all over the world. This instance, however, was not the first or the last time South Asians and African-Americans had strived to reach a common goal. Most people do not realize how closely connected Black and Asian history is, both in America and overseas. With all that is going on in America with the Black Lives Matter movement, it is important to look back at our predecessors and see how this alliance changed our lives today.  

Throughout the decades, South Asians and African Americans have shown solidarity through their shared experiences as second-class citizens in countries with white oppressors in power. In the early 1940s, the struggle for liberation against British Imperialism in India had reached its boiling point, with riots and civil disobedience on the rise. The whole world watched as India went up against a colonizing superpower. This resonated particularly with black communities in the US, who were quite familiar with this type of systemic racial injustice. In 1942, over 80 black scholars across the US sent a letter to President Roosevelt urging him to intervene in the situation in India. Black activists like Bayard Rustin, who was famous for organizing the March on Washington, expressed their approval by founding the Free India Committee, which supported India’s fight for independence. The possibility, that a marginalized group could stand up against England and gain their freedom, gave African-Americans hope that they too could get their rights back.

Indians did not forget what black activists did to help and repaid the favor a few years later, when the Civil Rights movement was underway, in the 1950s-60s. Indian Freedom Fighters traveled to America to teach Civil Rights leaders about nonviolent rebellion. Ram Manohar Lohia, an Indian parliament member, even went to jail in 1964 for violating Jim Crow laws and speaking out against segregation as a moral, not political, issue. K.A. Abbas, a famous Indian film director, announced India’s support for African American’s equality and analyzed the root causes of racism when speaking at the World Youth Congress in 1938. A great example of Afro-Asian Female Solidarity was the friendship between Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, India’s ambassador to the UN,  and Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of NCNW, both powerful women in their respective communities.

It seemed as if this formidable coalition between South Asians and African Americans would continue to grow and stay strong as the years went on. So what changed? What caused the divide we now see between the two minority groups? It started when the Civil Rights movement lead to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, often referred to as the Hart-Celler Act, which allowed immigration from all Asian countries. This legislation abolished immigration quotas, bringing over thousands of people from the Indian Subcontinent looking for a better life for their families. Minority populations growing rapidly caused a shift in demographics, which scared a formerly predominant white society. White institutions began to distribute propaganda to pit communities of color against each other in fear of an uprising. One of the most effective tactics was the Model Minority Myth, which drove a wedge between different ethnicities, downplayed the effects of racism, and furthered the racial resentment in America. The Anti-blackness, which runs rampant in Asian communities, is a product of this stereotyping. It also originates from the idea of white superiority, which colonialism brought to Asia, now manifesting as colorism and casteism. 

The question remains: How can minorities reverse the effects that white supremacy and racism have made on our society and psyche? We, as a community, must realize that South Asians and African Americans are not that different from each other. History has shown that by standing together and forging alliances, we can become stronger and make larger strides in countering the years of oppression our system has imposed. To make a change in society, Asians must be allies. We must confront the racism that goes on within our households and social circles. And most of all, we must speak out when injustices happen. Especially now, South Asians must show their support for Black Lives Matter by going to protests and calling attention to black voices. The young activists of today should learn from the leaders of our shared past to recreate solidarity between our people and create a more equal society.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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