Hailing from California, Hitha is a talented songwriter and musical performer. Her love for music started when she was just 4 years old, a child prodigy who got to experiment with diverse music styles growing up, ranging from Indian Classical to Modern Pop. She stands for her truth, converting a lifetime of hardships and experiences into uplifting songs that are inspiring and relatable to all types of people around the world.

To Indian Americans for Black Lives Matter, On Doing the Hard Work

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As a second wave of Black Lives Matter protests sweep the US in a nationwide uprising, I have been reflecting on the shared history that brings the US to this point, and the history that brought me and my family into this story. I have worked as a community organizer for the past 10 years, and much of what brought me to this work was growing up in the suburbs of Detroit. In our relationship to the city, we were constantly aware of the violence, white flight, and systematic destruction of a Mecca of Black excellence – but also the visionary struggle of Black folks for a better world. While we lived on a street that itself was also redlined, and did not connect to any others in the neighborhood, as Indians with caste privilege, and as doctors, the labor of Black folks for the Civil Rights act allowed my parents to immigrate to the US on technical visas, and to go unquestioned when they moved into the suburbs of Detroit. 

The same was not true for many of the Black students at my high school. During the failure of Detroit’s Big Three motor companies and the early beginnings of the subprime mortgage crisis in Detroit, budget cuts at my public high school manifested as witch-hunts of Black students, who were followed home by white parents and interrogated about their residency in the district. Black students, plus myself and a few Arab and other non-Black POC students, attempted to push back. But it was not enough: almost half of the Black students in my class were removed as being out of district. Witnessing these acts of structural racism – and seeing the power of community organizing in response – was what called me into the movement. 

For many other middle-class Indian-Americans who hold class and caste privilege, experiences of struggle in solidarity with Black communities, and understandings of the history of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and more, have not been sparked until recently. I am grateful to a school that taught me about Grace Lee and Jimmy Boggs, about Freedom Schools, about occupied Anishnaabe land, and led me here. But in 2014, during the first wave of Black Lives Matter uprisings, while I saw many Muslim and Dalit South Asians throwing down in organizing and activist space alongside Black comrades, it was clear that to move my own community, we had much more work. 

It’s been thrilling, then, to see the current outpouring of young Indian American response in support of Black Lives Matter and in honor of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon Reed, and the many more Black community members that police have murdered across the US. On the ground at protests, I see photos of South Asian youth – and elders – risking the spread of COVID-19 to take a knee and stand up to state violence. In online space, I see South Asian youth creating tools for talking to elders in Hindi, disseminating Whatsapp images, and writing Google Docs archiving Black and South Asian shared history. But as an organizer, I’ve been troubled. Many of these tools duplicate the work done by Dalit and Muslim comrades over decades – tools that many of us with caste and class privilege never had to look for. And many of these newly-created documents put out by zealous activists are sitting in online space, lacking the rollout strategies to make their way into conversations with our families and communities. And I can’t help wondering – why now? Why this? And what – and who – are we forgetting? 

Late last year, the Citizenship Amendment Act – a law that threatened the removal of legal status or citizenship for many Muslims, as well as other minority communities – passed in India, and the country erupted in the streets. But beyond the work of select Muslim- and Dalit-led organizations and activists in the US like Equality Labs and DRUM, the Indian diaspora’s response was minimal. Thousands of Indian Americans celebrated at a Howdy Modi event linking Trump to Hindu Fascism, and cheered for a political project that establishes Muslim, Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi Indians as a permanent underclass in order to wage nonstop violence upon them. Hundreds of Muslim Indians were brutalized, rendered homeless, or murdered in this year’s Delhi pogroms. Thousands of Dalit women and girls have been murdered by upper-caste Hindu violence. But in the diaspora, many of us with privilege say nothing. 

When we see these same acts of state terror and violence enacted upon Black bodies, why then do we act? When we refuse to live in Black neighborhoods, when we associate only with White Americans, when we praise the police, use “kala” as a slur, and express pride in our caste – why then do we act? What does it take for us to break down the legacy of structural violence, and institutional caste and racial oppression, that allowed many of us to profit in this stolen land? And what does it take for us to dismantle the context of casteism and Brahminism that we perpetrate in our rituals and in the way we treat Dalit people, Muslim people, and Black people? 

The proliferation of online activism, particularly within the context of global lockdowns under Coronavirus,  is a start. But much of this is happening without real relationships with Black Americans, without conversation with Muslim and Dalit diaspora members, and without the deep organizing work we need to do in person. And without deep political education around the structures of caste, anti-blackness, and policing and carceral systems, many of these online solutions water down visionary cries like #DefundthePolice into calls for milquetoast reforms. But to shift thousands of years of assumptions around duty, value, caste, and skin in our communities, and to shift centuries of structures of racism in the US, we have to do more than remake the same Google Doc over and over. We have to dismantle our own beliefs, address our own perpetration of harm, and recognize our complicitness in both anti-blackness and casteism. We have to lean into conversation with our families, we have to lean into organizing spaces with our communities, and we have to get trained up on how to organize. We have to smash the model minority myth, and we have to target our elected officials who perpetuate these stereotypes. We have to do our reading, and we have to unequivocally fight for abolition – both in the US and in the subcontinent. Reform and law and order won’t cut it – they never did back home, and they never will here. 

To the Indian Americans who are first coming to the movement, I want to welcome you. I’m happy that you’re here. But I need you to do more, and dig deeper. The process of breaking down structures of violence in our lives and communities takes years. In my own family, it has taken generations of conflict and learning, and many uncomfortable – and sometimes angry – conversations to expose and dismantle our caste and class privilege, and situate that within our Dravidian identity that doesn’t match up with all facets of Hindutva. These conversations and these systems are complicated. It’s not enough to make a beautiful video or piece of art. We have to do the work. We have to show up, day after day, in our local organizations, targeting our “community leaders” who don’t stand for us, deeply engaging in our communities and alongside our Black comrades, long after the headlines about Black Lives Matter fade away. We have to learn our people’s history,  understand our communities, and dig out the contextual examples we have of abolition and of building a different world. We have to move resources. We have to agitate our communities, our country, and ourselves. 

These protests feel different: COVID-19 has created a boiling point, centuries of rage are boiling over, and we have an opening to usher in a new future – but we have to be ready to follow, to move our people, and to get out of the way of the visionary systems change that awaits.

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.

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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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