The worst! This was the worst day of my life. If not the worst, certainly the most tragic. The day would live in infamy as the day the Nagarajan family moved to the US.

Interview with South Asians 4 Black Lives

Introduce South Asians 4 Black Lives and what your organization does. When did you all create this account and why?

About us: Solidarity in Struggle: South Asians for Black Lives is a program of Malikah started by a collective of South Asian women in California. The program is aimed at calling in our South Asian community to dismantle anti-Blackness, build antiracist coalitions and to inspire folks to join the abolitionist movement. We are learning as a collective to do this through a transformative justice and healing approach. Moreover, we ground ourselves in a BIPOC feminist ethics. 

Our program is focused on education and awareness within the South Asian community through our social media, monthly newsletter, webinars, and in person cohort based program. We hope to charge folks in our community through our educational programming to join antiracist, abolitionist organizations and movements that are already doing, and have been doing the work we are inspired by.

How have you seen the South Asian community impacted by your organization’s efforts?

Maryam: The primary goal of our program is to serve as a bridge between the South Asian Community and the resources that exist to assist in educating and empowering folks to learn and operate in solidarity with the Black community and fight against White Supremacy. While doing so we have incorporated educational resources and broken down our own history and internalized anti Blackness through reflection on the organizing that the Black and South Asian communities have historically been a part of together. We’ve been privileged to be able to reach over 55k people on social media and provide a safe space for meaningful discussion with events such as South Asians and Internalized White Supremacy in the Workplace or Navigating anti Blackness in South Asian Relationships. 

At a smaller scale, we have been educating folks on how to talk to family and friends and even learning more as volunteers on how to have a greater impact.

What does Black Lives Matter mean to you?

Haleema: Black Lives Matter is a simple statement that is asking us to center those most impacted by racism. While simple, the statement itself took years before it became a norm, and still is seen as controversial to many. Black Lives Matter is an urgent call to action asking us to center, uplift and prioritize the needs and sacred lives of Black people. Ultimately it is a fight for Black humanity. 

PS I do not know if we should even share what BLM means to us since it was created by Black folks with the intention to uplift and center Black people. 

Sneha: Quite simply: Black people matter. Black Lives Matter is a movement and an imperative. We must realize that the heartbreaking simplicity of this phrase demonstrates that we, globally, have been deeply complicit in anti-Blackness and carcerality for far too long. The phrase for me then becomes a signal to unlearn and abolish carcerality and build communities centered around care and transformative justice.

How do you all make efforts to be actively pro-Black and fight against white supremacy everyday? Any tips for when you are over fighting the bigotry? 

Maryam: Self education is a huge step in being actively pro-Black. Through learning about how white supremacy exists and where it exists in the spaces we hold every day, we are able to begin implementing anti racist and pro Black practices in our daily lives. This requires us to take a look at our capacity and make sure that what we are doing is sustainable and consistent rather than just urgent and reactive. Anti-Blackness and White supremacy rampant in every field and is demonstrated through the Eurocentric structures which include our workplace and schools. 

Maryam: Patience is an important part of fighting bigotry as well as recognizing our own limits and mental health. Learning when a conversation is beneficial rather than just disrespectful or argumentative is a critical part in ensuring that we are only engaging in constructive conversations and that we are valuing our own wellbeing as well. 

Sneha: Being antiracist is a lifestyle and not a moment or an action. Being antiracist isn’t just about you as an individual, but it is about the collective and a collective liberation. In this way, we believe that our work is not just something you do here and there or when you have time, but it is a commitment to change your life and the way you build and sustain relationships. When antiracism is a lifestyle and a movement rather than a moment or a post, anticapitalism, abolition, fighting bigotry all becomes a part of every decision you make such as where you chose to spend energy, time and money.

Colorism is an issue facing many ethnic groups, how is colorism affecting South Asians around the world?

Sneha: Many younger South Asian people think that colorism is something that exists in our “homelands,” or something that exists with “older” generations, but do not question our own biases. We do not question the European beauty standards we uphold, and this is linked to colorism and extends beyond it. For example, do we ever stop to wonder why we think straight, “tamed” hair is prettier or more proper than curly, frizzy hair? Do we stop to wonder why we put makeup on that makes our noses look thinner and elongated? What about our biases against fat bodies? While colorism is an issue at large, the crux of it is that many of us, like most people around the world, favor European beauty and that must be unlearned. Favoring and upholding European beauty standards is a form of anti-Blackness. 

South Asians are often hyper stereotyped in tv shows and movies, what are some changes you would like to see in representation of South Asians?

Haleema; Representation that moves beyond the model minority myth or terrorist trope. Representation that is diverse, showcases South Asians in activism, racial justice and solidarity work. South Asian stories on dismantling racism, caste and anti Blackness. Stories about South Asian activist and progressives from our history.

Asian and Black communities have a long history of tension, how do you think Asian and Asian American people can change their behavior to move from tension to solidarity with the Black community?

Haleema: Asian Americans must move beyond some of the harmful paradigms of white supremacy that have created anti Black sentiment and tension. Such paradigms include the model minority myth, respectability politics, individualism, and reimagining safety. We can stand up against anti Asian violence without being anti-Black and pro police. We can stand up for the Asian community without throwing the Black community under the bus or co-opting the movement for Black Lives. Furthermore, it is not okay that some Asians only speak up about racism when it directly impacts them. We must always speak up about injustice whether we are directly impacted or not. We build solidarity when we show up for each other, listen, and act with intention, not just in moments of crisis, but always. 

Sneha: Long time abolitionist organizer and scholar Andrea Smith states, “We often assume that all of our communities will share similar strategies for liberation. In fact, however, our strategies often run into conflict.” She explains that the reason our strategies run into conflict is because we assume that we are only victims of white supremacy, and fail to realize that we are complicit in it as well. In terms of organizing for our rights, this means we can’t address the harm done to us in isolation, we must also reflect on how our liberation tactics can be complicit in that same structure that harms us. One way to do this is actively centering collective liberation, not an individual one, and realizing that the dismantling of anti-Blackness is our own fight.

What are some of the most exciting projects you have done with South Asians 4 Black Lives? Do you have any in the works?

Haleema: We are developing a racial justice institute for South Asians. It is a project we have been working on for over a year and will include a comprehensive curriculum for South Asians on dismantling anti-Black racism. Once complete, we plan to train folks in using the curriculum so they can lead sessions in their community.

Fun Question Time! 

Would you rather eat all your food cold or hot for the rest of your life?

Haleema: Hot 

Sneha: Hot (this was tough though)

Maryam: Hot (can’t give up my hot cups of coffee)!

Haleema Bharoocha

Haleema Bharoocha is a first-gen South Asian American who is still exploring what it means to be South Asian. Her roots trace to Gujrat, Surat, Chittagong, and Rangoon. She is committed to building a world free of gender-based violence and serves as the Senior Advocacy Manager at Alliance for Girls where she leads community-led policy advocacy. Haleema graduated from Seattle U with a BA in Sociology where she founded the Gender Justice Center. In her free time, she facilitates equity-focused workshops on topics including bystander intervention, Islamophobia, racial equity, and gender justice and has trained over 700 people. She is featured in Teen Vogue, Seattle Times, SF Chronicle, and LA Times.

Maryam Ali

Maryam Ali is a first generation Chinese and Pakistani American who has been spending most of her life understanding her identity and what her culture and roots mean to her. She is an advocate for systemic change in healthcare and has committed her career to doing so as she pursues her medical degree. She graduated from University of California, San Diego with a Bachelors in Public Health and will be attending medical school at Florida International University this upcoming Fall 2020. During her undergraduate years, she conducted research projects on racial health disparities hopes that through her career she will be able to tackle the multiple forms of oppressions that exist within healthcare. 

Sneha George

Sneha is a writer, speaker and educator working toward collective liberation. She is continuously learning what abolition and transformative justice means for the various communities she is a part of. She is active in the movement toward college/university campus abolition and also works with the organization CAT911. Sneha is a PhD candidate in Ethnic Studies at University of California, Riverside. Here she is a feminist-queer of color theorist. Her dissertation includes philosophies and theories on the implications abolition has for “the self.”

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