- I found comfort and support in the black community which knows far too well what generational trauma is.
That fateful “X” meant death. The two blood-red lines sloppily meeting each other glistened in the afternoon heat, taunting her. Her bag slept off her sweat ridden back and onto the floor, but she paid no attention. Still clutching her hockey sticks, Mama used her eyes like a veil, too afraid that when she opened them again her death would be sealed. Mama’s breathing was heavy, her heart still racing miles from her hockey game that ended during halftime.
Still racing miles after having to evacuate her bus because it was being pelted by angry mobs, who wished to hurt ten-year-olds. Still racing miles from walking six kilometers to get to her house while every road stood deserted, while people looked out their windows wondering what a little girl with two hockey sticks in her hand was doing at a time like this. The 1993 Bombay riots meant that Mama and her family, the only Muslim family in her neighborhood would be a perfect target. The Muslim furniture shop owner whose shop had been marked with that same X was nowhere to be found. The sofas slit and tables split and lamps wrecked and mirrors shattered and beds broken and everything and everyone so so torn.
When I learned about my mother’s childhood, I felt intensely alone in a sea full of people who surely did not understand the story of generational trauma. My mother’s story is not a single one, it is a story of ongoing violence against India’s Muslims, and when I spoke about how this issue inspires me to raise my voice against injustices back home, I found comfort and support in the black community which knows far too well what generational trauma is.
Through my activism for minorities in India, I have noticed unmistakable parallels in the systematic oppression towards Black people in the U.S. and the abhorrent caste system in India. We speak often of Dr. King drawing inspiration from Gandhi’s nonviolent approach and perhaps even Dr. Ambedkar’s legacy which led youth from the slums of Mumbai to establish the Dalit Panthers in 1972, drawing inspiration from the Black Panthers and dedicated to abolishing caste from India as were Black Americans to rid the Unites States of racial discrimination, but why is it that today our South Asian community seems to not continue this legacy of solidarity.
One cannot speak of South Asian America without recognizing that it was built on the
backs of Black bodies during the Civil Rights movement. Black Americans supported South Asians to end racist immigration laws that limited immigration from South Asian nations to just 100 people per year. But it is unfortunate that even after having decades-old solidarity there still exists in our community anti-blackness and colorism that is constantly left unaddressed. As South Asians, we cannot complain about the racism towards us and anti-immigrant sentiment if we too or on the front lines of discriminating against others based on race.
I truly believe that all fights against oppression are interconnected and unless every South Asian is involved in this movement there are not enough people fighting. The struggle for equal rights and justice for Black people in this country is indeed our struggle too. The Black community has stood by the South Asian community as fierce allies and we are indebted to them far beyond measure. If people of color and the black community whose issues overlap here in the United States and in India cannot unite then it is a pity on us for not being able to overcome the anti-blackness and colorism in our own community. We are becoming the same aunties we promised never to grow up to be.
Mama tells me the story of what happened to her in 1993 the same way she tells me what she cooked for dinner, or what the new episode of our favorite Turkish drama was about, or what time we have to go to the school’s fundraiser. This is Mama’s normal, and I do not know how to tell her that this is not normal. Normal is anything but having to hide on the terrace of your house waiting to be killed. Normal is anything but having your father hand you pepper spray while saying, “If they come near you, you use this; Shrin, do you hear me? You will not die without a fight.”
Normal is anything but rejoicing when the armed men surrounding your house at night see the silhouettes of you and your two sisters, ten cousins, and father and leave because they think you too are armed adults ready to fight. But to Mama this is normal and that is why I fight so no little girl grows up thinking that the violence against their people is normal.
That it is as Mama says “the price that had to be paid.” We the South Asian community and the Black community know the struggle of paying the prices of our freedom with the blood of our ancestors and we cannot let their fight be in vain.
(Top photo: A file photo taken during the 1993 Bombay riots)
Aminah Ahmed is a social activist, talk show host, youth leader and public speaker. This essay was declared first runner-up in the high school category at an arts and essay contest organized by Hindus for Human Rights and the Indian American Muslim Council.