- Being good allies doesn’t just mean we say Black Lives Matter — we need to vote for candidates that legislation and policy that truly reflects the needs of the Black community.
South Asians For America (SAFA) hosted a virtual community forum and panel that discussed racial bias within the South Asian community early this month. This panel discussion is an example of the important conversations that communities are having during this transformative moment in our nation’s history. The panelists also discussed ways to remain civically engaged in the movement and beyond.
I’m encouraged to see new faces and more people attending the protests and how more individuals are being vocal about Black Lives Matter than in the past. I’ve seen new young Black organizers lead the way in my own community where Eric Garner was murdered, and this has been inspiring. Now, many young folks I have been speaking to wonder what will be the future of the movement as the protests get smaller and are not covered as frequently by the media? What is next?
Many of these youth leaders are now turning to direct action. Some immediate next steps that these young organizers are taking include encouraging their friends, family, and community members to fill out their 2020 Census questionnaire to make sure their voices are heard, and their communities get the proper funding for schools, roads, and other services. Census resources means money and power for all communities.
Many organizers are also making sure people register to vote and exercise this right not only during the Presidential elections, but every time there is an opportunity to vote.
Furthermore, we need to continue to advocate for more equity. Being good allies doesn’t just mean we say Black Lives Matter — we need to vote for candidates that support legislation and policy that truly reflects the needs of the Black community.
South Asians for America hosted this panel discussion. The panelists included Sree Sinha, co-founder of South Asian Sexual and Mental Health Alliance, Hana Shepherd, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, and Nadia Hussain, co-founder of the Bangladeshi American Women’s Development Initiative and Campaign Director at MomsRising.org, who moderated the panel.
Nadia Hussain discussed a host of topics with the panelists including how anti-racism can be addressed not only in the South Asian community but also collectively in the United States. The panel began by focusing on the Black Lives Matter Movement and how this moment in time may be different for our country. “Black organizers and many communities of color have been organizing around this issue for years, but now we are seeing more diversity including young people actively participate in this movement and at protests, said Hussain.
“The pandemic may have helped more people get involved because they were possibly looking for a way to finally get involved and after being quarantined for so long. They were also forced to pay attention without any other distractions. It’s an exciting time and I think people are getting a chance to reflect upon what is important to them,” said Sinha when asked about the impacts of COVID-19 on the movement.
The current social movement mirrors some patterns from past social movements in American history. “Scholars of social movements will study how protests were structured on the ground. Who was involved? I assume there will be a focus on what allowed for such a sustained turnout. BLM is big, but there is some new evidence that we have never seen a protest movement this big. It’s really notable. Nationwide, it is occurring in places that don’t usually have this kind of activity,” said Shepherd adding, “We are seeing the fruits of decades and centuries of work. The people that started this work may not be around now. This shows us that we need to commit to a process.” She also made the point that we can also use this moment to understand how deeply connected things are: mass incarceration is related to voting rights, for example. COVID-19 has laid bare our inequalities: It has allowed for this moment to occur. It’s about wellness, our health, and our economic conditions.”
Despite facing racism and discrimination, the South Asian community benefits from the “model minority” myth which assumes that members of the South Asian community are more likely to be successful, hard-working, and wealthy members of society. “We often talk about allyship, but we also need to be speaking up next time a relative, like an uncle, makes a remark about members of the Black community instead of just sitting there and rolling our eyes,” said Sinha.
The Civil Rights Movement’s Black leaders during that time helped pave the way for the South Asian community. Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, Asians could not immigrate to the United States due to the Asian Exclusion Act. This completely banned South Asians from coming to this country. The Civil Rights Movement brought momentum to the movement not only to help achieve rights for Black Americans, but all communities of color and ended the quota system on immigration, which allowed South Asians to finally immigrate to the United States.
The panel ended with questions from the audience regarding electing more candidates of color and how they can make sure we hold leaders in their communities accountable and how legislators can take more initiative. “As someone with a background in electoral and political organizing, I’ve seen how we can bring about those policy changes. We need to hold leaders accountable and make sure we are paying attention to legislation and policy that is proposed by officials at the local level. If a candidate of color is running for office, we have to make sure they are not the only person of color in the room. It’s important to not only appeal to members of your own community, but to build broad coalitions and run on a platform that makes sense for your community,” said Hussain.
Nidhi Khanna is an executive board member of South Asians for America (SAFA), which is a voluntary organization committed to advancing the interests of the South Asian community. SAFA provides grassroots support and mobilization to elect South Asian candidates and works to address current issues and vocalize community support to further causes impacting the community. Most recently, she served as a Census Manager to help get New York City residents counted for the 2020 Census. Khanna has also spent over a decade working in electoral and issue organizing. She holds a B.S. in biology and philosophy and M.S. in environmental science.