- The well-integrated or successful minority is an illusion, a racial wedge that compromises all of us.
Last year, in 2020, I wrote and recorded a few short videos to celebrate National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and to promote the premiere of the PBS documentary “Asian Americans” which was due to air on May 11-12.
In my introductory video, I made sure to mention that I was Pakistani American but more broadly speaking South Asian, that I didn’t believe in national borders, and that I saw myself as belonging to the Global South, the colonized world, an important part of both my identity and work. Unfortunately, some of these important facts didn’t make it to the final cut.
I wish they had, for colonialism continues to mark us deeply — our borders, political and legal institutions, economies, and psychologies – in ways that are harrowing and hard to disentangle. The results have been disastrous for South Asia with the rise of ethnonationalism, settler colonialism, religious supremacy, and the brutal persecution of minorities.
In my video clips, I focused on Asian Americans and spoke about the myth of the “model minority,” how the privileges that come from proximity to whiteness (from being a good stereotype) can be taken away arbitrarily and swiftly. After all, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 is the bedrock on which discriminatory Muslim bans were structured by the Trump Administration. Anti-Asian racism is much older than the coronavirus.
Recent hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans, remind us not to lose sight of white supremacy, and that court cases against Affirmative Action and racial quotas obfuscate this reality, creating divisions within communities of color.
I also talked about violence against South Asians, since 9/11, especially if certain cultural signifiers (including head coverings and beards) point to their “Muslimness.” According to Junaid Rana in “The Story of Islamophobia,” the Muslim has become a monolithic, racialized other and “Arab, Black, Latino, South Asian, and white have been collapsed into this racial category…” 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, yet the War on Terror (with its perpetuation of the Muslim threat and its attendant stereotypes) continues unabated.
Back in January 2020, I wrote an open letter of solidarity along with 8 other Rochester-based activists, as a response to the Hanukkah stabbings in December 2019 and Cuomo’s promise to increase security, including a $45 million grant administered by the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. This was meant to make Jewish communities feel safer.
In our open letter, we argued that “actual safety comes from solidarity, not greater state scrutiny and criminalization, which disproportionately impact people of color and vulnerable communities. Employing state forces as barriers between our fractured communities only furthers our fragmentation and contributes to future distrust and misunderstandings. We, Muslim and Jewish activists based in Rochester, understand this and are committed to a decolonial understanding of our histories and struggles. We aim to stay invested in and show up for one another, and we urge all our diverse communities to do the same. Let’s band together against the rising tides of violence, in our country and across the globe. Solidarity is safety.”
More than a year later, as I sit in shock on Long Island, not far from a savage hate crime against a 65-year-old Asian woman, I am convinced more than ever that the well-integrated or successful minority is an illusion, a racial wedge that compromises all of us.
Let’s join forces so we can resist racial, ethnic and religious supremacy, ultranationalism, and right-wing political ideologies, in our country and across the globe. Solidarity is safety.
Mara Ahmed is an interdisciplinary artist and activist filmmaker based on Long Island, New York. She was educated in Belgium, Pakistan, and the United States. Her films have been broadcast on PBS and screened at film festivals across the world. Mara is interested in dialogue across both physical and psychological boundaries. In 2017, she gave a Tedx talk about the meaning of borders and nationalism entitled The edges that blur. She is now working on The Injured Body, a documentary about racism in America that focuses exclusively on the voices of women of color. Her production company is Neelum Films.