Progress Through Change – A South Asian Response to BLM

For our brown community, we seem to be quite familiar with change. It is no secret that within the diaspora, a change in circumstances is something we have all experienced at least once within our lifetime. 

Whether it is moving countries, changing jobs, or culture shock, our lives have revolved around a shift in our reality, and it is this reality that has either defined us or refined us in the midst of life’s ups and downs. However, the Black Lives Matter movement has been one that has either united or divided many in our world, and more so within our community. Despite our history, the modern generation has been most impacted by this change.

Most of the media’s reaction to the marches of protesters to minorities within communities outraged by such oppression, it became clear to many that the brown community was caught in the middle. Some brown folk seemed to understand that not all Caucasians were against the movement, and other South Asians, especially those who were more outspoken, realised their own racist tendencies and strived to be better allies. However, what actually happened was that the majority of the brown community picked sides on what became one of the most controversial debates of all time; Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter.

The issue actually goes much deeper than picking a side, and has more to do with misperception vs. misinformation. Looking through history, it is surprising for many to realise that the shared history of the African-American community is actually more apparent than we realise. From Indian activists with the NAACP in Harlem in the 1930s, to the recently awarded head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (America’s largest civil and human rights coalition) in 2017 being a South Asian, the brown community have played their role in shaping policy and nonviolent protest​ movements amidst persecution for centuries. Yet our place in the ongoing protest seems to be few and far between.

Personally speaking, spending many years living in Los Angeles and befriending my African-American friends as an outsider, I learned to appreciate their history and their resilience in the face of extreme opposition. I also took the recent opportunity to ask my friends how they wished for me to support them at this time; and they said, quite simply, to pray first, and listen second. 

What this means, is that being educated about certain events in the past, does not place us in a position of power to know how to respond, especially in regards to a movement as large as the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite our emphasis on education, especially within the brown community, we haven’t really understood the importance of self-education; which requires understanding another and listening to those with a different perspective.

Although we may not have all the answers, real change comes when we change ourselves. 

Author:  Joseph F. Kolapudi