From the beginning of the civil rights movement, social justice has been the cornerstone of community action; from Gandhi’s peace marches to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to the current impetus behind the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the Indian community has long-held prejudices against the African and Africa-American community, which has negatively influenced our perspective on the culture and history of those we have benefited from for decades.
As 2020 has shown, the Black Lives Matter movement has not been confined to a sector of society or an international community overseas; with similar peaceful protests occuring in the UK, Europe, Africa, and also here in Australia – all nations with growing Indian populations. Nevertheless, the conversation surrounding civil rights and what action individuals and communities are meant to take have been heavily influenced by negative media portrayals of marginalised cultural communities, to the detriment of the movement.
The movement has also, however, had some positive momentum within the younger demographic, with many Indians becoming quite vocal regarding their stance on the issue of racism, stereotyping, and ethnocentric sentiments long held against African-Americans. Initiatives such as the South Asians for Black Lives movement, Letter for Black Lives, and, most recently, the South Asian Youth Initiative (SAYI), have become heavily involved in advocating for the recognition and rights of culturally diverse communities, and the importance of listening to our fellow minorities.
One such initiative that was recently hosted by SAYI was part of their virtual series panel discussions on the response of South Asian communities to the wider African-American community; which challenged commonly held biases in regards to Anti-Blackness. As a roundtable panel, the speakers consisted of a range of representatives from the nonprofit, community, political and social sectors of society, as well as a collaboration between SAYI and a recently formed initiative known as ASANA Voices (Alliance of South Asians in North America).
From a personal perspective, being an Indian-Australian as part of the panel was very informative, as learning from other leaders from the South Asian community in North America, as well as being able to represent the community from Brisbane was a wonderful opportunity. Additionally, sharing updates from the recent protests in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement locally, and also having African-Americans, South-East Asians, and Causians participating on the call provided a great way to take into account unique cultural responses from the wider society, especially on the topic of social action.
The representation of youth leadership was also an intentional part of the call, especially as a reflection of the topical issues facing the second and third generation of the Indian population on topics affecting the demographic, including the upcoming election, the history of the movement, and also on individual and collective responses to intergenerational conflict, addressing taboo topics, and being able to advocate for other cultures.
As much as the dominant culture has influenced the way the Indian diaspora in Western countries, such as Australia and the United States, the distinct identity of the South Asian community has remained consistent, which has led to unique advantages, but also discrepancies; especially in regards with how we relate to other multicultural communities. Recognition and acknowledgement of this was one of the key takeaways from the discussion as hosted by SAYI, as well as education and continual learning in regards to the history of the civil rights and social justice movement, and its impact on our continued freedom to-date.
For the Indian community, being able to stand in solidarity with others, especially those who are different to our culture, but understand their unique struggles and also our similarities, can be a significant stepping stone in the fight for change.
Being able to challenge our culture and continue the fight for freedom is key to our collective progress.