June 5, 2020

Through the Lens of One South Asian for Black Lives

By Vega Subramaniam

My mom and I immigrated here from India in 1968 (my dad preceded us in 1966), solely as a result of the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act. Which means I owe my life and my bounty here in this country to the Civil Rights Movement. Which means I owe my life and bounty to the civil disobedience, bravery, analysis, labor, voices, protest, leadership—and murder—of Black people in the 1960s.

Mala and I got legally married in 2013. We have food, shelter, clothing, and access to clean air, water, and health care. Which means I owe my comfortable married middle-class suburban lesbian lady life to Black and Brown Trans Stonewall protesters in 1969.

I’m writing this on land that rightfully belongs to the Susquehannock people, adding me to the long and oh-so-inglorious list of looters and pillagers.

I could add to that list, there’s plenty to add, but just at the very foundation, I exist because of the “plotting, planning, strategizing, organizing and mobilizing” of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people.

So…I’m really mad right now, friends. So. Fucking. Mad. Black and Indigenous people made it possible for me to be here. Goddammit. My heart is shattered. Also, #DefundThePolice.

I want so badly to just collapse and feel my despair and descend into it, just let it wash over me and keep me down.

But nope. Absolutely not. As a friend of mine said recently, hopelessness isn’t an option. If I’m going to be here, if I’m going to get out of bed, then let me at least do my small part.

So I’m stepping it up, more than ever.

For me, that looks like channeling my money to Black-owned businesses and community organizations. It looks like figuring out how to amplify the voices of Black leaders, as and when I’m called/asked to do so. It means that when I consume analysis, information, or resources created by Black/Brown/Indigenous/Trans/Disabled people, I think about the value of that for me, and I bust out the Venmo—just the same as I do by being a monthly contributor to WAMU, our local NPR station (don’t at me. I told you I’m a married suburban lady).

It looks like shamelessly exploiting the pass I get as a brown woman who’s a “model minority” to use my voice and take on risks that will attract less violence toward me than toward my Black comrades.

It also looks like listening, learning, unlearning, accepting what’s mine, and working to be better.

And in honor of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Sean Reed, and every other Black person brutalized by the police, by white supremacists, by the whole grotesque criminal injustice system, I’ll keep the spark of hope lit in my heart as we build our new world together.



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