As a non-Black POC in America, I am indebted to the Black community
As a Sikh, first-generation immigrant from Punjab, and a non-black person of color, I recognize and acknowledge that navigating this country, as hard as it has been, was possible due to the path forged by countless black lives that were enslaved, brutalized, torn from their mothers, their motherland, and forced to build a nation under instruction from white settlers that terrorized the indigenous brown lives and rightful owners of this land.
The fact is: the Black community fought to ensure Civil Rights for us all, and it is our duty to fight so to ensure their voices are heard, amplified, uplifted, and manifested into a reality where Black Lives Matter.
Sikhs have been in the United States since the early 1900s, leaving behind the colonial British rule of their homeland of Punjab. But, the larger South Asian migration only began after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Sikhs who fled genocide at the hands of the Indian Government after June 1984, found refuge in already thriving South Asian communities that had prospered thanks to the efforts of the Black community through the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
George Floyd was murdered by an institution, a system, a death machine that was originally created as a slave patrol to terrorize, control, and capture blacks who were fleeing to save their lives. When slavery became outlawed, the police’s purpose evolved into protecting white business, enforcing segregation, and ensuring voter suppression.
This government’s response to police brutality has been more police brutality. But, the people in the streets refuse to be quiet. They are unsatisfied by kneeling cops- a triggering reminder of the knee that remained on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Kneeling cops who themselves have been accused of police brutality and murder, but often go unscathed with or without video evidence. How can immigrants such as myself remain quiet, when it’s police brutality- murder, rape, and genocide, that my community fled. We know far too well that “our own” were the ones murdering us in our homeland.
Now is not the time to stop marching. Now is not the time to give up. The system relies on time to wear us down. I too am a victim of this strategy. I lived a few blocks away from where Eric Garner was murdered by the NYPD. Upon hearing of George Floyd, I became curious to learn more about what ended up transpiring with Eric Garner’s legal case, only to learn that the cop who murdered him was arrested, charged, but ultimately never convicted. This time, I won’t let time wear me down. Justice will be realized for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and all of the other victims forever embedded into our hearts.
What we are witnessing is the collective energy of the people in America demanding a new system- an inclusive system, with layers of healing and justice, one created by the people and for the people- a system representative of all the people who call this land home, a system devoid of the racist history of police. In a time where our healthcare workers lack masks, our families lack roofs, our most vulnerable lack services, and our schools are falling apart- our government found funding for the military and police. The people see this, and they are demanding that we instead invest in community.
Just as white allies have used their privilege to stand with the Black community, it is time for us to use our privilege as non-black POC to not just stand, but lift up the Black community. We must acknowledge that we have benefitted from whiteness and white privilege. The model minority myth has been ingrained into the Asian-American community, and we have bought into the racist notion that somehow we are “smarter” or “more hard-working” than other groups. This is simply not true, we have simply benefited from a myth that has made us less threatening in the eyes of white supremacy. We must address this both in our homes and in our larger community.
In this moment, it is imperative that non-profit organizations, philanthropic institutions, and legal organizations take a step back, listen to the black community, reassess their strategies, and dismantle the racial hierarchies that may exist within their own organizations. Our institutions serving diverse communities must be prepared to listen, receive feedback, and adjust their strategies according to the needs and wants of the community. We need to begin asking what folks need, not telling them what they need. Within our organizations and institutions, we must create a space where everyone feels and knows that they belong.
At ChangeLawyers, our mission is to build a better justice system for all Californians. We do this by empowering the next generation of legal changemakers who will rise to positions of power and transform society’s institutions to be more fair and just. We want to see more Black lawyers, more Indegenous lawyers, and more lawyers who redefine what leadership looks like.
ChangeLawyers has been, is, and will continue to be allies with the black community. We are currently providing funding to two amazing black-led, criminal justice organizations, UnCommon Law and For the People. I urge you to consider funding them both.
For inspiration, I leave you with an excerpt from the jailhouse letters of Sikh freedom fighters, Sukhdev Singh Sukha and Harjinder Singh Jinda: “When nations wake up, even history begins to shiver. During such momentous movement a Banda Singh Bahadur bids farewell to his peace-dwelling and destroys a state of oppression like Sirhind, a Che Guevara turns down a minister-ship of Cuba, loads a gun on his breast and entrenches against the enemies in the forest of Bolivia, a Nelson Mandela rejects the ideology of apartheid and prefers to spend his life in a dark prison cell.”
We are in the midst of one of those moments, and history is shivering. As a Sikh, I am expected to stay in ਚੜ੍ਹਦੀ ਕਲਾ [Chardi Kala] (state of eternal optimism)- even in the face of tremendous adversity. I ask you to join me.
All Power to All the People. #BlackLivesMatter
Program Officer, California ChangeLawyers