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August 2020
Letters from Readers

Disappointed in Khabar’s editorial on BLM

In recent weeks, the need for non-Black people of color to become involved in the fight for Black lives has become increasingly apparent—though it has always been imperative. When we initially came across Parthiv Parekh’s “Quagmire: Black Lives in the U.S.,” we were excited to see anti-Blackness and police violence addressed in a South Asian publication. At first glance, the topics were coherent: Parekh, Khabar Magazine’s editor, acknowledges George Floyd’s murder and urges us to stand with the Black community. He also addresses racial bias and states the need to learn and empathize. But as we read Parekh’s condemnation of “the radicalism in the very movement we want to stand behind” and “growing extremism in a faction of the Black Lives activism,” our hearts sank.

Parekh acknowledges the inefficacy of inflammatory, victim-blaming rhetoric. Yet, the article’s core audaciously proposes that “genuine alignment” requires calling out growing “extremism” in the BLM movement. He then prescribes a “renaissance of personal growth” to the Black community and supporters of the BLM movement. This delegitimizes the fight for justice and suggests that Parekh, a non-Black person of color, can better advise the BLM movement’s goals than a Black person. As allies, we are not the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement, simply by virtue of the fact that we are not Black. The Black community speaks from 400 years of generational trauma and being denied survival—Parekh speaks from “35 years” of South Asian experiences in the United States. We are not even having the same conversation.

Parekh claims “extremism” is a volatile and unproductive method of channeling raw emotions, showing his failure to understand the roots of this movement. The tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery were catalysts for this wave of activism. The reactions Parekh condemn, such as destruction of property and looting, are the result of centuries of mistreatment. Moreover, Black Lives Matter isn’t fighting to lower a statistic—they are fighting for the lives of irreplaceable, loved individuals. The tears we shed over broken windows reveal that America has always valued corporations before the lives of marginalized communities. Those businesses? The corporate buildings? Those can be rebuilt. But we will never get to see Breonna’s career flourish as an EMT or pass by Ahmaud as he jogs on Homes Road. Those lives have been lost forever.

Parekh also failed to consider the suppression of peaceful protesting. For example, during a San Francisco 49ers game in 2016, Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem in protest of the rampant mistreatment of Black Americans, ultimately losing his position on the team. Peaceful protesting did not halt injustice in 2016 (or in 1965, for that matter), and it still hasn’t four years later. When nonviolent acts of protests do not work, communities are forced to change their approach. And whether we, as South Asians, approve simply does not matter when our lives are not on the line.

Under the illusion that Black Americans’ fight for liberation lacks grace and finesse, we forget how India achieved its own liberation. We forget about the uprising of 1857, later referred to by Indian anti-colonialists as the First War of Independence. We forget about the Malabar Rebellion of 1921, which began as armed and united resistance against colonial rule. We forget about the formation of the Indian National Army, the galvanizing force that aimed to free India from British rule. We forget the Royal Indian Navy and Air Force Mutinies of 1946 that demobilized British military hold over the Indian subcontinent. Indians’ own independence was marked by revolt and rioting. Who are we to criticize others for doing the same?

The lack of research in “Quagmire” is especially apparent in the bare minimum of Black voices included. Parekh caveats that he has not read and engaged with Black activist leaders, which unfortunately excludes important voices like Kimberlé Crenshaw, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, and Angela Davis whose work is important to the movement today. As the editor-in-chief of a widely read South Asian publication, Parekh has a responsibility to do his research before suggesting to his audience how to best align with a movement he himself clearly knows little about. We would like to suggest a few starting points.

First and foremost, recognize that slavery is not over. Through Jim Crow Laws and the carceral state, slavery has been reconstructed to seem more acceptable. It operates and thrives under a system that believes it does not exist. Second, contemplate what exactly is “extreme.” Is wanting to not be shot considered extreme? Is wanting to know your vote counts extreme? Is fighting for the liberation of all people, regardless of their skin color, extreme?
Saying it is too “pollyanna” or annoyingly optimistic to replace our presently oppressive society with “a current model that will have everyone singing Kumbaya” mocks efforts made in hopes of meaningful change and is frankly, disrespectful. We encourage Parekh to question his moral and intellectual reasoning behind calling activism “extreme.” Then, we urge him to analyze how his complacency and urge to denounce the principles of Black Lives Matter continue to harm Black communities.

Finally, understand that condemning police is not the same as stereotyping an entire racial group. Parekh argues that “when the police stereotype the Black community, they cry foul; yet they turn around and do exactly that: denounce the entire police force of America as one corrupt and racist monolithic entity...” We denounce the police because any group who murders innocent people is worthy of castigation. Historically, police forces were created to oppress Black people and protect the wealthy’s property as slave patrol. While there are officers who do not violently murder Black people, the system as a whole is corrupt. We recommend Parekh read the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, as well as the authors mentioned in “Quagmire,” as his own writing shows he does not understand, in the slightest, the true meaning of their words.

Pieces like “Quagmire” are dangerous because they promote complacency in the form of criticism. While condemning the slogan “defund the police,” Parekh fails to recognize that despite the dangers of the job, police officers are able to take off their uniforms at the end of the day. Black people do not have the privilege of taking off a “uniform”. Their reality is a constant fight for their survival. Black people face multiple acts of oppression through policies and stereotypes that were written into law to ensure subordination. While ideally individuals have agency, agency itself has limitations when a nation systematically sets measures against entire communities.

Parekh’s words have consequences. As South Asian women, we are disappointed. As members of the Atlanta community, we are frustrated. As allies who are working on our own activism as well as encouraging that of others, we are frightened that people like Parekh will take the momentum created for Black lives and target it to generate callous narratives within his own privilege.

Rupkatha Banerjee, Puspita Dhar, Srija Dutta, Moyna Ghosh
ATL Bengalis for BLM

Via Email

Editor’s Response

I appreciate your well-articulated letter, and the opportunity for constructive engagement that it opens up.

In an environment where right-wingers including our despicable President, blinded by privilege or in service of their racist agenda, routinely stand in judgement of the Black community, I can understand how any criticism towards the Black Lives Movement may seem misplaced, or even wrong. However, nuance is therefore needed, in separating the malicious clamor of racists from a genuine and heartfelt attempt at dialogue on all that impacts Black lives, even if some of it doesn’t neatly fit into the manifesto of the Movement.

The notion that a non-Black person is out-of-bounds in opining on the Movement for not having lived through “400 years of generational trauma” that Blacks have endured, is stunted. Asking for a lock, stock, and barrel conformity from allies, and denying them a voice simply on account of them not being Black, blocks a healthy amalgamation of constructive ideas from all quarters of society.

The same goes about your characterization of the editorial as ignorant based on your untenable notion requiring commenters to be scholars or “insiders” to the subject at hand. I stand comfortable in my motive, conscience, and due diligence, and will let readers be the judge.

It is precisely this tendency of appointing oneself as the arbitrator and gatekeeper of who is allowed to comment on the Movement that was called out in my writing as one of the forms of extremism. It is indicative of how factions of BLM are more vested in controlling the narrative rather than allowing a free exchange of ideas.

You also misrepresent my writing when you ask, “Is wanting to not be shot considered extreme?” and other such rhetorical questions that follow—because nothing in the editorial says or implies such things that you seem to be attributing to it.

I am well aware of the insidious and widespread privilege of non-Blacks who are blind to the unique history, legacy, and intersectionality that continues to shackle and oppress Blacks unlike any other community in the U.S. And yet, a blanket hurling of the accusation of “privilege” at any and all attempts at constructive dialogue surrounding the Movement is to “build a wall of moral cowardice to protect the illusion of consensus,” as stated by one of the commentators in my editorial.

What is lost in your hyperbolic pushback to the editorial is the truth that we both are allies to the Black community, even if you believe my shining the light on what ails the Movement to be “dangerous” to it. Certainly
fighting police brutality, white privilege, and racism are paramount to this work. BLM has brought this to light as never before, and as such, its role in this area is crucial and commendable.

But focusing exclusively only on outside forceswhile conspicuously and consistently ignoring, and even vehemently shooting down, any suggestion of addressing the internal factors that have an equal, if not an even larger impact on Black lives is a recipe for failure. Systemic oppression can only prey upon the weak. The stronger the community, the less susceptible it is to oppression. And yet, BLM is characterized mostly by sweeping narratives of blame, cynicism, victimhood, and angst, while actively avoiding like the plague, narratives of personal growth, responsibility, transformation, and empowerment.

During India’s Independence struggle, after over 300 years of enslavement under British rule, when General Dyer ruthlessly massacred hundreds of unarmed, innocent civilians at Jallianwala Bagh, the Indian masses had all the justification to erupt into massive violence against the British. Fortunately, though, Gandhi and other leaders of the time were able to reign in those inflamed passions and India continued its march towards a nonviolent victory over the mighty British empire.

Same is the case with Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. They were able to lead through soul force, with emphasis on brotherhood and love. Even while “fighting” their oppressors, they refused to gratuitously villainize them.

The environment in BLM appears to be quite the opposite. There is far too much blame and acrimony, and a curious lack of will to expend any energies towards empowering and strengthening the community from inside. It breaks my heart that Black children, generation after generation, are continuing to grow up enveloped in a cloud of cynicism, victimhood, and hopelessness. Not to mention the constant fear of being gunned down by one of their own, in their own neighborhood.

Not only does BLM obtusely refuse to extend its activism in these much-needed areas of internal strength and transformation, but it also, quite militantly, seeks to “cancel” out anyone who would dare to raise these issues.

Parthiv Parekh
Editor-in-chief, Khabar magazine
 

 


Economy needs to recover but not at the cost of health and safety

I am an avid reader of Khabar magazine and take this opportunity to thank Sucheta Rawal for the empathetic article on Atlanta’s restaurateurs in June issue. A 40% recovery in Dow Jones index in just two months and the online touts had almost convinced me that V-shape recovery of economy is already here until I walked in last week to the Global Mall, my most favorite South-Asian indoor hangout in Atlanta, and one that is not a stranger to local African and Spanish communities either. There were four restaurants open on the second floor with three customers in sight. I did not see anyone picking up any food either and have to believe these friends are hurting. We should help them. It reminded me of the Peter Lynch principle, “Remember, things are never clear until it’s too late.”

Near zero interest rates with Fed literally printing out money and flooding the economy have not yet been enough for people to throw off their guard and come out to enjoy the restaurants. According to an estimate in the Commercial Observer, traffic is off 79% nationally for the malls opened in May. The priority of time is to halt the spread of virus by means of lockdown, distancing, wearing of PPE, and trial vaccines. There is no doubt all these measures have adverse social implications, and so the goal is to keep them for the minimum duration and not permanent.

But it does not have to be the state of Georgia to be the first to relax lockdowns with great danger to the community including first-responders and healthcare workers to boost economy. The economic health and the physical/mental health of our communities are not mutually exclusive. As Covid-19 is still lurking around us posing significant risks, creative tele-methods of delivery are becoming the norm. It once again affirms change is the only constant and the sooner we adopt better we are.

S Ghosh
Via Email


Are You a Teen with a View?
Teenagers with an Indian-American/South Asian background are welcome to share their thoughts on these topics: (1) Covid-19. How has the pandemic affected you and your perspective? What have you done to make things better for yourself and others? (2) Black Lives Matter. What do you think of this movement, and the community’s response to it? Why and how are you involved—or not involved? For both topics, while shorter comments can be sent by email, commentaries (600 to 700 words) should be sent as a Word attachment. There’s a $50 payment for any commentary that’s selected for publication in Khabar. Your submission should include your age and place of residence. Email: editor@khabar.com


Email: letters@khabar.com • Fax: (770) 234-6115
Mail: Khabar, Inc. 3635 Savannah Place Dr, Suite 400, Duluth, GA 30096.
Note: Views expressed in the Letters section do not necessarily represent those of the publication.

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