Tuesday, September 19

What M.I.A.’s Comments About BLM Say About South Asian Solidarity

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This morning, Brit-Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A. was reported as saying in the current issue of ES Magazine that Black Lives Matter is a limited movement.

“It’s not a new thing to me — it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s. Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question,” she said.

“And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV programme, you cannot create a tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama isn’t going to hump you back.”

To many her point was clear though wrongly said — Black Lives Matter and so do Muslim and refugee lives. The issue is her phrasing was more in line with #AllLivesMatter, the generally bullshit hashtag created by non-black people to undermine and silence outcry against police brutality. Of course no one is saying Muslim lives don’t matter, but Black Lives Matter is a mainstream movement that has highlighted a series of issues that also need attention.

The singer returned to Twitter to clarify her point:

I’m not sure about you, but to me she still hasn’t said what she needs to say. It’s possible to care about multiple issues at once and there is no hierarchy of oppression.

Within her follow-up tweets, the fundamental problem remains: why can’t South Asians and other non-black PoC discuss issues of injustice without bringing up the strides black people have made to highlight the problems their community faces? Why does our protesting always require us to sacrifice black people?

I won’t say I came into this world fully-formed with the right idea all the time about how justice works. It was very much a learning process to not be upset over the attention black people get for their issues — but in the end I realized, as everyone should, that the attention black people get is hard-earned and comes only after decades of consistent protest, pursuit, and sacrifice. And brown people have also benefitted from the activism of black people, even when we did little to help.

When Peter Liang went to trial, Asian-Americans turned out wrongly in support of the killer cop who shot an unarmed Akai Gurley. Protesters said that Liang was scapegoated by the NYPD, who, in their turn, hasn’t seen a cop sent to jail in a decade despite extremely obvious misconduct. Despite this, Liang was not the victim in this situation, Gurley was, and yet the Asian-American presence was on Liang’s side.

There has always been an assumed need for us to turn out for our people. And we should. But there’s nothing that requires us to be blinded by that need to the point where we are actively harming the lives of black people or detracting from the work the black community does.

It’s been said before but if brown people turned out in support of black people against issues of police brutality, food injustice, the school to prison pipeline, etc. we only stand to benefit. It was cops that tackled Sureshbhai Patel to the ground, paralyzing him. The TSA and airlines have created a system of acceptable racial profiling modeled off of the same one the police use to pullover and attack black, latino and Native people. Our position in this society is precariously situated on forwarding white supremacy, ignoring the issues faced by the black and latino communities, and keeping our heads down. But it’s not helping us — we too are suffering.

And even if we aren’t ready to march in the streets alongside Black Lives Matter, the least we can do is keep the movement out of our mouths. Muslim lives matter and black lives matter and black muslim lives matter. Brown lives all over the world matter. But we can do better for ourselves and each other if we just stopped being so petty.

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