Tag Archive: anti-racism

Sureshbhai Patel, police brutality and us

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An Alabama judge just declared a mistrial in the police assault case filed by Indian citizen Sureshbhai Patel. There are a few reasons this case matters to me.

  • The court system has twice been unable to decide whether Mr. Patel’s constitutional rights were violated when he was paralyzed after a leg sweep by a police officer.
  • I’ve been saying for a while now that we make a mistake when we focus completely on police in police brutality cases: Mr. Patel’s encounter with the police was the result of a neighbor who felt threatened by a “skinny Black guy” looking at garages. An older man visiting his son, going for a walk in his son’s neighborhood, was considered enough of a threat to call the police. Others have died for being brown in a neighborhood they actually belonged in, such as Alex Nieto in San Francisco, because someone thought the existence of a Brown person in their neighborhood warranted calling the police. In each individual encounter it is the police who act, but it is the community that creates the culture for the officer to act. White privilege shapes how law enforcement (and so much else) functions in this country.
  • This story is obviously on my radar because it is being discussed in the South Asian community, but Mr. Patel’s paralysis has everything to do with the culture of anti-Blackness that is baked into our culture. Mr. Patel was a threat when he was perceived to be Black, in the same way that the teenager at the Texas pool party was a threat because she was Black, or the teenage girl at Spring Valley High, or Tamir Rice in Cleveland…all people who clearly are not threats except for the cultural understanding that Blackness is threatening enough to need control and suppression by armed police.

The first jury deadlocked on September 11, appropriate since that is the day that South Asians learned in a big way that while we had generally (although not ubiquitously) been considered “American enough” as long as we were not disruptive, that status could be removed at will by a government that violated basic constitutional rights and imprisoned innocent people because of their names and heritage, as our government has done in the past. As the second jury deadlocked two days ago, I am saddened but not surprised. And I pray it helps my own community recognize the need to be in solidarity with those on the margins rather than desperately seeking to be accepted by the dominant culture.

Upon receiving the Christian Church of Northern CA-NV’s annual MLK Award

This award was given to me on January 11, 2015 at Lafayette Christian Church during the CCNC-N’s annual MLK service. Following are my remarks upon receiving the award.

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I find myself thinking a lot about the previous recipients of this award, because they have all deeply shaped me.

I’m in the land of Pacific School of Religion, and many of you know that PSR’s slogan is, help me with this, “a tradition of boldness.” And that is true. I am in a sea of boldness in this region. But as far as I know, there have only been five graduates of the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago in this region, and … I am the fifth to receive this award, following:

  • Carl and Esther Robinson, who lost his parish in the 1960s for refusing to kick a gay youth out of his church’s youth group;
  • Robert Lemon, who lost his parish for standing in solidarity with Cesar Chavez and the migrant farm workers’ movement;
  • Vy Nguyen, who hasn’t been fired from anything yet, but is leading Week of Compassion and helping us respond to disasters across the globe and here at home;
  • and while David Kagiwada is no longer with us, his widow JoAnne received this award, acknowledging her work to make sure that Japanese American internment camp survivors received recompense from our government.

So in the land of the tradition of boldness, I’m grateful to have had the chance to import a little boldness from Chicago.

I am also shaped by other award recipients:

  • There is no one who stands with poor people more powerfully and inspiringly than Sandy Perry;
  • I have learned much of what it means to participate in civil rights from Clarence Johnson, who was at the March on Washington, but who was also an ardent worker alongside Stokely Carmichael, which is a reminder to us all that radicalism can be held deep within the most humble servants of God;
  • Ben Fraticelli was about the work of building multicultural community in Oakland decades before the Oakland Peace Center started its work three years ago; and
  • Jim Mitulski, who led us in the chant “Stand Up! Fight Back! Fight AIDS!” buried more bodies than most of us can count, because so few churches in the 1980s were willing to acknowledge the human dignity and divinity of the mostly gay men dying of AIDS.

I am an Asian American who was shaped strongly by Black civil rights: 4th grade was the first time I heard about India in school, when we learned that Dr. King’s commitment to nonviolence was shaped by Mahatma Gandhi’s anti-colonial movement in India. I was hooked; I read every book on Dr. King in the library, and for a long time it was the closest reference point I could find to make sense of my experience as an Asian American in northeast Ohio. (more…)

Race Identity as accountability, not escape: reflections from a light-skinned anti-racist

I still feel a little silly when I get to the point in an anti-racism training where I say “I’m a victim of racism.” I think there’s two reasons for this:

1)      Most people of color shaped by American society have a pretty big stake in either “I made it on my own merits despite discrimination” or “I haven’t been affected by discrimination.”

2)      Look at me. I’m under no illusion that when I get on a plane people get nervous; they don’t. (Unless they’re sitting next to me. But that’s because they’re going to get less armrest space with me than with a supermodel.) These days I don’t even get searched by TSA all that much more frequently than the rest of you. I rarely get “you have almost no accent,” and even when I get “where are you from?” it’s out of curiosity rather than malice.

One of my best friends has recently raised with me his concern that I’m pretending to be something I’m not when I publicly proclaim my identity as a South Asian American*. After all, while I share a lot of the experiences of my darker skinned (and full-blooded) South Asian brothers and sisters and wrestle with the same identity issues of being South Asian and American, the way the world experiences me is as a White person unless they know me or see my name. (You can imagine the conversations I have to have with people when I show up not looking at all how they expected me to.) (more…)