After a sequence of complicated events, and by the will of God I was able to make it to the Houston march in honor of George Floyd. Others have been posting about fears they had to overcome in order to participate. And I too had many of the same fears (COVID, my kid getting hurt, getting arrested etc.). I’ve been reflecting on this default fear response that many of us have…especially us Desi folks. Yes, these are all legitimate fears, but I think it goes deeper for us than just the current environment… and I think it is one of the underlying reasons we have historically not shown up for our Black brothers and sisters. And without deeper reflection on such issues we will not be able to do better.
As a child of immigrants I have been taught at a young age to be fearful of the outside world. Every aspect of it. That this country is not ours and interactions with the outside world (aside from school) was severely restricted/limited. The message was we are only here to benefit from the education system, to further ourselves economically and that there should be no other reason to interact with people who did not look and think like us…actually I take that back…we were basically only allowed to interact socially with family and extended family because anyone else outside of that was a potential threat. As immigrants they desperately held on to their culture and way of life and desperately tried to shield us from most things American. Because the thought of the next generation losing their cultural identity, religion, and family values was unbearable. So long story short, messages that were sent over time: don’t participate in anything “American” (ie. not desi), the people, the culture, the problems, are not safe and are none of our business. Lay low, focus on your studies, don’t interact and don’t participate. Don’t participate…Unfortunately these messages were reinforced with 911: Lay low, stay safe, don’t get deported, don’t participate. And as a woman these messages were worse: don’t do anything without the company or protection of a man, don’t ever be alone, don’t ever risk your safety at all costs. Be home by sundown…the world is not safe.
Fortunately, many of us rebelled a bit. We embraced the “outside” culture and the people. We found refuge with other minorities struggling to establish bi-cultural identities. But that fear that has been deeply ingrained in us is far more challenging to escape. Because fear is powerful. We have to keep working on it. Because our fear and lack of participation have become death sentences for many whom we love and respect. Also because we are commanded by God to actively address social injustices and ONLY to fear Allah.
Do your research, take heed in protecting yourselves, find some good lawyers and guard your health. Be smart. But don’t let that fear paralyze you to a state of indifference for the sake of survival. What would that say about our values and who we are as human beings? I sucked up my fears, disrupted my otherwise comfortable life and showed up. And although I didn’t entirely plan it that way, I was alone…without friends or family or a man to protect me. And what happened? I got to show up and stand up for what is right and I got to send my daughter a new message: This is our country, these are our people, and we need to participate because ￼￼life is more than just about protecting ourselves. It’s about making sure that human rights are extended to everyone, and standing up for those who are oppressed. It’s about making sure the privileges that we have benefitted from are utilized to benefit others.
Finally, I know many who were devastated for not being able to attend the protest. But the great news is there are so many other ways (equally important if not more) to actively participate in this fight for justice. So not being able to protest/march/rally should NOT discourage you from participating in other ways. Make sure to VOTE, sign petitions, make calls, write emails, support orgs, and educate yourselves. And add taking the time to reflect on what’s really going on in your hearts.
Attending this rally was particularly important for me because I needed to break this inter-generational cycle of fear. I needed to show my daughter that women can be fearless and strong as they fulfill their obligation to stand up against injustice.