“The officers of the Indian-Americans for Trump 2016 urge all Americans to join in the effort and support Donald Trump in his endeavor to make America great again by electing him the next President of the USA.”
That statement, as reported by NBC Asian America, came from a Political Action Committee called “Indian-Americans for Trump 2016.” According to the article, the group is in favor of Trump’s rhetoric on issues such as “illegal immigration.” Indian-Americans from the New York-New Jersey region formed the PAC, which is also interesting. Given that the region consists of a sizable chunk of the Indian-American and South Asian-American population in the U.S., it means they can, in theory, generate enough support for their candidate.
Indian-Americans from N.J. area form PAC to back Trump https://t.co/Ku7rIljUs7
— NJ.com (@njdotcom) January 29, 2016
For the past few months, I have done my best to avoid talking about Trump. I avoid his rallies on TV, I skip over news of him on social media, and I even cut off conversations by the phrase: “He’s an asshole.” Oftentimes, that works, even with my liberal friends who are fascinated by his campaign.
But I think now is the perfect time to connect the recent news of the PAC’s emergence to the major problems within our community. We have to acknowledge that there is a racist, classist, and conservative underbelly among Desis that needs to be challenged.
First, let me make some things clear:
- The vast majority of South Asian Americans appear to be strong Democrat supporters. According to a BBC report, “an impressive 84 percent of the 2.85 million-strong Indian-American community voted for Mr Obama in 2008, second perhaps only to African-Americans as a minority group.” 96 percent of Bangladeshi, 91 percent of Pakistani, and 84 percent of Asian Indian American voters surveyed in a poll conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund voted for President Obama in 2012. That’s higher than the total of 77 percent of Asian Americans who supported the President.
- The ultimate responsibility on stopping Trump is on white America. Trump has been successful in inciting prejudice and authoritarianism among white audiences. Anti-POC immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments serve as the backbone for his popularity. This is similar to when other right-wing politicians have run on platforms of exclusion, from Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan. It is crucial for white Americans who would be against Trump to do more than sit idly by and allow this discourse to continue.
Yet, as South Asian Americans, we cannot add to that din of paranoia and hatred. We cannot sacrifice our connection to fellow POC at the altar of whiteness, just so we can gain privileges others haven’t. In her book We Too Sing America, activist and lawyer Deepa Iyer warns non-black POC against accepting what she describes as the “racial bribe.”
A4: And I hope South Asians in particular will decline "racial bribe" and instead center racial identities & solidarities #WeTooSingAmerica
— Deepa Iyer (@dviyer) November 9, 2015
How many of us have been face-to-face with someone in our community, whether it’s a relative or a friend, who at one moment or another, degraded black lives by categorizing them as criminals, or in the case of the PAC for Trump, sided against Mexican-Americans and other groups of color? For some South Asian Americans, it must be painful and embarrassing to hear a close family member espouse Anti-Muslim bigotry that would make a Neo-Nazi blush.
The election of Narendra Modi should’ve been a sign. Modi’s right-wing policies and supporters in India have created a dangerous political climate, leading to assassinations of free-thinkers, and fostering division. Issues such as caste continue to be a problem, and for some like Rohit Vemula, the harassment and exclusion is inescapable.
What’s worrisome is that Modi, and his party, the BJP, have also garnered fans among the diaspora. When Modi arrived in the U.S., close to 19,000 Indian-Americans attended his speech in Madison Square Garden. In fact, I remember posters of Modi, and BJP flags hung outside restaurants and shops in areas of Jersey City and Edison that are predominantly Indian-American. I was with my friends then, and I felt upset and angry as we drove down the avenue, surrounded by people who suddenly seemed so distant from my world.
It’s easy to give into sadness and frustration at the current state of affairs. It’s easy to ignore and look the other way.
But then, there are people like Arish Singh, who represent what’s possible.
Arish Singh, a comedian and writer, decided to protest at a Trump rally in Iowa. He was in the crowd when he held up a banner with another protester that said “Stop Hate.” Singh and the other protester were taken away, as the crowd chanted at them.
One might wonder what could’ve Singh been thinking? To go into the belly of the beast, to risk injury and harassment.
“Social justice and defending people in need is part of the Sikh faith,” he explained to The Daily Beast, “You don’t have to be a Muslim to stand against anti-Muslim bigotry. Everyone should stand up against bigotry and hate regardless of the target.”
Singh, wearing his turban, and despite the threat of violence against him, chose to stand up against bigotry that wasn’t even directed toward his faith. He wasn’t willing to allow his Muslim brothers and sisters to face discrimination while he sat on the sidelines.
Singh is who we all should and could be.
Like him, confront oppression, and do not be complacent. Like him, challenge others, including family on their prejudices.
And whenever you do feel weak, or overwhelmed, imagine Arish Singh, in that crowd, standing up, instead of sitting down. Letting the crowd know he is there. Doing all he can to speak up and be heard. Defiant.
— Arish Singh (@arishish) February 4, 2016
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Sudip Bhattacharya lives in Monroe Township, New Jersey. He is currently a fellow and working on his Ph.D. in political science at Rutgers University. Before that, he worked as a journalist.