[00:00:02] I’m Anirvan Chatterjee. I’m a South Asian American activist and I’m one of the curators at the Berkeley South Asian radical history walking tour.
[00:00:10] When did you create that site?
[00:00:12] So I created the Black Desi Secret History site for Black History Month 2015.
[00:00:21] Oh, so it’s relatively new.
[00:00:23] It’s pretty new. Yeah. I mean there’s a lot of work being done by researchers and historians in our community about the long history of South Asian and African-American connections and solidarity. But the thing that I’ve always found that’s difficult is that a lot of these histories stay stuck in the history books. So for me it was really important to try to actually bring these stories out and make them really accessible to all of our communities.
[00:00:47] What was the motivation though, for this particular site?
[00:00:52] For me, I definitely saw a lot of folks in my South Asian community that were looking at movements like Black Lives Matter and not really seeing how they could connect with those moments, or not really understand that this is something that is very much a part of our history, that we have always been involved in black lives and black lives have always been involved in us in some way or the other. So what — the goal of the site was really to kind of make it really clear that we have the examples we need from history, that we can always going to step into into those examples of solidarity and connection. And we have everything we need; we don’t need to invent anything from scratch.
[00:01:29] How long have you been researching this history?
[00:01:32] I’ve been researching the history over the course of a couple of years now. I’m not…I’m not the actual historian who has done this work. I mean, most of the stories that I’ve found come out of a couple of really great books. A lot of them are already on their Web sites or on Web sites. But I think the coalition is, for me, is actually the really important part. Figuring out ways to kind of make these histories more accessible to our communities.
[00:01:55] So would you consider yourself more of a curator, then?
[00:01:58] Yeah, a curator or a community-based historian.
[00:02:01] And I’m wondering, I guess what was…what was your growing up like? Were you — did you grow up in the Bay Area where you had, you know, more connection with African-American communities?
[00:02:14] Yeah, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area suburbs, and I grew up with very little African-American community around me. For me, my South Asian American community, and in my case very specifically, my Bengali Hindu Indian community, didn’t really see itself as having much of a connection with African-America at all. Their sort of, certainly a sense of, “black folks are those people,” you know, “they are there, we are here,” there is really like nothing in between. There’s really no connection. So it kind of came as a surprise to me that we actually have really deep roots of our connection. As Bengalis, in our culture, we look to writers like Tagore as being, like, really important for us in the way we kind of see ourselves in our…so one of the big breakthrough moments for me was really realizing that Tagore, sitting in India, was actually in touch with black papers. I believe in, through the 1920s and the 1930s, and really kind of seeing those moments of connection that go so deep for me as a Bengali — because we we love our Tagore — really kind of shows me that you know all we need to do is kind of follow the examples of the past.
[00:03:23] Well, I want to talk more in depth about some of the content you put on your website, but I’m curious about your particular community and when you were growing up, and if there were misconceptions or misperceptions or even any anti-black myths in the South Asian communities.
[00:03:42] Absolutely, yeah. I mean I’ve definitely kind of grown up around a lot of anti-blackness which is either sometimes subtle, sometimes very clearly expressed. [00:03:52] Sometimes that that would come out in terms of being told “well, you know you don’t marry folks like that.” Sometimes it’s done through, “well, you know you don’t go to cities like Oakland, California because that’s where those people live.” And [13.0] a lot of the anti-blackness wasn’t…I mean it wasn’t something it was just like, literally put out, where I think a lot of folks in my community are…I mean they’re essentially white liberals, where a lot of the racism doesn’t necessarily come out in a very clear cut way, but you can always tell from what people are saying and what people are thinking, that we would often look down on black folks or just kind of don’t see ourselves as having any connection at all. It’s an aspiration to whiteness that we were all looking for. Yeah. [00:04:38] I mean.
[00:04:39] For me growing up in the US, I actually didn’t really kind of get any kind of a sense from school or from my larger American community that there was any kind of connection at all between African-Americans and South Asians.
[00:04:50] I mean, those connections were something that I actually learned more from my Indian community my South Asian community that my parents or other people around me would say “well of course, you know, like the black civil rights movement. They learn so much from Gandhi, you know.” And that was something that folks are really proud of.
[00:05:08] It was really important to them, and that was kind of the one maybe, kind of major point of connection that my committee members really saw with African-America.
[00:05:16] It was always really distant, like it had something that had happened long in the past, and there wasn’t a sense that that’s something that we could build on. [45.0]
[00:05:24] I really want to address, you know, a statement that’s made on your site. You know when it comes to links between South Asian and African-American solidarity, you say that most people highlight only Gandhi’s inspiration on MLK. Can you talk more about that, and what mainstream American history, you know, I guess is missing from the connection of South Asians and African-Americans?
[00:05:55] No, most folks in my community didn’t seem to necessarily even didn’t know much beyond the fact that King was inspired by Gandhi, but his 1959 trip to India. I mean that’s not something that I had really heard about until much, much later.
[00:06:10] Did they talk at all about MLK Jr’s trip to India?
[00:06:15] Yeah. So, there’s been a long history of black civil rights activists who have been connecting to the Indian freedom movement.
[00:06:28] Well, I didn’t really hear much about how it till your site. Can you tell us about that.
[00:06:35] I mean, what prompted him to go to India?
[00:06:39] So there’s, sorry – just going to give you a little bit of background – there’s almost, like, four stages of black and South Asian American history, like, going back to, like, the 1600s. And I’m really happy to, like, quickly jump through, like, all four stages if that’s helpful.
[00:06:53] Oh, that’s true if we go back through the history I guess that does make it more obvious, doesn’t it? Let’s start out with the early stuff, then. Tell us about the early stuff.
[00:07:01] So the first South Asians that started encountering African-America were folks back in literally the 1600s or 1700s, that these were South Asians who were coming to the U.S. as indentured servants and in some cases literally as slaves. I mean, there’s records of runaway slaves who are marked as East Indian, like, back in, like, 1768 and kind of in that period. So we can only imagine like what it might have been for these South Asians to be in African-American spaces, what kind of connections they made. Now, these stories aren’t really documented, and the only way we know that they even existed is because they were documented by, by the law, you know… they’re documented when they, you know, when they ran away as slaves. But that was, I think, some of the very earliest points of connection that we know of. The…for me the much more interesting wave comes much later as the Bengali Harlem wave. [00:07:56] Bengali Harlem is this, like, amazing book that was written a couple of years ago by a historian Vivek Bald. And in it, he describes how from, like, say, the 1880s through, say, the 1930s or so, there was wave after wave after wave of folks from Bengal from the largely the present day nations of Bangladesh, and to some extent Indian Bengal, who would be coming as traitors, to the United States to the east coast and they would fan out up and down and going to places like Detroit, New York City, New Jersey, and they would often be peddlers. They’d be selling goods that they’d brought over with them from India. And you know they had kind of trade relations. And what they found, these peddlers and sailors and workers, was that they actually could not find homes, they couldn’t find safety in white communities. White communities would not have them. So they very quickly actually started connecting with and often marrying into black communities, black and Creole and Puerto Rico communities. And there’s these amazing stories that Vivek Bald and others have found of South Asians and African-Americans building lives together. There’s a story of one, one Bengali man for example, who married somebody who is literally the daughter of a slave. And I’m just thinking about, like, what those conversations would have been like for somebody to be like, you know, these two people from, like, such entirely different worlds, living together or having children and kind of going on through life. So for me, like that’s kind of the moment when South Asians came to the United States in large numbers — in large-ish number, relative to before. And we found comfort and we kind of found safety in black America. [101.4]
[00:09:39] That’s an incredible story, by the way. That really is. Just looking at the picture that you put on your Web site and the mixtures of people, you know, it’s — it’s beautiful. Do you know if there are any descendants from that time period.
[00:09:56] Yeah, absolutely. There’s somebody named a comedian named Aladdin who I believe lives in New York City, and he’s somebody who kind of comes from that generation, from some of the last generations of that. So Aladdin is a really good person to talk to. Nadia Hussein who also active in a lot of different AAPI spaces today, lives in New Jersey. She’s also has, I believe some roots from those kind of connections.
[00:10:23] Wonderful. Okay, that’s good. Thank you. So, after the Bengali Harlem, you want to talk about a Ram Manohar Lohia? Or where do you want to go from there?
[00:10:37] I’m gonna – yeah. So for me, the sort of the third wave of connection actually comes in, say, from the 1920s, 30s, 40s onward where it goes the other way. Suddenly African-Americans start noticing India, and they see India as this nation of Colored People who are resisting white empire. And in that process of resisting white Empire, I mean they were kind of really formulating new models on what it looks like to resist white imperialism. And there’s all these statements and quotes and writing that we found, where black Americans really saw that as something that really kind inspired inspired them as well, because if these colored people abroad could be working for their liberation, African-America might be able to do that too. And my favorite thing that kind of came out of this was the 19…I believe the 1942 NAACP resolution in support of Indian autonomy. Now I think by the time – it’s 1942 it’s the – you know, it’s the middle of World War Two, and the NAACP could have been working on so many things. But they’d had some connections with a couple of Indian activists and they came together, and they just put out this like, large resolution and they got thinkers and writers and poets to put out this entire package of supporting materials really demanding freedom and autonomy for India, because they saw their liberation wrapped up in the liberation of India. Now when I say India, this is the present day nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But my favorite kind of piece from that time is a poem by Langston Hughes.
[00:12:18] So Langston Hughes was one of the writers and activists and poets who participated in that 1942 NAACP process. And in that packet there’s – they include one of his poems, and this is a poem called “How About It” and it reads in part, “Show me that you mean democracy, please. Because from Bombay to Georgia, I’m beat to my knees. You can’t lock up Nehru, club Roland Hayes, than make fine speeches about freedom’s way.”
[00:12:51] And it gave me chills, reading that for the first time. Seeing him talk about the first prime minister of India – Nehru – who was at the time a political prisoner captured by the British and talking about a victim – a black man who was a victim of police brutality in the same poem, in the same sentence. And just that – for Langston Hughes, that he saw his liberation wrapped up in ours. And it wasn’t only him because there are other folks during that World War Two period. One of – my favorite figure from that time is Bayard Rustin. Now a lot, of us know Bayard Rustin as the main organizer of the 1963 march on Washington, working behind the scenes. But in the 1940s, Bayard Rustin was a Quaker pacifist, and he was…he was actually put in prison for his pacifist beliefs. But even while he was in prison in 1945, he helped organize the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Free India Committee. And I just think about what it would have been like for this, like, black gay pacifist to be sitting there in prison and realizing that his liberation was wrapped up in the liberation of colonized countries like India and that he would be working, he would be agitating for Indian liberation. And when he got out of prison he joined up with others to do actions outside of the British embassy in Washington D.C., because he knew that we needed, like, genuine decolonization both inside the U.S. and all around the world for all colored peoples.
[00:14:29] That, to me, is really the…I mean it is – it’s a story that I wish every South Asian knew. We have the sense that…we revere our Indian freedom fighters, but just to know that our – our group of Indian freedom – freedom fighters includes folks like Bayard Rustin, somebody who would risk arrest over and over again to make sure that India was free. We don’t think of, like, gay black men as Indian freedom fighters, but to us he’s one of ours.
[00:14:59] I was also surprised at W.E.B. Dubois you know and his involvement.
[00:15:06] Yes. Dubois was in connection with so many different Indian activists. Now, he was somebody who was prolific and was somebody who would write letters and say connected. And for many South Asian thinkers, and writers, and activists of the period, he was one of those people who was just kind of a superconnector who brought people together and really kind of helped get folks around the world thinking about what African-America, where African-America was and what that really kind of meant to them, and how to kind of put those two things together.
[00:15:36] It’s so much, so much. And so, that – that was the third wave that you were talking about?
[00:15:41] Yeah, so what happens is that in 1947 India gains freedom from the British Empire. And again, when I say India, I’m talking about the present-day nations of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
[00:15:57] And you have this situation where you have these anti-colonial leaders actually become the leaders of this new country. So in 1949. Bayard Rustin, for example, who was risking arrest in D.C. to make sure that that these, you know, Indian freedom fighters would actually be able to, like, oust the British from their country. He goes to visit India and he ends up meeting this fellow – his fellow anti-colonial leader who is now the prime minister of India. And there’s this beautiful photo of the two of them, just Nehru and Bayard Rustin, hanging out and talking. And again, that’s one of these photos that I wish every South Asian could see, just you know, to see this, like, gay black activist who was the right hand man of Martin Luther King hanging out and talking to – to somebody who’s actually really important for Indians, at least – our first prime minister. [00:16:41] But this is where it gets interesting, because…so, we’re talking about MLK’s visit to India in 1959, and that was something that was organized by Bayard Rustin as well. So in 1959, Martin Luther King goes to India, and he talks to Nehru and he talks to other people there.
[00:17:01] And a lot of the folks who are going to India, black American leaders, who are going to India from the U.S., they had been meeting these former anti-colonial freedom fighters who were the new government, and they would show up and they would sometimes realize that…I mean this is great, you know? We’re actually meeting the leaders of this nation of, like, hundreds of millions of people, but maybe black America wasn’t exactly in the same position as these new new national leaders, and they started actually making connections with Dalit communities and they started realizing that race and Caste in many cases worked really similarly. [55.7] Now, race and caste are not the same thing. As Americans, we kind of have a sense of what race is. Now, caste is a practice that is grounded in religious practice. I mean, if race in the U.S., as you know, it is a couple of hundred years old, caste is a practice that’s thousands of years old. It’s one of the oldest and most vile persisting kind of systems of oppression in the world. And you have folks like MLK going to India, meeting the primarily upper caste leaders of this new nation, and then realizing, “This is great, like, they’re – they’re really good to me. They have stood with us. You know, I have stood with them. We have so much to connect we’re over,” but the people who are in the same position here are, are lower caste communities. Dalit communities. Now, Dalit is the self-chosen term of folks who might have otherwise been called “untouchable.” And in 1959 he comes back to the US, and he talks about how…between the strong analogies between race and caste, and that actually puts black activists in a really interesting position because they are simultaneously, for historical reasons, connecting with these primary – the upper caste leaders as well as folks on the bottom of the – of the caste hierarchy. So through the 1950s and the 1960s ideas from the Indian freedom movement start kind of percolating back to the US.
[00:19:01] Now there have always been folks like Jim Lawson, folks like Bayard Rustin, who had been kind of going there and coming back and forth folks like Ram Manohar Lohia who was teaching, I believe at the Highlander Freedom School. And so there’s a lot of this kind of cross-fertilization and that really kind of comes together with Dr. King’s use of Gandhian disobedience and nonviolence as part of his tactics.
[00:19:26] And for, certainly for people like me, for Indians or Indian-Americans, I mean that’s that moment of connection between African America and our Indian heritage is the one story we know. But the thing that the story…But. But that moment of, kind of realizing that race and caste work similarly is a story that very few of us actually really get into. So by the 1970s, we start seeing a whole new wave of connection that really comes grounded in that deep connection between race and caste.
[00:20:02] So even as here in the U.S. we had started having groups like the Black Panthers rise. In India, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, young Dalit activists created a new organization called Dalit Panther that was directly modeled and patterned off of the Black Panthers, and they were connecting back and forth, the – the Black Panthers newspaper was writing about them. And that is a connection between race and caste that survives today. Even in the last year or two, you know, we’ve seen some really amazing connections, things like the Dalit women fight movement, from India, of these badass, fierce Dalit organizers, who are in many cases being able to come to the US and connect with movements like Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name. And again, today we’re seeing that same kind of connection happening.
[00:20:54] So, correct me if I’m wrong, but I am getting the sense and a lot of imagery of people talking, you know, the black civil rights movement leaders talking about what’s happening in India, and then in India you know, the leaders there in their civil rights movements talking about what the black leaders are doing. Is that a fair assumption? And being inspired by each other?
[00:21:21] Yeah, very much so. I mean I think for India, being colonized by the by the British, they definitely kind of saw parallels between themselves and African-America. There are certainly major differences – I mean in their case, it was their country that had been colonized, while in the case of African-America, of folks being enslaved being – and being an enslaved minority, it was structurally a very different issue. But those connections were happening in both ways.
[00:21:47] And it seems like, you know, there was such a global interconnectedness that way, too.
[00:21:52] Very much so. I mean, when we read histories of, say, movements like the Ghadar Party, which was an early South Asian anti-colonial movement that was kind of started a little over a hundred years ago on the West Coast of the US, I mean we – we read about them connecting with anarchists, and socialists, and Irish, and in some cases African-Americans, and you know, just all the different ways that people would connect at that time. I mean the world is – is and has always been much more connected than we like to think.
[00:22:18] So let – let’s bring it all back to your opening statement, where you were talking about – when you were creating the site and you know when specifically, when people were thinking of Asians for Black Lives Matter. How does all of this activism from the past and this history connect with Asians for Black Lives Matter and South Asians for Black Lives Matter?
[00:22:42] To me, when folks in my South Asian community think about movements like Black Lives Matter, when we think about what solidarity looks like, I see a lot of young folks for whom this seems, like, big and difficult and complicated – and it absolutely is. I mean, the place that South Asians kind of stand in America’s racial hierarchy puts us in a – in a complicated position. And the process of, sort of throwing off that model minority status is is – I mean it is complicated, and it’s something that we have to kind of grapple with.
[00:23:13] But for me, the thing that I that I think is really important is that young South Asians and South Asian Americans who are standing up for movements like Black Lives Matter, that we know that we are walking a very, very, very long tradition, that for over a century African America has stood with South Asians, South Asians have stood with African-America. And it’s not – I mean you know it’s not a story where that’s always been the case. We are absolutely cherry picking examples here. But just to be able to know that that we have the examples we need of what that kind of solidarity looks like and that is hopefully going to be able to really kind of give rise to the next chapter of that story which we’re seeing in many cases on the streets today.
[00:23:59] Has learning about this history changed your political views at all?
[00:24:03] Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think knowing – knowing our history really changes my sense of who I am and what I can do and what we can do collectively. There’s something really difficult about the idea of having to do something for the first time. It feels difficult. It feels like maybe you are betraying your community by making – taking certain stances or making certain connections. What I’ve really been able to take from this is that we are actually walking a very old tradition that the best way to kind of carry forth these traditions of solidarity and shared resistance is by doing this kind of…the kind of activism that in fact doing this kind of activism is the best way that we can actually reconnect with what I see as the most important, the most valuable parts of our culture.
[00:24:48] For over a century, South Asians have been standing with African-America, African-America has been sending with South Asia, and the cultures of resistance that have come out of that are – it’s a very best part of our tradition, and we just need to be able to step up and say that is something that we need to be able to teach, and share, and I’m hope – I’m really hopeful that for younger generations of South Asian Americans, that that’s a tradition that they too can step into.
[00:25:15] I’m wondering how – how each of these communities can, I guess, learn more about this shared history but also, I guess, how we can support each other.
[00:25:26] Yes. Me too. Sorry. Yeah.
[00:25:33] You too. Don’t want to take that on?
[00:25:35] Well I’m just wondering, especially now in light of the, you know, the impending Trump presidency and how it might be affecting South Asians and – and the African-American relationship, you know, because often during tough times, that relationship is really tested.
[00:25:53] Today, in 2016, we as South Asian Americans find ourselves again targeted by a very dangerous new wave of hate violence, and that’s something that’s happening across the country. It’s been, in the days after the 2016 election we’ve – we’ve seen hundreds, in many cases, by some accounts thousands of different hate incidents targeting us and targeting African – African-Americans as well. Whether it’s anti-Muslim rhetoric or anti-black rhetoric, to us it is so deeply connected and it’s really an opportunity for us to be able to come together. But some of the most interesting moments of sort of shared oppression together come out of cases like, say the case of Sureshbhai Patel.
[00:26:37] Now, Sureshbhai Patel was an Indian grandfather who came to visit his – his son and his grandchild in the U.S. He shows up in the U.S. and as he’s walking around his – his son’s house, walking around the neighborhood, he gets attacked by cops because one of the neighbors looks out the window, sees this dark skinned man from India just walking around on the sidewalk as if you know he belongs there, calls the cops told them there’s this skinny black man walking on the streets and the cops come.
[00:27:05] They approach him. He doesn’t speak English, but you know he’s sort of – he says that “I am from India, I’m from India,” and we have this on video, and it’s heartbreaking to watch, because it’s somebody who looks like my grandfather. They – they sort of attack him and he’s put in this coma, and suddenly South Asian Americans around the country – just like, are watching this video, just watching what happens to African-Americans every single day happened to one of us, but because it’s caught on video, because this is happening to somebody who looks like one of our grandfathers, it just resonates in a way where maybe the everyday police terrorism of black Americans wouldn’t quite get us. To me, cases like that of Sureshbhai Patel really kind of bring home that for us the only way to bring safety is to also create safety for African-America. Our – our safety is linked, our struggles are linked, and it’s really kind of up to us whether we’re gonna – going to – to stop, sort of, aspiring to whiteness…and whiteness is great, I mean I honestly think that it is entirely fine for us to choose which bits and pieces of whiteness we connect with. But that’s not the only cultural force, it’s not the only political force in the US and it’s incredibly important for us to be able, to like, look into our history, look into who is an actual threat to our communities and connect as much to African-America as we do to other parts of the American fabric.
[00:28:35] I’m going to ask you this question again. You know – oh, actually when was that, when was that incident, that.
[00:28:42] I believe in 2015.
[00:28:45] I – so it was last year. I mean I’m going to ask you this question again because what you’re say – you know, for me, you know seeing this sight that you’ve put together, but also just, I guess knowledge is – is more power, you know? Or knowledge is something that we can hopefully learn from. Is there more efforts like this, or you know how we can learn more so that we can support each other? Are there ways that we can all break out of our own little bubbles, you know so that we can share this information, so that we can share this common history?
[00:29:20] Yeah. I see the Black Desi Secret History dot org Project as the beginning of a conversation. For a lot of folks in our community, we just don’t have an easy way to access the work that these amazing historians are researching and putting out into the world just because, you know, we’re not reading, in many cases, academic history. I’m hoping that folks see this, that they share this and they don’t stop there. I mean it’s not enough just to, like, have a couple of neurons, you know shift around in our heads – that folks actually need to step up and confront anti-blackness in our community, step up and show solidarity in very active and real ways and that – that can look very different – that can look different in different ways, whether that’s folks who are doing work against gentrification, whether that’s speaking out against anti-blackness in their own communities, in a quiet subtle way, in our own community spaces whether that’s getting out onto the streets of groups like Asians for Black Lives, there are – there’s no end of ways where we can sort of reaffirm the humanity of our black brothers and sisters and do that in a way that’s really grounded in our history.
[00:30:28] Beautifully put. I’m looking through my notes here and I don’t know that we covered Ram Manohar Lohia, did you – did you mention him? I don’t seem to be – you know especially with his fight against segregation, 1964? Did you cover that bit of history? Because I like the connection of the civil rights era – you know, the American civil rights era.
[00:30:50] I didn’t, but can I talk about somebody else instead who’s from exactly that same period?
[00:30:55] So one of the – one of the stories that we don’t know, that a lot of folks in my South Asian community don’t know, is that there are folks in our community who have actually stood up in very meaningful ways during the black civil rights movement. [00:31:09] One of my favorite examples is somebody named Professor Hamid Kizilbash, who was in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s, and around 1964 he and another – an Indian professor who was there in the same city with him. They were standing up, and they were both professors at Tougaloo at the time, and they’re both standing up in very meaningful ways for their black students. They both realized that they were in between people, that they had this kind of strange relative privilege compared to a lot of their black students, and they used that in very strategic ways. So Professor Kizilbash would do things, like go to a movie theater and buy tickets and then you know use those – buy those tickets and to make sure that his black students could actually enter and use the tickets that had been given to him, but that were not being sold to his students. And he faced a price for the quiet and sometimes not so quiet acts of solidarity that he was engaging in teaching at a black university, advocating continuously for his black students. There are times when he faced down violence, but he continued doing that work. [68.9]
[00:32:19] For me as a South Asian American, today in the 2010s, it’s really important for me to look back at the examples of the South Asians who did not have meaningful South Asian community, who were standing here knowing that they didn’t have, like, a big community of people to, like, fall back into, but stood up for black folks in their lives, stood up against white racism, you know stood up to take down a system that dehumanized a huge chunk of the American population. And if you could do that then, we can do that, walking in his footsteps today.
[00:32:52] Are you going to be doing more work on this particular Web site, or do you have some future projects coming up?
[00:32:58] Yeah, right now I’m really focused on trying to dig more into the story of Bayard Rustin. For me Bayard Rustin, as a gay black internationalist who stood with India, was arrested to – to was willing to face arrest to make sure that India was liberated and then being able to then go to India multiple times to go to Pakistan later on, to then connect with Afghan refugees in Pakistan. He’s somebody who has actually had a very longstanding multi-decade commitment to us. And I think it’s important for us to be able to see that if – if he could do that for us and with us, we can be doing the same for African-Americans today. So for me that’s a very important story, and one I’m digging into right now.
[00:33:44] That sounds great.
[00:33:45] And is that something you’re gonna do as a book? Or as a web site?
[00:33:49] I’m not quite sure. But most likely as – as a web site.
[00:33:53] Well it’s very important work. Is – is there an African-American scholar that might know some of this history that you would recommend?
[00:34:00] Yeah, Gerald Horne – that’s H-O-R-N-E – is somebody who’s written pretty extensively about the sort of internationalist connections through, say the 1920s through the 1940s between African-America and and South Asians. He’s got this great book called The End of Empires that’s really all about this period. Yeah that’s H-O-R-N-E.
[00:34:25] Role. Well I really appreciate you taking the time. Is there anything else that you want to say that you haven’t had a chance to say.
[00:34:32] Actually – actually, hang on, I’m going to say one more thing and feel free to cut it. But, Black History has also played a part in how folks from South Asia have been able to see themselves, and see see themselves in the world. One of my favorite examples of that is Ambedkar. Now, Ambedkar is B.R. Ambedkar. So B.R. Ambedkar was sort of the way that Americans see James Madison. He was sort of the James Madison of India. He was the architect of the Indian Constitution. But along with that, he’s the best known Dalit or civil rights activist of probably, you know the 20th – 20th century. And Dalits are the community that were formerly known as untouchable, that’s sort of their self-chosen name. And Ambedkar came to the US to study at Columbia University. He learned about African-America and he went back to India and the lessons that he had learned from African-American history, they stuck with him, and we see that in his writing. I mean, in his writing he talks about the lessons of Reconstruction. He talks about what it was like where a lot of African-Americans felt like, “OK. So the Civil War ended. We’re actually going to have some degree of freedom again or some degree of freedom in this sort of new environment, post-1865,” and then so quickly, that was taken away. And he looked at the situation and he just realized we cannot let that happen for Dalit people after the liberation of India from the British that we are a marginalised community just like African-Americans.
[00:36:07] And he was really inspired by the history of Reconstruction as something that he wanted to avoid for his people. So these stories of African-America have really kind of played an important role in Indian history and activism as well.
[00:36:24] Wonderful. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. And you know – and you know I just want – how important are community scholars like you? You know what – I mean what is your motivation as a community scholar?
[00:36:38] I’m very lucky, as somebody who’s in a position where I am able to actually access a lot of the work that’s being done by serious academic historians. I mean the work they’re doing is amazing. People like Vivek Bald and his work with the Bengali Harlem project, for example, is critical to our South Asians, our ability to see ourselves and see our connections to African-America. In many cases his – his brilliant book, which is published by MIT Press, they don’t really necessarily sort of get out into the community the way they need to. And I definitely see it – see the importance of translators, community based activists, community based historians, to sort of take these and translate them into media that folks can actually access, and read, and understand. So I’m really hopeful that there’s going to be a lot more people who do that work. I mean, community based historians are going to follow the footsteps of folks like Takaki and Zen and so many others who could take complex histories and break them down and stay connected to social movements. I mean it’s not enough just to read about it. We need to walk that walk as well.
[00:37:46] Ronald Takaki was one of our scholars for Crossing East, the original, you know, series. So I, um – I wonder what is your day job? I mean I guess what is it – how do you make a living?
[00:38:01] I’m a total stereotypical Indian-American techie. I ran a tech company for – for 12 years, and then I work at the University of California San Francisco right now doing technology work there.
[00:38:15] Well, so I asked you this before about, I guess the past, you know when you were growing up that there was anti-blackness. Do you – do you think that there still is anti-blackness in South Asian communities?
[00:38:26] Absolutely. The – and a lot of that anti-blackness in South Asian American communities also comes, in part, from the colorism that’s that’s very much present within our communities. There’s a – it’s incredibly common for folks to express disdain for dark skin and that’s linked to colonialism, that’s linked to classism, that’s – and colorism and also kind of stands as a horrible, kind of social phenomenon as well. You know, in a sense that colonialism didn’t do that to us. We did that to ourselves. So all of that kind of plays in the way that we look at African-America today.