As a South Asian American, I will never experience nor fully understand the struggle that comes with being Black in the United States...
Contributors: Parnika Celly, Shivani Parikh, Shimei Nelapati
Content warning: This blog mentions racism & police brutality, and articles linked depict images of police brutality.
As a South Asian American, I will never experience nor fully understand the struggle that comes with being Black in the United States – especially in the context of police brutality. In these past few weeks alone, we mourn the killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black people.
By all accounts, we are living through a pivotal time. This is the first time in our generation, perhaps in modern history, that non-Black people of color are calling on our communities to engage in strong, sustained solidarity with the Black community. In my own circle and across social media, I’ve heard many echo my fears: What if I am not doing enough? What if I do the wrong thing? What if people think I am racist? What if I am racist? What if I don’t really have a right to talk about this?
In our collective grief, I struggle personally with how to ‘be the best ally’ for the Black community. I feel frustrated and overwhelmed because I have an inadequately managed mental illness exacerbated by restrictions related to the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown. I don’t feel justified in prioritizing or advocating for my mental health while the Black community – often with limited access to culturally responsive care in the conventional mental health system – is systematically attacked and forced to relive anti-Black violence through re-traumatizing media exposure and racist rhetoric. Right now, I feel pressured to choose between the two: my mental health or the Black community’s well-being.
Through learning from prominent organizations and leaders, including Deepa Iyer, I have since realized that maintaining mental health is key to sustaining effective allyship. When we are consumed by our personal turmoil, we miss our mark. When we educate ourselves and look critically at the ways in which we benefit from and uphold anti-Black racism, we may feel guilt. When we talk to our loved ones about anti-Blackness, we may face criticism or find ourselves in invalidating situations. When we address microaggressions, particularly in the presence of white people who act racist towards us as well, we may feel anxious. When we face the possibility of tear gas or arrests at protests, we may be terrified. What we must do will be uncomfortable, shame-inducing, and even painful, so allyship comes with the expectation that we care for our own mental health. We cannot practice allyship without also practicing self-care.
Of course, while committing to our healing, we cannot co-opt a narrative that is not our own. We must remain mindful of how social injustice affects health; we must recognize that police brutality is a public health issue. As a South Asian mental health advocate, my goal is to end stigma against mental illness and promote mental health awareness. If this is our shared mission, using our shared cultural lens, we must remain vigilant of how racism – namely anti-Black racism – is inherently a mental health issue. Specifically, we must understand how intergenerational trauma, intersectional oppression, and the inequitable distribution of resources in this country disproportionately affect the Black community. In doing so, we may also see how these phenomena affect members of our own community and build solidarity.
On the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, I will remember the millions of enslaved Black Texans who learned that they had been freed people for over two years and I celebrate the Black people who fought and have been fighting for true liberation since then. Amidst the large-scale social unrest as a result of egregious state-sanctioned violence against the Black community, I am grateful for the numerous leaders, advocacy groups, and communities who embolden our collective yearning for better. I commit to doing the same.
Below are a few helpful resources I have and continue to learn and grow from. If you engage in allyship work, remember that you are among many committing to advocate for the health and safety of Black people – and also for your own. Stay safe and be encouraged.
MannMukti efforts, from our awareness and outreach to our university chapters programming, must ensure inclusion, safety, and empowerment of minoritized communities. Through our South Asian lens, we commit to celebrating existing Black mental health organizations and advocates while also taking concerted action to support the Black community and communities at multiple and underrecognized intersections – such as individuals who are overlapping members of both the South Asian and Black communities.