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Being an Ally to BIPOC

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

Tanvi Chopra

PHHS '18, American University '22

Let’s rewind: 2014 to 2018. I’m a high school student at Parsippany Hills High School. An Indian American, might I add, in a 60% white town with more than a sprinkle of South Asians. I was ignorant and unaware of my implicit biases. In a school where I could probably count the number of Black folks on my hands, I was constantly shown that Black people who are athletic, dress nice, speak eloquently, have respectable jobs, were the ones who would be successful. Race was never an issue that was discussed in this district and as a result, this color-blind rhetoric ignored these ingrained issues like racism and white supremacy.

Just look at employees at Parsippany Hills High School. White men hold powerful positions, while people of color were most likely the ones cleaning up after us. Or look at the land that we occupy. We were never taught that the land we occupy was home to the Munsee Lenape. It is the responsibility of Parsippany residents to acknowledge the legacy of colonialism, educate one another on indigenous struggles and disrupt further colonial practices.

Fast forward: Over the last two years, I’ve grappled with my identity—defining who I was and what purpose I want to serve in this life. The most defining part of this process of self-reflection and discovery was my reconnecting with my spirituality. Dedicating myself to living a Sikhi life has given me the confidence to better live a life of advocacy, one where I commit to giving more than I take in this world. Probably one of the most profound activists to exist, way ahead of his time, Guru Nanak taught that a spiritual person cannot remain silent in the face of injustice. Sikhism encourages community engagement and activism, challenges backward rhetoric, inspires reflection and practices universality.

As a growing adult, I became educated and aware of my own privileges and the oppression that Black folks face on a daily basis. I learned about my own people’s oppression that was never taught in public school. I was able to attempt to sympathize and empathize with the Black community.

However, just because people like me are minorities, have brown skin, have struggles of our own, come from historical trauma and genocide, and have felt the effects of racism – we aren’t off the hook. In fact, because we know what if feels like, we know how important it is to create a more caring and just society. Denying civil rights for one group of society means it can happen to another. 

My South Asian community—we must have conversations on colorism and the harmful biases that are perpetuated and as a result, impact the Black community. To build solidarity amongst communities of color, we must first heal and address the unhealthy narratives that exist within our own communities.

It is not just about having uncomfortable conversations, reading “How to be Anti-Racist”, posting a black square on social media; it is about giving a space to the Black community for their voices to be heard. It is signing petitions, voting to help marginalized communities, recognizing your privileges, dismantling harmful systems, and ensuring access, equity, inclusion in all sects of life for BIPOC and much more. It is so important to see how institutions are based off of white supremacy and have not done much to center the voices and experiences of those who live at the margins of the margins.

If you are asking yourself, “how can I be an ally to BIPOC?” Here is your answer:

You educate yourself, push the PTHSD district to educate students on oppression that people of color face, and educate your white friends on their privileges. Part of being educated includes being aware of our own privileges and knowing that Indians, like myself, will never truly understand the oppression Black people have faced for hundreds of years and are still fighting tirelessly every single day.

The Black Lives Matter movement does not mean all lives do not. It simply calls attention to the fact that Black lives DO matter. We have a duty to stand in solidarity with the Black community. Pray for Black people, protect them, value them. In general, center BIPOC voices. Shed light on the many injustices BIPOC face from cultural genocide to environmental racism to mass incarceration. Most of all, be an ethical advocate who dismantles interlocking systems of oppression like classism, elitism, ableism, with an analysis of race at the root of it.

This allyship is an ongoing, lifetime process that encompasses all intersectional identities. I acknowledge the harm I perpetuated back in high school and it is up to you to make a similar acknowledgement by unlearning these assumptions.

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