By Anirvan Chatterjee
Sunando Sen. Sureshbhai Patel. Srinivas Kuchibhotla. Hindu Americans have never been fully safe from xenophobia in the United States. And it’s not just Hindus. From the anti-Sikh riots of 1907, to the national wave of racist attacks after 9/11, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, Sikh, and/or South Asian Americans have often been singled out for what they look like, how they pray, or where they come from.
But the brutal murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla wasn’t just a spontaneous act of hate. It comes after a decade of dangerous propaganda aimed at convincing people that brown immigrants are out to destroy America.
A $205 million industry dedicated to hate
A UC Berkeley report identified 33 different organizations whose “primary purpose is to promote prejudice against or hatred of Muslims and Islam and whose work regularly demonstrates Islamophobic themes.”
Between 2008 and 2013, these 33 hate groups had combined revenues of $205 million — and they were working to demonize Muslim Americans, endangering anyone perceived as “Muslim” or “foreign.”
(Debate or disagreement is very different from spreading hate or racism. For example, the Ex-Muslims of North America are able to express their disagreements without spreading hate.)
Rep. Yoder mailed this postcard to Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s neighbors (via @IkBen_Love)
We can’t understand this murder without understanding the context: Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s murder comes in the wake of a $205 million PR campaign of hate.
These organizations have been so effective at spreading fear and paranoia that Americans overestimate the number of Muslim Americans by 1600%.
Who benefits from a climate of fear? In July 2016, Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas mailed a postcard to Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s neighbors implying that dark-skinned foreigners were poised to attack rural Kansas. In November, he won the election with 51% of the vote. By February, Srinivas Kuchibhotla was dead.
How should Indian/Hindu Americans respond?
Some Indian/Hindu Americans are convinced that the attacks would stop “if only they knew that we were good people.” (I can empathize with the sentiment.)
Others argue that the best way to protect Indian/Hindu Americans is by spreading hatred of Muslim or Middle Eastern Americans. (This is like trying to protect your house from fire by asking arsonists to burn down your neighbor’s home.)
But the most effective long-term strategy may be the model developed by Asian American activists in the wake of the murder of Vincent Chin.
In 1982, Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese American man, was murdered by White racists in Detroit after being mistaken as Japanese. Community members were shocked when Chin’s killers walked away with no jail time, and a $3000 fine.
In 1982, Chinese Americans had a choice.
They could have focused their energy on proving that Chinese Americans are good people.
Or they could have focused their energy on spreading hatred of Japanese Americans.
But Chin’s family and Chinese American activists realized that if all Asian Americans were going to be targeted in similar ways, it would be most effective to team up and resist racism together.
The murder of Vincent Chin was the beginning of the modern Asian American movement. Members of many Asian American communities put aside their differences, and came together to build a joint movement that was more powerful than any one community by itself. Not only did they win a stronger punishment for the killers, but they built a movement that continues today, three decades later.
In 2017, Indian/Hindu Americans have a choice.
We can try to advocate only for our own safety, with our limited numbers. Or we can band together with Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian communities—to create a united front that can protect all of us.
In 1982, Chinese Americans realized that they weren’t safe until anti-Japanese prejudice was defeated.
In 2017, Indian/Hindu Americans aren’t safe until anti-Muslim prejudice is defeated.
When we confront the anti-Muslim hatemongers, it makes all of us safer. This is an act of “selfish solidarity.” It’s not just a moral choice, but also a practical choice, because our fates are linked whether we like it or not.
How do we move ahead?
At this moment, I look to the leadership of organizations like SAALT, which works to bring together all Desis under a common umbrella — not only Hindus, not only Indians, but all of us.
SAALT has been fighting hate for over 15 years, and they’ve built relationships with activists from many other communities — because no one community can address xenophobia all by itself.
(Views expressed here are personal opinions of the author.)