Today, census projections show that by 2042, people of color will constitute the majority in the United States. These changes will shift not just what we look like as a country, but also our politics. What does a fight for racial equity look like given shifting racial demographics? What are the tensions present within communities of color? What are opportunities for solidarity across race to promote equity and inclusion in our neighborhoods?
Joining CSI to engage with these questions is CSI Senior Fellow Deepa Iyer. Deepa brings years of experience in racial justice, specifically working with Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities.
I conducted a brief Q+A session to get more of a sense of the person behind the work:
You’ve worn many hats in the racial justice movement (activist, writer, executive director, and now fellow). What are the top three lessons you’ve learned doing this work?
*Be ready to pivot* It’s important to have work plans in place, but we have to be nimble and flexible in order to adjust them. When issues and events occur that affect our communities and movements, we need to be ready to switch gears quickly. This leads me to my second lesson.
*Take a stand* To create an inclusive racial justice movement, I’ve learned the importance of publicly taking a stand – especially when issues occur that are not directly affecting an organization’s own constituents or communities. When South Asian organizations and leaders speak up to call for an end to police violence against Black communities, or when Latino organizations take a stand on the deportations of Southeast Asian immigrants, we practice the values of solidarity and inclusion that we hold dear.
*Self-care is social justice work* I recently realized – upon leaving South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), where we dealt with community crises such as hate violence, profiling, and deportations – that this work takes an emotional and psychological toll. I think that as a sector, we need to be integrating different methods of self-care that can help us articulate the impact of our work on ourselves, without feeling guilty or selfish about it.
What are some of the questions you’ll be grappling with during your Fellowship at CSI? In what ways does it connect to CSI’s work in dismantling structural racial inequity?
I’m going to be providing analysis and commentary on issues that emerge as America’s racial landscape undergoes a dramatic demographic transformation. Over the next three decades, people of color will be the majority population in the United States. I’m interested in exploring questions such as:
- What will be our new racial realities given the changing American racial landscape?
- What are the roles of emerging communities of color and immigrants, particularly Asian Americans?
- How are we building the groundwork to shape multiracial alliances in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces?
- How must government agencies and public institutions foster environments and implement policies that support racial equity and inclusion?
CSI and its partners are already at work around the country addressing these questions. I hope to document and lift up best practices, recommendations, and analysis related to these inquiries during the course of my fellowship. Read my letter to hear more about what I plan to do during my Fellowship.
Your current work focuses on Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities. What are some of the high-level tensions and opportunities you see within racial justice movements as it relates to these communities?
Newer immigrant communities occupy a tenuous position in the racial dynamics of this country. At one level, some of these groups are lifted up as the model for others to emulate. At another level, these same groups experience tremendous discrimination, backlash, and stereotyping – one example is the post 9/11 narrative of AMEMSA community members as terrorists, worthy of suspicion. It is important for AMEMSA communities to position ourselves as people of color who continue to endure challenges and obstacles because of systems of structural racism. We also have the opportunity to disrupt and dismantle these systems by collaborating with Black and Brown communities.
If you could speak with anybody in history working toward racial justice/racial equity, who would it be and why?
There are so many people I would want to speak with and learn from, but a few that come to mind are Yuri Kochiyama, Ella Baker, and Assata Shakur. I’m interested in the interventions made by women of color in movements for liberation and justice.
Describe to us what a racially equitable America looks like to you.
I have a picture from my five-year-old’s preschool class, in which he is surrounded by children of various races and backgrounds. What happens to these children as they grow up in an America that is so vastly different from the one that their parents knew? How do we stay connected to one another, and recognize the shared values and humanity in each other as the forces that push us apart – racial anxiety, segregated neighborhoods, economic chasms, implicit racial bias – get stronger?
My vision for a racially equitable America starts with my son’s preschool picture, but where it leads depends on all of us addressing these questions and many others in our own communities, workplaces, and neighborhoods.
CONNECT WITH DEEPA
- Follow Deepa @dviyer or contact her about her work at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Read Deepa’s message to CSI.