Why Rihanna's #FarmersProtest Tweet is the Black Allyship India Needs

Like Kamala Harris, I have Black and Indian heritage – which makes some Indians very uncomfortable - 
by Banseka Kayembe for Independent, UK


🔝This article randomly came into my feed a couple of days back. I wanted to react to it but then I read it again, and again, then I chose to respond. 

I agree to some extent with the author. Being a diversity proponent and Indian origin I fully relate with what the author is trying to convey. I have in fact been a subject of colorism myself and I quote that in my essay (link below), I have never been looked upon as a threatening entity when it comes to subscribing to the mostly white narrative. I can say this with full conviction that I have many times witnessed preferential treatment because of my lighter skin tone and have been told outrightly "Oh, you could pass for a white" I don't stand for it, especially when the darker-skinned person standing next to me is not given a fair treatment. So definitely this is all very personal to me.

               I love the color of my skin tone but I am also aware of the privileges and entitlement I receive because of it. It might sound self-serving to a few (and, I obviously don't care about them) but right now I will only speak for myself and what I am doing to be a facilitator of change. I don't want to be fake or some self-appointed messiah for BLM when I am still learning what systematic racism looks like, where to find it, and how to weed it out with rapidity. In all my international travels (42 countries and counting) and work spanning 3 continents (Singapore, UK, USA) and academic studies, I've witnessed and read the pervasive attitude towards people of color. This is why I don't say people of color, minoritiesbrown and black, etc. without providing context. There is no natural alignment with another group simply because they are non-white and their desire to align with the trajectory of whiteness is just as oppressive or playing into a system of white supremacy.

Racism is a big issue and that is why it dominates the discussion here. But it isn't the only issue that I, as an advocate of inclusion and equality would discuss in my blog and even take up (as part of my work and outside of it). Many black people feel that society, big brands, or celebrities cut and commercialize pieces of black culture for white consumption. Many times, it appears as if black culture is appreciated more than the individuals. Some organizations indulge in token recognition... use BHM (Black History Month) as a mere marketing ploy. While many employers were quick to show initial support for the Black Lives Matter movement and to support their black employees better, few maintain that initial enthusiasm. 

Modern India is still struggling with colorism which frankly is quite internalised in the country's cultural markup. The disparities can be seen everywhere from Bollywood movies to product advertisements. A lot of Indians face forms of reverse racism on foreign shores. I'm sure most Indians have been told of the Indian head bobble and several other notions formed about Indian culture and lifestyle. Indians are often considered a subservient race because of India's colonial past despite the fact as a race, Indians seem to be heading tech behemoths to even countries across the globe. However, the stereotypical image of India which is of a dystopian chaotic melting pot of slums, cows on the roads and snake charmers is hard to shed particularly so because the image is ingrained in reality as much as it is deliberately made into an exotic fantasy by the foreign media. Indian festivals and the heritage goes through the same kind of cultural appropriation as the black culture perhaps. I firmly believe as a Diversity & Inclusion proponent, that we all are people of color. Even white is a color. But racism is wrong, wherever it's directed or in whichever way its described. 

That's really the point here that racism isn't an Indian issue alone, it is a universal one, faced by both people of black and Indian heritage. 

Also, the point I'm making here without digressing is that Listening, Learning, and Educating is the only way forward in unlearning biases. For many, Allyship is a good starting point and become more conversant, speak up and provide their unconditional support. I know so many Indians supporting the BLM Movement and I often question that sometimes the good gets overlooked and often seen with suspicion and with a sense of entitlement that says "IT'S NOT YOUR FIGHT" "YOU KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT" and that aggressive tirade mostly coming from black people. The largest demographic I work with is the BAME and look at my blog for the issues I have been picking up and voicing against racial discrimination and advocating racial equality. That is my work and my passion and I'm not trying to focus on these topics to get anyone's validation or a gold medal!

Rihanna's Tweet at about 3:29 PM, Feb 2, 2021, quoting a CNN.com Article


While I was writing this blog-post to structure my response, out came a tweet from Rihanna supporting the Indian Farmers' Protests. A tweet that has become the center of a social media storm. 

Based on the article, I was going to say this to the author: Allyship is a two-way street. How many black diversity proponents take up Indian-specific issues? But Riri's tweet made me think hard. Here is a black icon actually taking up an Indian-specific issue which is a Human Rights issue to be honest and all she has received from a vast chunk of the pseudo-woke Indian population are brickbats and abuse who seem to be only admonishing her because their favorite Indian celebrity has voiced against her outrightly claiming she has been paid to do this propaganda and she is nobody to meddle in the internal affairs of India. She has been called a fool amongst many allegations for her unconditional support. I support her wholeheartedly and that is the reason I decided to post about it and I fully understand author Banseka Kayembe's need to speak up. You, my dear reader, can see how Allyship sometimes can operate on a slippery slope.

               Globally renowned stars like Rihanna and especially young influencers like her with a zillion followers have faith in the judgment of the Indian Farmers who are protesting for months braving the cold, shortage of food and water resources, the pandemic itself, concrete enclosures, metal spikes in the ground preventing their free movement, and an absolute regression in free speech rights (their's and the ones supporting them) and much more urging the government to repeal the farm laws. She may not understand India or Farming, Indian policies etc. but she understands protests. Protests reflect the dissatisfaction of the masses with the policies of the government and being part of the largest democracy, they have the right to do so. Farmers are also dying during these protests and there is very little action and outcome in a stand-off that is becoming a deterrent to the political health and economy of the nation in the midst of a deadly pandemic. Not to mention the maniacal focus of the politically-inclined groups who are clearly in the majority or in power and influence to muzzle any differences of opinion with an iron fist.

Why is the majority of the free world not liable to talk about this? How does speaking about a human rights issue, showing support becomes propaganda? Yes, there are agencies (like those propagating a separatist agenda, etc.) that are trying to steer the farmers' protests to their advantage making the protest about them and not about the farmers. We don't subscribe to their polarizing socio-political rhetoric. Our concern is ONLY focused on the farmer's well-being and in supporting them for voicing their concerns about the farm laws and there can be no subversion in offering that support, only Allyship. In fact in one of the threads where I shared this article I was told the majority don't support this propaganda. I'd only say that confirmation bias is not a solid case for majority opinion and again the word "propaganda" in itself is such a wrong description at so many levels.


That's why Rihanna's tweet is valid. The timing is perfect. Her tweet has got the ball rolling in one way or the other, for the better or the worse, it has allowed the farmers' protests to become a trending topic internationally and question the basic tenets of jurisprudence and a continued attack on the letter and spirit of freedom of speech and the right to protest/dissent against non-redressal of farmers' issues.

To be an ally is to unite oneself with another to promote a common interest. People who are allies are not only helpers but also have a common interest with those they desire to help. In an alliance, both parties stand to benefit from the bond or connection they share. I'm sure the fully-woke Indians who support her and are thankful for her support will follow her or even become her fan (if they weren't one already and this thought-process perhaps is an extreme case of bonhomie, an overkill of sorts :)). BUT, the power of Allyship is undeniable. As an ally, we continue to choose to show support for a cause, any cause that is based on the tenets of human rights to prevail and triumph and we stick with it, without any oppositional attitude toward anyone who has conflicting viewpoints. Allies battle for humanity, always carrying love, respect, and humility in their armory. We need more allies than fewer, be it Black or Indian or White. 

Also, read if you are an ALLY yourself,

Woke-washing in the midst of #BLMPROTESTS


An Essay by Amit Anand:#AllLivesMatter or Just #BlackLivesMatter Right Now? Plus Books and Resources to Combat and Counter Racism

-Amit Anand