A South, Central, and West Asian and U.S. Identity Workshop

A South, Central, and West Asian and U.S. Identity Workshop, led by Azi Khalili (the International Liberation Reference Person for South, Central, and West Asian-Heritage People) and Diane Shisk (the Alternate International Reference Person for the RC Communities) was held recently in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. The following are excerpts from some reports on the workshop.

This workshop reminded me of the critical importance of not believing my early distress. I had been in a rage about racism. Indian people in the United States have recently been killed in hate crimes, including one in Olathe, Kansas, where I grew up. White people have said racist things to me. The pressure to assimilate, go silent, and retreat has been strong. I loved that Azi held out a bigger picture. Rather than focusing on the restimulation of our oppression, we can use our fresh thinking and action to address the issues our world faces, particularly climate change and war.

I also appreciated what Diane said about how we USers must claim President Trump, because his administration is acting in the name of all USers. She also said that the people who voted for him are good people. Everyone is good! I was reminded that distancing myself from people and putting them into categories of “good” and “bad” feeds into the same hurtful, divisive rhetoric that people are already being manipulated by.

I’m excited to continue to work for change—in bolder, brighter, more collective ways than ever.

Anu Yadav

Washington, D.C., USA

When I arrived at the workshop, I noticed my familiar workshop distresses coming up—feeling invisible, marginalized, isolated, and so on. Then I remembered that at this workshop my people and I were central. What a contradiction [to the distress]! What a change of perspective! I had many mini-sessions just noticing that our allies were there specifically for us. And I discharged on family stories about white USers who were allies to my grandmother and my mother during difficult circumstances, as far back as a hundred years ago.

Amin Khoury

Los Angeles, California, USA

I appreciated something Azi told us People of the Global Majority: We cannot have our full liberation if we work only in our own groups. Our liberation means reaching for everyone. Our groups have been divided by oppression, and if we do not challenge this we are agreeing with the oppression.

I also appreciated Diane reminding us USers (even the People of the Global Majority) that we must claim Trump as our president. We are the people who can do something about who serves as our president and what policies get put forward. Azi reminded us that U.S. policies have a profound impact around the world and that we who live in the United States have a responsibility to learn about this.

Alysia Tate

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Azi talked about how the United States has demonized different constituencies, including hers, as a precursor to and necessary part of getting USers to agree to war. After it was defeated in Vietnam, the United States moved its wars to West Asia. In step with this, the demonization of South, Central, and West Asian men—by government spokespeople and the press and in U.S. popular culture—increased rapidly. The United States has continued its wars in South, Central, and West Asian countries—with bombings, drone attacks, and commando raids—and increased its demonization of South, Central, and West Asian people.

I am an Ashkenazi Jew who grew up in the 1960s and ’70s. I remember receiving highly oppressive misinformation about Arabs starting about the time of the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and several Arab countries. It seems that as a Jew I was specifically targeted with this misinformation. Over the years I have had many sessions on the messages I received about Arabs. At this workshop I wondered where and when my parents were made to take on [adopt] the oppressor distresses they passed on to me. I guessed that it started around the time of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, if not earlier.

At the workshop I got mad that my people had been groomed to take on an oppressor role toward Gentile West Asians, and that our being targeted with heavy oppression and genocide ourselves had left us so terrified that we were vulnerable to believing and internalizing the oppressive messages.

Getting this perspective on my own oppressor recordings about West Asians helped me see how the oppressive society deliberately installs oppressor material on certain groups of people. It is not an accident, a fluke, or any individual’s fault. It is part of a concerted effort. I understood more than ever that carrying this material is not something I need to feel bad or ashamed about. This renewed and invigorated my commitment to rid myself of it completely.

Terry Fletcher

Berkeley, California, USA

This workshop was intense, interesting, real, relevant, inspiring, and mostly very uncomfortable.

Azi opened it by asking all of us to remember our goodness, humanness, connection, zeal, and creativity. She said that allies have been made to forget that South, Central, and West Asians are human. “We are human like you. We bleed like you. We are kind like you. We like our children. We like environments that are pro-human. We don’t like war. We don’t thrive under war. We don’t want to be terrorists.”

Diane talked to the whole group about being allies. As allies we help create the conditions for the liberation of a group. We help create a place where no one has to assimilate, where people get to be themselves. We think about the group. And we are allies to individuals, not just to the group as a whole. Personal connections are how it happens.

She said to the South, Central, and West Asians, “I don’t think any group asks enough of its allies. What would be helpful? Allies need to know what you think. We don’t know what to do. We are clueless in many ways.” It doesn’t matter if the ally is unable to do what is asked. What matters is that the person from the constituency pushes the ally to stretch beyond where the ally is comfortable, to where he or she can think more fully.

This work pushes everyone. We can discharge, try again, and continue to move toward each other. It’s okay that we are scared as allies, and that the constituency is disappointed and angry.

As allies to South, Central, and West Asians we have to discharge about war, immigration, violence, and religion, among other things.

Sparky Griego

Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA

Azi talked about how the United States started as a predominantly middle-class country and through exploitation and war became an owning-class country. She gave a brief history of U.S. intervention and war. She also talked about how the United States is seen and how regardless of our oppressed roles—as People of the Global Majority, women, poor people, working-class people, Jews—we are USers and therefore oppressors.

Growing up as a Jew in post-Holocaust suburbia, I had a family that didn’t inform me about the larger role the United States was playing. The schools I went to prior to college didn’t either. I’ve discharged grief about what I never learnt or understood and the decades of knowing little outside the realm in which I lived.

Emily Feinstein

Brooklyn, New York, USA

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion list for RC Community members

(Present Time 189, October 2017)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00