On solidarity

From Avtar Brah in the introduction to Cartographies of the Diaspora,

… My relationship to these political formations in the USA was inextricably entwined with my status as a ‘foreign’ student who ‘looked Indian’. I was not categorized as ‘Asian’, for this descriptor was then reserved largely for Chinese and Japanese Americans. the highly publicized visits of the pop-band, the Beatles, to India in search of spiritual awakening had made Indian classical music and transcendental meditation quite ‘chic’ in the USA. This might have been one reason why South Asians on USA campuses were constructed as ‘non-European others’, largely through technologies of exoticism, although of course the USA’s own historical relationship with global colonialism and imperialism could hardly be immaterial. As African students we were all constituted as non-Europeans, but students from Africa of South Asian descent were viewed differently from Black Africans. The latter were, in turn, differentiated from black Americans. All this mattered. And not only to white Americans, but equally to black Americans. Once, when I was in Wisconsin, black American students were planning a protest march. A group of us ‘foreign’ students approached them saying that we would like to march with them. We were told in no uncertain terms that this was their march, and we could not join them, although we could show solidarity by marching separately. Here was an important lesson for us. The politics of solidarity with another group is one thing, but the self-organising political mobilization of the group itself is quite another (p. 7-8, italics in original).