03 May 2016 // At Smith College

Why I Will No Longer Support MIA's Music

An open letter to MIA on her anti-Black comments.

Kayal Swaminathan

Dear MIA,

To be honest, I was extremely disappointed when I read your comments about the Black Lives Matter movement in America. Before this entire fiasco, I felt akin to you. My parents are from Tamil Nadu, and as a South Indian, it was wonderful seeing you on stage. Now, I feel betrayed. As a recap, you said the following: “It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter. It’s not a new thing to me — it’s what Lauryn Hill was saying in the 1990s, or Public Enemy in the 1980s. Is Beyoncé or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter? Or Syrian Lives Matter? Or this kid in Pakistan matters? That’s a more interesting question. And you cannot ask it on a song that’s on Apple, you cannot ask it on an American TV programme, you cannot create that tag on Twitter, Michelle Obama is not going to hump you back.” As a South Asian woman to another South Asian woman, what were you thinking? You’re supposed to have solidarity with the black community not belittle their movement because it doesn’t actively include you. Why should it? Black Lives Matter is about asserting the worth and value of black lives in a country (and a world) that perpetuates untold violence against black bodies. So tell me again, why should it include South Asian or Middle-Eastern people?

Your comments were disrespectful and more importantly, anti-Black. First of all, “Black Lives Matter” includes Muslims in case you conveniently forgot that black Muslims exist. Second of all, you publicly condemned an incredible movement that has been rightfully fighting for justice that is long overdue. Why is black power so threatening to you? Seeing black activists organize entire protests should inspire you. Police brutality should enrage you. The deaths of innocent black men and women and their children should bring tears to your eyes, empathy to your heart, and commitment behind your solidarity. Instead simply seeing protestors on your television screen and hearing about the movement from social media has led you to the downright embarrassing conclusion that black people don’t care about us. Forgive me, but do you realize how incredibly entitled you sound? Black people do not owe us their activism. The South Asian community is rife with anti-Blackness and additionally, it is not their job to lead our movements.

Where is your love? Where is your respect? Might I mention that you are a hip-hop artist? The irony is outstanding. You make money off of appropriating black culture and then you turn around and diss a movement that is literally about fighting for the right to live. I’ll tell you what’s “a more interesting question,” MIA. Why are you so angry at black people? If you’re angry at white supremacists then take it out on white supremacists who are denying you visibility and representation. When you attack the visibility the Black Lives Matter movement has gotten you assert that the black community is undeserving of their visibility. Just so we’re clear, visibility does not equate to justice. Your comments are nothing more than a rehashed form of anti-Blackness that you framed in a way you hoped would make you sound detached and merely critical. Unfortunately, your anti-Blackness is showing. If this is what you call solidarity then the rest of us South Asian activists don’t want your “help.” You don’t like the Black Lives Matter movement? Great, stay as far away from it as you can. We don’t need or want your presence.

People like you are the reason why the black community justifiably avoids interactions with South Asians. Instead of addressing anti-Blackness within the South Asian community, you wholeheartedly embraced it. Muslim lives do matter, and so do the lives of Syrian refugees. No one is contesting that. Black activists aren’t taking to the streets because they want conversations about islamophobia and xenophobia to stop. They’re not protesting news coverage about Syrian refugees the way you are protesting the coverage of their movement. Why can’t conversations about islamophobia and Syrian refugees occur alongside conversations about anti-Blackness? They intersect for God’s sake! The Black Lives Matter movement has publicly stood in solidarity with other people of color all over the world before and continues to do so. Can you say the same for yourself?

I was a fan of yours before you started spewing all this anti-Black rhetoric. The truth is, you do make incredible music that speaks to the struggles Syrian refugees face given your own refugee history. So why don’t you create a movement and help champion their cause without co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement or stepping on it? Don’t expect other groups to do the work for you when they have their own problems to deal with. If you want to talk about Syrian refugees then talk about them. Be in charge of your own actions. Frankly, you owe the Black Lives Matter movement and the black community at large an apology.

Sincerely,

An Ex-Fan