Immigrants Show Their Support at the Black Lives Matter Protest in D.C.

Javaneh Pourkarim speaks out against racism in immigrant communities toward black people, at the Black Lives Matter Protest in D.C., June 4, 2020. An Iranian American and attorney, Pourkarim is organizing education material to teach older immigrants about black communities. (Video/Athiyah Azeem)

As an impromptu speaker’s corner emerged at Lafayette Park during the Black Lives Matter protest Thursday, an unlikely person took to the megaphone. 

“Racism in immigrant communities is very rampant,” announced Javaneh Pourkarim, an Iranian American immigrant. Protesters cheered in agreement–one black woman yelled “thank you” in response.

“Over the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of concerns for–I hate these words but, for looting, and rioting from my Iranian American community.” Pourkarim later told The Immigrant’s Bay. “It seems like they have no understanding of the human suffering behind these protests.”

Systemic racism against the African American community by immigrant Americans is a developing concept within intersectional sociological thought. Arab American Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer discussed on NPR Chicago how respectability politics cause nonblack immigrants to assimilate with White Americans, and reject the black community. By dissociating with the black community, they were more “respectable” to white people. 

Pourkarim is an attorney for the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau. She and other Iranian American lawyers are organizing an education series to teach the history of the black community in America to other, older immigrant Americans.

“It is incumbent on us, the young immigrants,” she announced to the crowd, “to make sure that our communities understand the problems with systemic racism, with keeping the black community marginalized, and start educating our children at home.”

“Immigrants for blacks!” she cheered, and the crowd cheered right back.

Zach and his father, Iqbal Sayyid march at the Black Lives Matter protest in Washington D.C., June 4, 2020. They were actually taking a day trip to the White Hose–but decided to march with other protestors. As a Pakistani immigrant, Iqbal finds it important for his son to see displays of freedom of speech. (Video/Athiyah Azeem)

Iqbal and Zach Sayyid were on a father-son day trip.

“We were planning to go to the White House, until we saw the march,” said Zach Sayyid, as he idled on his bicycle. 

“Do you want to march?” Iqbal, his father, asked. Zach nodded his head and started cycling along the crowd, with Iqbal not far behind.

“This is good, he needs to learn,” said Iqbal, pointing at his son. “In this country, you can talk about justice, you can talk about peace and you can do it openly. You can do it right in front of the President’s house.”

The Sayyids are from Pakistan, a country infamous for using police force to curb political dissent. A 2019 review by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a nongovernmental organization, detailed how enforced disappearances of the politically opposed are prevalent in several regions of the country.

“Unfortunately, that’s what the President [Trump] wants to turn this [U.S.] into,” said Iqbal. “We want to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

Palestinian American Christian Tabash speaks out against police brutality against black people in America, Black Lives Matter protest in D.C., June 4, 2020. He condemns how U.S. police utilize tactics taught by Israeli forces, who similarly employ such brutality in Palestinian-occupied territories. (Video/Athiyah Azeem)

“Folks, listen up,” said Christian Tabash, as he addressed hundreds of protestors on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Tabash is Palestinian American, son of a refugee from Israel.

“The deadly exchange, is where U.S. FBI, U.S. military, U.S. cops…go to Israel, they go get trained in Israel, and they come back here, and use those…inhumane racist discriminatory to brutalize black folks–and we say it’s enough!”

The knee-on-neck tactic employed by George Floyd’s murder, Derek Chauvain has been recognized as a staple method used by Israeli defense forces against Palestinian occupied territories. Minneapolis Police officers have also been trained by Israeli officers, notably in a 2012 Israeli-American security conference, held jointly by the FBI.

“I’m hurt for my Palestinian family, for my black family,” Tabash later told The Immigrant’s Bay. To Tabash, the fight against racism against black people in America is a united effort, across race and citizenship status.

“This is a collective project. We all need to use our voices, we need to politically mobilize, we can organize ourselves in communities and stay true to truth and justice.”

The Immigrant’s Bay will be live tweeting (@ImsBay) Black Lives Matter-immigrant news at BLM protests in Maryland and D.C. ImsBay founder Athiyah Azeem (AthiyahTA) will be live tweeting general Black Lives Matter news.