Published: 09th June 2020
Meet the Malayali in NYC whose poster about #BlackLivesMatter went viral
'Malayalis for Black Lives', read a poster in New York City, during the protests following George's Floyd's death. We spoke to Sini Stephan, the woman behind the poster
Let us go a few decades back in time. Sini Stephan was then an elementary school student in New York City. During one of her trips to her parents' hometown Kerala, she recalls how somebody mentioned the word 'karumbi' to her, in a casual conversation. The word literally translates to 'a black woman' in Malayalam and is used to demean someone with a darker skin tone. Even back then, little Sini did not shy away from telling them, "Hey, that's racist." That incident was just the beginning of her activism.
For those of you who do not know this Malayali New Yorker, she is the woman who held a placard that said 'Malayalis for Black Lives' and protested across the city, against the killing of George Floyd. For someone who is proud of her Malayali roots, this 31-year-old actor says, "Soon after the protests broke out in different parts of the USA, I stumbled upon an Instagram post by a Bangladeshi woman, that said 'Bangladeshis for Black Lives'. So, I thought, I should be out there as a Malayali and I wanted other Malayalis to understand the cause," she says. She immediately picked up the phone and asked her father to write down the message in Malayalam and send it across to her. She traced it out on a placard and was out on the street, protesting the injustice.
Sini reminds us of how Kerala has a history of activism, despite white supremacy influencing the state's culture. "I've always seen people protesting on the streets of Kerala. However, a lot of them are silent, when they're abroad. We have a high literacy rate but I don’t think education equates to moral standards. As a socialist community, we also have many different parties within Kerala that are trying to advocate for different causes," she says.
Giving us a reality check on the everyday racism in the US, Sini says, "Floyd's death really is horrific. But at the same time, it's not uncommon in America. This is every day in black people's lives. They are being taken and killed every day and that happens because of the history of racial oppression that built this country," she says. Was the incident a shocker, we wondered? To this, she says, "The incident was appalling to me. It was horrific. What we see with George Floyd's murder is that continuous racial oppression happens and there's nothing being done about it by the government."
As a counter-narrative to #BlackLivesMatter, a lot of people online are promoting #AllLivesMatter. However, Sini thinks that it is offensive. She tells us why. "All lives cannot matter until black lives matter because black lives never mattered in this country. This country started with the genocide of Native American people and the enslavement of African people. So when you say All Lives Matter, it is actually offensive," she says.
Reach Out: Instagram @sinistephan