Confronting Anti-Black Racism

Growing up with white supremacy’s ideology of beauty that brown was not beautiful- that brown needed to be lightened- was a burden I carried for years. Although I was “light for a South Asian” I was never light enough. I was told to stay away from the sun, avoid the beach, try products like Fair and Lovely, try anything that could make me lighter, do anything that could make me more beautiful. Beauty over intelligence was emphasized to me, as if all I could attain to as a South Asian woman was to be a good light skinned house wife.

Often mistaken for not being fully South Asian- I was told to take pride in this feature. To be glad I could pass as bi-racial- to be honored to be considered even partially white. When people called my house and heard my mother’s slight British accent they assumed she was white- as if a brown woman could not be educated in a foreign country- as if a Brown woman could not speak English ‘properly.’

This year I had the opportunity to attend South Asian Americans Leading Together’s (SAALT) Young Leaders Institute (YLI) in Washington D.C., on addressing and confronting anti-black racism within the South Asian-American community. Saying the program changed my life is an understatement. It changed me. YLI allowed me to meet and interact with fellow South Asians, whom I could expand my understanding and knowledge of racial justice. We spoke about structural racism, how it affects our ideology, the impact it still has on not only our culture but our people and how we can go about combating racism internally. Finally, being able to bring light to the colonial ideology still present in our culture and background was refreshing.  Although I attend school in a diverse and South Asian community, issues of South Asian colorism and white supremacy were never spoken about and YLI gave me courage to break this silence.

Participating in YLI’s workshops allowed me to become more aware of issues faced by our community. Learning about the history of oppression and racism allowed me to step back from the struggles we faced as South Asians and acknowledge the benefits we had over others, specifically the Black community. I realized how anti-Blackness took presence in my life. How we as South Asians often benefited from it. How we often add to the fuel by blaming one whole race for actions resulting from hate and cruelty by white supremacy.

Anti-Blackness took place in my life as I grew up being told to stay away from those who were ‘Kala.’ It took place in my life as I became afraid seeing a Black man walking behind me during night fall. It took place in my life as I was compared to family members and congratulated for being fair skinned. I realized that I had often overlooked how relevant anti-Blackness was in my life because it had become the norm. It was something embedded in my culture, history and life and was unacceptable for me to ignore.

As South Asians we benefit from anti-Blackness. The fault is often taken away from us and given to those who are darker. We pride ourselves in being the ‘smarter’ race, the more ‘cultured’ race, the race closer to ‘beauty’. We often categorize a whole race for being violent and develop fear instead of realizing that we too are often stereotyped into one category from the actions of some. We fuel anti-Blackness by depicting ourselves as the better race and taking pride in our lighter skin. While accepting our color, our race, our culture is empowerment- it does not require us to look down on others because there are racist and oppressive forces impacting them in ways that it does not impact us. We embody the model minority myth that is built on the pillars of anti-Blackness. We benefit from anti-Blackness because it allows us to not be the target. We participate in it by condemning dark skin by allowing anti-Blackness to continue internally within our communities. We are not succeeding by conforming this way of thinking but instead failing ourselves by strengthening and empowering white supremacy.

We are privileged because while we stand in solidarity, while we are outraged from police brutality against Black people we do not feel afraid. We are able to show our presence, we are able to voice ourselves, condemn racial injustice because we do not have to fear being the next victim. We, as South Asians, need to realize we have both benefited from anti-Blackness and have gained from the struggles of Black people .

We fail to see this ideology only hurts our youth, only weakens our people. Only causes us to hate ourselves for the qualities we should love- hate the skin color that defines us- the skin that makes us beautiful. Though we are no longer under rule of the British, while we now have our land, we still are under the influence of white supremacy. That while they may no longer occupy our land- they occupy our minds.

Colonial ideology still exists- the idea that white is better and that Brown is better than Black still haunts us years after our ‘independence’. The idea that Brown is beautiful is one unheard of to many. ‘How can Brown be beautiful if white has always ruled over Brown? How can Brown be beautiful if it is close to black?’ Anti-Blackness lives in the roots of our culture. It manifests itself in our ideologies of beauty. Without even realizing we as South Asians often continue a culture of anti-Blackness through traditions like applying Haldi to our faces, purchasing products with bleaching characteristics and thoughts like staying away from the sun. The fear of becoming dark roots from a culture of anti-Blackness we too often fail to acknowledge.

As South Asians- specifically as South Asian youth we have a duty. We have a duty to unpack and unlearn these ideologies and while it will not happen overnight and will take time- it is possible. YLI allowed me to gain the courage to speak up against issues I felt strongly about. It allowed me to understand the negative impact white supremacy has on our cultural ideology of beauty informed byanti-Blackness. Through YLI I gained not only a family of support but comrades to empower me through my journey of unlearning the anti-Blackness I grew up with.

We need to encourage one another to embrace our culture, embrace our race and break the stereotypes in place for us. Break the ideology that we are less than them. End the culture of anti-Blackness by no longer fearing the sun, no longer fearing a tan that brings us away from whiteness. We need to stop condemning those who are darker- we need to stop encouraging bleaching.

Overall, we need to break the idea that we are not enough- that we must conform to white ideology to succeed. Instead of embracing white ideologies of beauty we need to take pride in our Blackness. Only then when we change our mindset and realize that we are not solely the victims that we are aiding the oppressor with anti-Blackness will we be liberated- will we be able to succeed.

********

Aysha Qamar
Young Leaders Institute Fellow, 2015 

The Young Leaders Institute 2015 is sponsored by:

Southwest_online_rgb-01

One Brown Girl’s Perspective on What it Means to be Carefree

I was six years old when Baba and Mamma moved from India to America. When they arrived here, my mother realized that she was less restricted—she had no extended family to answer to, more control over her time, and the independence to focus on her career and kid.  

At the age of eight, Baba took me back to India as a way to get Mamma back to the country, and perhaps as a way to revert to the unequal power dynamics they shared. He took me back to our motherland, India, but I was motherless for a whole year.

Through the sheer will and cosmic energy that my mother is made up of, she got both of us back to our two-by-one apartment in America. Once I was back, I was admitted into a predominantly white elementary school where I would study for merely two years. Throughout my time there, my accent, the way my food smelled, the cotton skirts I wore (which you can now find selling at Urban Outfitters, by the way), and my frizzy hair, were all made fun of by my white and non-Black peers.

I remember feeling as if I was walking backward, not really part of this but not really living there. My white peers’ teasing and taunting served to draw the white circle around me, dividing me from the rest—the ones whose tongues did not betray their ethnicity, the ones whose food did not smell ‘ethnic’ (and did not smell at all, in fact), the ones who had molded into the perfect preservative-filled Lunchables brown bag that would neither draw attention to, nor deny, the rightful presence of its consumer.

Although many of my fellow immigrant-born and immigrant-descended peers had shrugged off the identity their parents had come to America with, I could not do the same. Perhaps I was disenchanted with the idea of giving into a colorless melting pot that bubbled happily when we crushed one another while we all sought the same things and struggled to reach for liberty, a chance at happiness, a dignified life.

Perhaps it was because I went to India looking for a sense of myself, and having not found it, I came back still seeking. Perhaps, I was clutching onto something, in the deep haze and limited vision of adolescence, that I yearned to unfold.

Perhaps I wished for someone to read my secrets, my desires, and silences and nourish me with the warm space of protection and stability that so many immigrant children often starve for.

Though this bullying continued throughout my sixth-grade education, I never allowed it to affect me. I was too busy with my silences, with what I had seen and wanted to understand. There were so many faces that floated up, within my grasp, but never stayed long enough to tell their stories. There were so many questions I wanted to ask but had no words to create. My face was forever turned in the other direction, seeing something else, so that even when I came home, even after the worst days, I would not tell Mamma about the way the kids laughed and jeered at me.

Looking back to that time, I think I had a deep awareness of the way my life was shifting from one world into another, and how it would continue molding itself to the jolting back and forth of a third space. I knew that my peers were only distractions for the work I had to do in myself, and this work was neither optional nor suggestive. I knew this self-investment would ensure my survival in this world. I remember thinking that the meanness in my peers urged them to reflect that toxicity towards me.

[Read Related: What it Means to be a First Generation Desi——From the Lens of a Half-Indian, Half-Irish Woman]

Forgiveness came easily then because I knew that I was strong enough to deal with the bullying on my own, and I honestly felt bad for the bullies, for they had to live with their attitudes, not me. Perhaps that’s why I never allowed that bullying to stick to me. I came home, untouched, not even giving the day’s events a second thought, knowing that my energy had more important work to do.

Yet, as I grew up and dug more and more into my silences, the consciousness in me bloomed with anger, pain, and sorrow. Perhaps, as a child, I was forgiving because I did not know what it meant to be teased for the smell of my food or the frizz of my hair. I did not understand that my white peers were slowly fulfilling the expectations that white supremacy had of them. When I looked at them, I felt pity, because they spent so much of their energy trying to make me feel bad and never received the reaction they worked so hard for.

Now, when I see similar minded folks, such as people who spew hate, I feel fear because I see the more manifested, uglier institutions that reward and encourage them to continue thinking, acting, and behaving as they do. Yet, that little girl still exists in me today and is still holding onto her secrets and inked words, not knowing where to reach for safety.

Nowadays, I come home so tired that I cannot even speak. Sometimes it feels like I know too much about the world and where I stand within it. Other days, I feel empty, ignorant of so much more, of so many others and their folded up pages, their unsaid truths. I wish to be as untouched and carefree, deeply invested in my truths rather than resisting the lies of another, as I once was.

In this time and age, when South Asian folks are learning more and more about what their skin color, gender, sexual orientation, caste, and class means in relation to this society, as well as how we benefit and suffer from ugly institutions, it is increasingly difficult to be carefree—or to even understand the meaning of ‘being carefree’—and actually practice it to survive, thrive, and strengthen our, and other, colored communities.

We are beginning to understand how revolutionary and precarious our existence is, and how we were never meant to survive as we do. This is the time when the pressure against our lungs is making it hard to meditate upon our imaginations. Indeed, it is only through our imaginations and through the expansion of our imaginations that we can read the secrets and silences of our consciousness. Indeed, it is only by investing in our truths that we can take care of our blood and the blood of our loved ones.

Here is my [ever expanding] set of definitions on what it means to be carefree, and I urge you—whomever you are, who has taken the minute to read this—to also come up with your set of Carefreeisms:

To be carefree…

….Means to not have to worry about what caste, class, gender, religion or race your lover is

Means to not think and rethink whether wearing a kurta will make others like you less

Means to be comfortable in a space you occupy

Means not having to wonder whether the bad customer service was because the staff was rude or rude because of your skin color

Means to sing in the rain after classes, on your way back home

Means going out and allowing the sun to kiss you without the worry of getting darker

Means to not spend the rest of your life educating your lover

Means singing and laughing loudly without being told by your elders that only loose girls do so

Means not having uncles and aunties policing your body & the ways you decide to dress it

Means not having to bargain your identity with American folks and your motherland relatives

Means loving and growing with your brown, black, and white sisters rather than seeing them as competition

Means what you want it to be, what makes you feel whole, more than a label, more than a statistic, more than this world’s politics, what makes you feel human and happy

Because to be carefree is to be revolutionary

To be carefree is resistance.

********
Ena Ganguly
Young Leaders Institute Fellow, 2015

This post was originally published on Brown Girl Magazine, and being republished with their permission.

The Young Leaders Institute 2015 is sponsored by:

Southwest_online_rgb-01