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: