George Floyd was murdered on the 25th of May. He had his head pressed against the ground as ex-officer Derek Chauvin pushed his knee into Floyd’s neck. Another black man turned into a hashtag. Imagine living in a country where the colour of your skin can get you killed for walking, driving, going for a run, holding a toy gun, shopping, holding a phone in your own garden, and for just existing.
People all across the world have been speaking up by protesting, signing petitions and posting on social media. Some, however, have chosen to ignore the institutionalised racism and their conscious and unconscious bias. Many people may be sitting at home, thinking ‘this does not impact me’ or ‘it is not my battle to fight’ when it is everyone’s responsibility to stand up to this injustice. It is not enough to not be racist. You need to be anti-racist, or you are contributing to the problem. Asians were on the sidelines of the death of George Floyd. The man who owns the shop that called the police was Arab. The cop who was trying to block off people from recording was Mong-American.
Many people in the Asian community have stayed silent. They think to themselves, ‘this is a black/white issue’. Maybe they will post a black lives matter chain on Instagram, but that is the extent to which they act. If something does not directly impact us, we still need to acknowledge and fight it. Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” True freedom can only be reached when everyone is equal.
For too long now, the unspoken racism in the South-Asian community has gone unaddressed. According to The Guardian, a WHO study discovered 61% of women in India regularly use skin lightening products. The skin lightening industry was valued at £3.4bn in 2017, and it is only expected to grow. The British colonial idea that white is right and that light skin is superior has been deeply ingrained into people’s minds. Even today, we make fun of those darker than us and dark-skinned people will face prejudice for their whole life. There is colourism within families. Some parents tell their kids not to go in the sun too much or no one will want to marry them. My cousin was tanning at the beach and was worried she was going to become ‘too dark’.
In Bollywood movies, mainly light-skinned actors are cast. As stated by The Times of India, the highest-paid Bollywood stars include Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Salman Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. These are all light-skinned actors! Even a quick google search of Bollywood would show you the same thing. The same Bollywood stars that have been speaking out about racism have done ads for skin lightening products. This kind of hypocrisy sends mixed messages. When ‘beautiful’ celebrities advertise products that will make your skin lighter- that will make you look like them, you will start to believe that lighter is better.
Representation matters. Female love interests especially in these movies are always fair, embedding into young watchers minds that light is beautiful and desirable. The impacts of this can be detrimental to young girls’ self-esteem as they grow up in a world where their skin colour is not deemed beautiful. Not only can this cause physical harm, as women use dangerous skin bleaching products, but the feeling of being undesired and being treated as such by society can cause great emotional distress. We need to start having difficult conversations in our own communities and address this prejudice. We need to teach young girls that they are beautiful, no matter what skin colour they are. We need to make a change.
It is important that the South-Asian community remembers if it weren’t for the civil rights movement, many of us would not be in America today. Colonialism destroyed our native lands and still has its negative impacts on the economy today. It was only possible for many of us to ‘climb the socio-economic ladder’ as a result of the work of black civil rights activists. The movement’s demand for racial equality has led to people understanding how backwards the previous quota system was. In 1965, The Immigration and Naturalization Act put an end to a previous quota process that was based on the country of origin and created a new system hoping to reunite immigrant families and bring new skills and labour to the US. This bill rode the back of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This bill allowed preferences to be made for family members of US citizens and hoped to bring helpful skills and played a large role in creating the model minority myth. This idea is a tool designed to pit minorities against each other. The stereotype that all Asians are incredibly smart and diligent while black people are the opposite is a completely false statement but is still embedded in some people’s thinking today. Some parents won’t let their children marry black people. The words like kaalee and kallu are used in a derogatory way.
Many Desis appropriate black culture, using AAVE slang, wearing cornrows and the latest jordans, and even saying the n-word. People wish they were black, but don’t want to BE black. Blackness is not a costume you can wear when it is convenient for you. We need to understand our privilege. While we face racism, we are viewed as ‘the model minority’ and the system was not built to oppress us.
What can we do?
- Donate money and time to black organisations.
- Have tough conversations with your friends and family. Even though it may be uncomfortable and frustrating, it is important to have respectful discussions.
- Sign petitions and send emails for justice for victims.
- Sign petitions and write letters pushing for the end of qualified immunity as it prevents cops from being sued personally and holds them to different standards.
- Sign petitions and send emails to people in power to demilitarise the police, including the use of rubber bullets and the export of rubber bullets from the UK.
- If you can, VOTE.
- Educate yourself:
- Watch movies and TV shows like ‘13th’, ‘Explained: The Racial Wealth Gap’, ‘The Hate U Give’
- Read books (I recommend ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race’)
- Listen to podcasts (a good one is About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge)