OPINION | South Asians have been complicit in anti-Blackness for too long

Apoorva Verghese, Intersections Editor

There are a lot of reasons why I adore my Indian heritage. I love running my fingers across the beading on my churidars and smelling ground cardamom from the kitchen as my mother makes chai. Indian culture and South Asian communities hold so much beauty, and it makes me proud to call myself South Asian. 

This summer, however, as we experienced a massive resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, I started to question certain elements of the South Asian community that I’ve grown up in. Specifically, I’ve started to question how South Asians across the world have long maintained anti-Black ideologies. 

For example, fairness cosmetics, which claim to whiten skin are a multi-million dollar industry in South Asia and are even endorsed by high profile celebrities in the region. 

Growing up I was lucky enough to have parents who tried their best to shield me

reflecting on anti-blackness
Ashley Chen | Art Director

and my siblings from such dangerous standards. Unfortunately, it was impossible to be immune to colorist ideologies. My relatives in India would constantly tell me to stay away from the sun, and my South Asian friends in America loved to highlight my darkness, probably because it made them feel superior. Each comment would pierce deeper than the last, and by the time I was seven years old, I’d secretly tried fairness creams in futile attempts to wash away my brownness.

However, the anti-Blackness that I’ve seen within South Asian communities is not always as obvious as a cream intended to literally make you white. Sometimes, anti-Blackness is a lot more insidious than we realize. Growing up in America as an immigrant, I’ve been part of a vibrant cultural community, but that also means I’ve been privy to some widespread, harmful ideals. Perhaps the most dearly held of all is the model minority myth. 

The model minority myth paints Asian Americans and immigrants as intelligent, hardworking and capable while pitting them against Black Americans who are portrayed as the opposite. There are a lot of issues with this idea. For one, it paints both Asian and Black communities as monolithic. More importantly, it ignores the complexity of racial dynamics in America. 

South Asians who endorse the model minority often don’t realize how dangerous it is to racial minorities. Rather, it’s viewed as proof that anyone can make it in America. My father, a doctor, is colleagues with several South Asians who endorse the idea. The myth, however, ignores the deeply ingrained systems of oppression that push Black and Brown people to the margins while selectively uplifting others. This type of pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap thinking is quintessentially capitalist, and consequently, white supremacist. We can’t just view the success of some Asian Americans as proof that systemic barriers don’t exist. 

When I was younger, I didn’t realize how profoundly dangerous and anti-Black our infatuation with whiteness and capitalism was. It’s not just about the insecurity I felt over my skin tone. It’s about the violent colonial values that reinforce this type of thinking. 

It’s no secret that South Asian countries, like my homeland India, are riddled with social issues, often stemming from the same ideas that propagate anti-Blackness in America. Fair-skinned Indians are openly discriminatory to darker-skinned Indians, especially those from South India. The politics of caste, which classifies Hindus into hierarchical categories, permeate the daily lives of millions, leaving low-caste individuals vulnerable to violence. Hindu nationalists have demonized religious minorities as “less Indian.” A lot of these values live in South Asians across the globe. 

I personally know several South Asian Americans who have taken to social media to advocate for justice for Black communities, only to turn around and perpetuate casteist, colorist or Islamophobic ideologies

I, of course, am not insinuating that every South Asian person is incapable of being anti-racist. I’m also not saying that South Asians shouldn’t be voicing solidarity with Black communities. I am, however, saying that many South Asians have internalized a lot of dangerous ideas, and until we interrogate our own complicity in systems of oppression, we can’t truly condemn injustice. 

Change starts at home, with yourself and your loved ones. If South Asian communities continue holding on to these colonial values, the same ones that white colonizers used to oppress us merely decades ago, we can’t ever expect to change. 

Until we actively and genuinely acknowledge the ways we’ve been conditioned to accept harmful ideals we can never truly progress to an equal and just society.