Addressing the persistence & foundations of South Asian anti-blackness

Shaming the experiences of other minority groups won't lift you higher

Aysha has grappled with the ways race and power intersect between racialized groups.
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A cruel and unaddressed racist rhetoric in South Asian communities means that we might just take the trophy for self-righteous anti-blackness.

I grew up in Toronto, one of the most diverse cities in North America, and one that’s wrongly viewed as having evolved beyond daily racism. This is predicated upon the assumption that, when we interact regularly with people of all colours, we become more tolerant of different cultures, but this perspective doesn’t take into account what happens when we have those interactions without a sense of accountability.

The whole reason that diversity can reduce bigotry is because it forces us to confront our personal biases and internalized racism. Without giving them too much credit, white Canadians are gradually being pushed to consider their privilege and, hopefully, diminish the ways in which they contribute to institutional racism.

Conversely, South Asians, who view themselves as a model minority—a representation of all the ideals that marginalized people should meet to find success in mainstream society—face no such accountability.

The effect this has on the South Asian community and how we view Black Canadians is substantial. Our hateful words are uttered behind closed doors, but the rhetoric we perpetuate is carried with us in everything that we do.

I’ve heard it all.

I’ve heard brown kids who have the audacity to claim that Black youth are asking for police brutality. I’ve heard them boast about how themselves and their parents “did it right,” and that if Black kids wanted to, they could just prove white people wrong in their racist assumptions. I’ve heard them place themselves on a pedestal, taking pride in their status here in Canada, without acknowledging that our community stigmatizes mental health, normalizes child abuse, and publicly shames young women. They don’t factor these elements into their definition of success.

I’ve felt many different ways about this, but I’m primarily disappointed and frustrated that we’re so ignorant of Canadian history and politics—particularly the plight of Black Canadians, and how their civil rights movement became the foundation for most resistance against institutional racism. But lately, maybe because attending one of Canada’s whitest universities has given me a break from brown people, I’m just angry that we fall for false ideologies that only serve to uphold white supremacy.

I’m just angry that we fall for false ideologies that only serve to uphold white supremacy.

Our anti-Blackness shows that we lack basic human decency and empathy. South Asians in Canada face isolation, Islamophobia, employment and housing discrimination, and countless other issues as a result of persistent institutionalized racism. Despite this, we somehow can’t seem to muster up sympathy for another community of racialized peoples who have had it much worse than us in Canada for much longer.

In all of this horror, we always forget one important point: we owe Black Canadians our right to exist in Canada as people of colour.

Both the Ontario Racial Discrimination Act of 1944 and the immigration reforms that took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s form our legal right to be in this country as South Asians. These historic moments were driven by the Black civil rights movement. 

However long we decide to compete in the oppression Olympics for our own gratification, the fact remains that Black Canadians have always been on the front lines fighting for human rights in Canada, and we simply haven’t been around long enough in this country to say the same of ourselves.

Things seem to have only gotten worse now that we are around, because every day we’re choosing not to fight with them, or for them.

This past summer, participants in the Hamilton Pride parade were attacked by religious extremists.Not only did police take far too long to respond, but they brutalized many counter-protesters when they did respond (largely supporters of #BlackLivesMatter).

I’m unsure of how many South Asians were at that event, and I can’t assume which side of the protests they were on—because I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the wrong one. However, I do know that when the story broke, every brown person I knew in Toronto sided with the police. They turned up their noses and asked why those who were brutalized were complaining. They asked why you would risk going to a protest and then be surprised when the people who are supposed to protect you dehumanize you in the most unnecessary way possible.

That’s where we stand as a community on this movement, and most anti-racism movements led by Black people: on the wrong side of history.

That’s where we stand as a community on this movement, and most anti-racism movements led by Black people: on the wrong side of history.

But neither our silence or hatred regarding these movements stops us from profiting off anti-Black racism. Some of the most famous South Asian celebrities and influencers, including those who have formed their image around their wokeness, are either anti-Black or constantly appropriating Black culture.

Before she changed her viewpoint in a desperate attempt to fit into the Hollywood market, I grew up watching Priyanka Chopra endorse every fairness cream on the market. She can apologize all she wants, but she had a distinct choice in the matter. Chopra might be able to hide here in North America, but there’s no way she can make me believe that she, as a member of one of the most powerful families in India, had no choice but to promote products that bleach your skin.

And even though he’s slowly redeeming himself through Patriot Act, comedian Hasan Minhaj’s brown f—kboy vibe is based in a subculture that appropriates Black fashion and language. It’s probably time he grew out of it.

(There’s also that time he found the weirdest excuse on Earth to say the n-word in his special, Homecoming King, spewing the slur “sand n-word” that was used against him at one point.)

Finally, let’s not forget all those who subtly perpetuate anti-blackness without ever actually touching Black issues. Let’s talk about how Mindy Kaling produced the whitest sitcom on TV, The Mindy Project, and how the select few Black women featured in the show all fit into neat racial stereotypes.

Let’s talk about how, somehow, Lilly Singh, a brown girl from Mississauga—a Canadian area known for its residents’ frequent appropriation of Black culture—is the first woman of colour to get her own late-night talk show, before any Black woman in Hollywood. This is particularly significant when considering how, in my opinion, Lilly Singh has only ever been excruciatingly unfunny since she got her start on YouTube.  

I can’t speak to what it feels like for a Black Canadian to live in a landscape where other people of colour treat you terribly. I can’t even conclusively say that brown peoples’ anti-Blackness is on the radar of many Black Canadians. But, selfishly, as a South Asian Canadian, I can speak to how I view all of it.

I’ve thought for a long time about what drives our ignorance and our undeserved pride. This past winter break, it crystallized when, at a dinner party, a family friend asked me why us South Asians have succeeded on an “equal playing field” while our Black peers in Scarborough are “still where they started.”

As I looked around my living room at all the false lashes and Burch bags, that’s when it clicked.

In a cloud of university acceptances and our invasion of white neighborhoods, somehow, brown Canadians have started seeing themselves as white. They’ve started to think they have the same privilege as white people, or worse—that the concept of privilege has lost its relevance now that they’re succeeding. All of that started with one notion, which our immigrant parents drilled into our heads, fulfilling every stupid stereotype in the book: that if we talk white and act white, and say all the same racist things white people have been saying forever, that one day we’ll actually have their privilege and power.

And I’m tired of it. 

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