Medically reviewed by Shahzadi Devje, Registered Dietitian (RD) & Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
Commentary on racial injustice committed by South Asian communities.
I was six when my family and I moved to the UK – a country, nothing like Pakistan. I didn’t know a word of English; there were no samosa carts on the road, it was exceptionally quiet, and people looked different. In short, my limited existence had very little experience being brown outside of South Asia.
I was apprehensive but excited, ready for my life to revolve around fun, food and a European love story. However, when I started school, I was visibly different. My lunches consisted of chapatis and leftover curries. There was a stark difference in my family life in comparison to my new friends. I would try and speak English, but with a different accent. But most importantly, I did not look like them.
But this wasn’t the first time I’d experienced being “different.” During the course of our life in Pakistan, I’d faced my fair share of colourism from, (un)surprisingly, my own community. As a child, I was encouraged not to play in the sun because it would ruin my “light skin tone.” Children around me were repeatedly told not to drink chai because it contained “skin darkening properties.” And to this day, South Asian children are taught names of fairness creams before they are taught how to read.
The recent bouts of racism in neighbouring America are a horrific state of affairs. The murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery are the epitome of racial injustice. It has sparked justified outrage amidst the Black community, as they continue to face terrible treatment.
I had a gut-wrenching reaction to the George Floyd video. But throughout, I kept looking at the police officer behind — he was Asian. His complicit silence throughout the video as Floyd gasped for air is horrifying.
Even though the officer in question is not a representation of all Asians, it forced me to think about the silence within my own community regarding anti-Black racism. We have to acknowledge that it exists because if we don’t, that just makes us hypocritical. Racism is not just black and white. As a brown person who grew up in the UK and now lives in Canada, I have heard many derogatory comments about the Black community from South Asian people.
We refer to them as “kala” (black) and not in a good way. A South Asian woman’s most hard-pressed pregnancy dua is for her child to be “gora/gori” (white/light-skinned/fair). We are encouraged to put up posters of stranger white babies on our walls, so our own children will be “beautifully white” once born. We are advised against marrying a “dark’ man/woman because our children will be “dusky.” Nobody cares about somebody’s character, intellect, heart and personality – all they want are Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif lookalikes.
I have observed my own culture clinging onto some internal whiteness. They believe living in predominantly Caucasian neighbourhoods and staying silent on racial matters because somehow, it makes them superior. Maybe it’s our collective colonial hangover, but to this day, it is evident, and it is real.
What South Asian people conveniently forget is how the Black community has paved the way for us to move and immigrate to North American countries so easily. It was the Civil Rights Movement between 1945-1965 meant to eradicate racial discrimination led by African Americans and African Canadians that made OUR lives easier. So, when they raise their voices against racial injustice, how can we bear to stay quiet? How can we possibly turn our noses up to their plight?
Systemic and institutionalized racism is as much an Asian problem, as it is a white problem. Hurtful comments where Black people are needlessly blamed for not working hard enough to change negative perceptions in society are a common occurrence. How convenient of us to forget our own issues of casteism, women’s’ rights, islamophobia, homophobia, domestic violence and others under the rug. It’s so easy to not clean our own backyards first, but play the blame game instead.
Yes, there are many well-meaning South Asians fighting hard against biases, intolerance and racism. However, I also know there are people who tear down the Black community in order to raise Asians. This is completely unnecessary, and it can and should change.
For this purpose and so much more, here are some proactive ways for you to amplify Black voices in the Black Lives Matters Movement and fight racial injustice:
1) Donate: Check out Act Blue, where it is easy to split donations between bail funds, mutual aid funds, and activist organizations for Black Lives Matter.
2) Write a letter of solidarity: detailed information available on websites such as Amnesty Canada.
3) Learn why South Asian people should unite with their Black brothers and sisters: Hasan Minhaj brilliantly breaks it down in his new video for Patriot Act.
4) Take and stand against racism: it does not matter where it stems from. It could be a family member, a close friend, a colleague or a neighbour – educate them and explain why racial discrimination is abhorrent and should never be normalized.
5) Listen to Black communities across the world: we must never make assumptions based on negative stereotypes. Nobody should fear their lives walking down a street because they are a different skin colour. As Asians in Canada, we need to be more well versed on the plight of Black Canadians and their role in Canadian history and politics.
6) Keep this subject alive: racism must be fought all day, every day, all year round – it should never come down to somebody being brutally murdered in order for us to wake up. Social media isn’t the only way to fight injustice—helpful things you do offline matter just as much.
Silence is not acceptable. Black lives depend on it, and we must speak out against bigotry. This is a time to self-reflect on how we’re part of these devastating crimes against humanity, and what we can do to change ourselves.