The cold didn’t stop anyone from going out during syllabus week. We went to an event hosted by Sigma Beta Rho, a multicultural fraternity mainly made up of South Asian males. The DJ was playing a song and the n-word dropped. Without hesitation, the crowd of South Asian men sang along. To every single word. I stood in shock, yelling to my friend over the music, “Did you hear that?” I was one of the only people that reacted.
People moved on after the event — if they even noticed it to be one — and their silence spoke to their complicitness in this blatant racism. When the situation was brought to the organization’s board, they confronted the situation with what they felt was a proper pursuit of retribution — they removed one of the young men who sang along from the board and suspended him. However, these responses reflect performative actions and they continued to listen to Black artists’ music and felt their convenient proximity to Blackness was enough to warrant them a “pass” to say and sing the n-word. These same people have not contributed much to the conversation since the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others in the Black community, aside from reposting the frat’s fundraiser on their Instagram stories. This is not a singular problem; rather, this indifferent attitude towards saying the n-word is a symptom of the pervasive, ingrained anti-Blackness in the South Asian community.
It’s important to introspect upon our lives as South Asians and the experiences that come with growing up in America. Many of us have heard about or been directly affected by the atrocities committed against people of our community in America: the “Dotbusters” in the 80's and 90's who incited violence against us, or the murder of two Indian immigrants in Kansas. Some of us have faced more normalized types of racism: the IT jokes the Chad or Brad — or whatever his name is — made in AP Econ or the microaggressions you faced as you walked down the street. We’re all aware of the stereotypes in the media like Apu and Raj which deem our identity as humorous, reduced to a side character for comic relief. South Asians have been historical targets of racism, but we must remember our experience in no way matches the breadth of institutional racism which the Black community has to confront on a daily basis. We need to contextualize ourselves within the history of the United States. There are mountains upon mountains of problems which remain unsolved, but they cannot be resolved if we alienate ourselves from the Black community, which is what brought us this far in the first place. We can never achieve true equality as non-Black people of color in America if we stoop so low as to demean, berate and disrespect those who came before us.
The Civil Rights Movement paved the way for South Asian immigration into the United States. Due to the pressure from the movement, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act. This bill allowed the immigration of wealthy/potentially wealthy South Asians into the United States. The latent consequence of this was the myth of the model minority. White leaders saw our general economic prosperity in the U.S. and used it to dismiss the systemic racism that affected the Black community. We were tools used to portray the way all minority populations should aspire to be; anything less was dismissed as laziness and ineptitude.
We must stop thinking our academic and economic success puts us above the Black community. This only perpetuates the model minority myth, created by white America to divide us in the first place. If we continue to take advantage of this privilege we have been allotted through our “model minority” status while denying that it exists at all, we will always be complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Black community.
This complicitness is present in our conversations and seemingly harmless “preferences.” I’m reminded of the time when my family was house hunting for a home in Michigan. Even before stepping inside the two-story brick house with a vast lake in the backyard —every Indian family’s American dream — my parents decided we wouldn’t live there because a Black man walked out the front door of the neighboring home. We need to recognize this generational racism and ingrained hatred for those who are different from us has to end here. We need to move past generations of colorist ideals because it has impacts not only on our relationships with other communities, but also our own mental health. No one is born racist. Anti-Blackness is learned through the environment we are exposed to growing up. It is our duty to unlearn it.
We need to hold our peers and family accountable without hesitation. We all know the scene. You’ll be at aunty’s house for a holiday party and just as you are about to stuff that samosa in your mouth, an uncle will comment on “how lazy Black people are,” — this being the same uncle who made his wife bring the food to him. Now, you have two options: Pretend you didn’t hear anything and eat your samosa chup chap or confront him. Your parents give you the “don’t say anything” look. It is at this point that you drop the obedient achha bachcha guise and indoctrinate uncle on the systemic racism that has resulted in several inequities in the Black community. It needs to be done. Don’t be complicit.
The same goes for calling out racist behavior at school. The next time you are at a brown party on campus and you hear someone say the n-word, call them out on it! You know it’s wrong and chances are, your peers know it’s wrong too. It really just takes one initial push for more people to start calling out similar behaviors they’ve observed in their circles. We need to remember that calling out racist behavior isn’t just okay, it is necessary to achieve change.
Recently, we’ve seen many of our South Asian campus organizations post statements of solidarity with the Black student body community. This is a great first step, but we need to do more. Student organizations must build committees dedicated to forming alliances with the Black community. South Asian organizations can also turn to Trotter Multicultural Center and Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs to give them resources about how to be actively anti-racist to pass on to their members.
As two people heavily involved in South Asian orgs, we implore each and every one of you to reach out to these organizations’ leaders and ask for specific steps that will ensure that members perpetuating racism will face consequences. We must also point out flaws in traditional practices that perpetuate microaggressions. Let this be a collective effort from every single one of us. So, the question remains: What will you do to be an ally?
We’ve made an non-exhaustive list of resources you can utilize to get the conversation going: “Combatting Racism” Infographic.