Racism affects all people of colour but when it comes to Black people, they face a unique anti-Black prejudice as the ultimate other, propagated both by white majorities and other ethnic minorities.
When it comes to the minority struggle, it can be easy to lump everyone together and perceive ourselves as having a shared trauma but this false equivalency does nothing to address the specific struggle of Black people.
Black people are more likely to be diagnosed with coronavirus (though Bangladeshis are most likely to die from it), to be stopped and searched by the police, and to be unemployed and homeless than white people and all other racial minority groups.
As a marginalised community, South Asians have our own limitations and prejudices hurled our way, but they are not the same lived experiences of a Black person.
Now more than ever, Black people need our solidarity in a way that’s not pandering nor fleeting. Here are some ways you can support Black people in a more sustainable way.
Firstly, listen to Black people, especially when they say there’s an anti-Black problem with your community.
Farah, who is a Black woman, says South Asians need to step up and just do the work.
She tells us: ‘Racism affects different groups in different ways. South Asians need to understand that when Black people demand their right to humanity – it does not take away from other struggles for equality.
‘Police brutality in the U.S and UK kills Black bodies with impunity.
‘Just because you haven’t experienced it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Don’t expect your Black friends to make it crystal clear to you – oftentimes they can’t rationalise the pain that they and their loved ones are subjected to.
‘It’s okay not to understand. It’s not okay to be ignorant. Do your research. There is no longer any middle ground. You’re either for or against humanity.’
Recognise that anti-Blackness isn’t just slinging the N-word and outwardly being discriminatory towards Black people. You can be complicit by upholding problematic structures.
Consider the family unit and how often ‘casual’ racism goes unchecked. Problematic behaviours by older and younger generations may be seldom questioned but these all contribute to the prevalence of anti-Black racism.
When family members say the word kala (black) in a derogatory way, call them out for it, when anyone compliments your light skin, question why this proximity to whiteness is something to be aspired to. When someone tells you not to tan too much, educate them.
It’s not just one conversation, but a continued effort. These consistent efforts might have far-reaching effects than merely posting about anti-blackness on social media.
Silence is complicity, not just for white people, but for non-Black minorities who do nothing to stop the system of hatred towards Black bodies.
When anti-Black racism happens in front of your eyes, hold the people accountable, write to those in power who can do something about it.
With skin-lightening creams being as popular as they are in Asian communities, you can resist the penchant for whiteness by boycotting products or renowned figures who promote them.
Major Bollywood stars like Priyanka Chopra and Shah Rukh Khan have contributed to anti-Blackness by endorsing these products. Reconsider how much support you give to an industry that favours light skin over dark.
Consider who you give your time and money to: when South Asian influencers profit off Blackness (in terms of aesthetics) but do nothing to support Black lives nor address their history, reconsider the platform you give them.
Question the colourism that’s rife within the community but also uplift and celebrate the achievements of dark-skinned and Black people.
What resources are there for South Asians?
Over on Instagram, there are plenty of social media accounts you can follow for education such as the Black Lives Matter official accounts, Ijeoma Oluo, Ethel’s Club, Dr Yusuf Salaam, and so many more.
There is also an Instagram account specifically addressing anti-Blackness in desi communities.
South Asians for Black Lives defines anti-Blackness as: ‘The practice and underlying belief that Blackness – its history and rich culture – is something to be denied, belittled, oppressed, and hated.’
The group said: ‘Our community needs to be anti-racist rather than non-racist as we are all impacted by white supremacy and none of us are truly free until all of us are. We must remain committed to our collective liberation and this begins w tackling the anti-Blackness in our communities..
‘We are all still learning and unlearning and are in no way experts on this! There is always more to know and we are all actively working on unlearning our own anti-Blackness every day.’
Anti-Blackness in Asian communities can look like erasure.
For example, the word Muslim has become synonymous with Arabs or South Asians and often excludes Black Muslims.
When minorities do anti-racism or ‘Muslim’ labelled work, they may want to consider just how inclusive their work is.
Despite Islam teaching lessons of unity, there are racial hierarchies perpetuated within groups which places Black people at the bottom – the storeowners that called the police on George Floyd were Arab Muslims, criticised for alerting police despite knowing their history with brutalising Black people.
Yusuf, who is tired of being reminded that one of the most loyal followers of the Prophet Muhammed was Black (as if that negates his real experience of racism) tells us he’s experienced anti-Blackness since being a schoolboy.
‘Being someone who grew up, went to school, and still lives in a pre-dominantly south Asian community, my experiences are unique.
‘Everyone that lived in the “ends” suffered from structural racism but of course there were occasions were I felt that i was treated differently, by police, by teachers and by the very guys who I used to call friends – a comment of the colour of my skin or tropes about Black people would be uttered and at that point of my life I wasn’t able to call it out – because as we all know, when you’re a minority all you want to do is fit in.’
Yusuf says that South Asians can do better by showing support for the protests in the U.S and for Black people in their communities.
He adds: ‘Speak out on every single occasion. That means needing to have those uncomfortable conversations at home, at work and not just on social media.’
Non-Black Muslims will need to go beyond amplifying the plights of just Arab Muslims i.e Palestinians and Yemenis, and do more to condemn atrocities committed against Black people.
Muslims are highly spiritual people and may want to incorporate duaas (prayers) into their worship. Writer Vanessa Taylor has handily compiled a list of duaas from Black Muslims in response to George Floyd’s murder.
Once you’ve acknowledged that anti-Blackness exists, understand the history between Black and brown people.
Poet and writer Suhaiymah Manzoor Khan tells us brown and Black people have a rich history of empowering one another, something we ought to honour once again.
‘The example of the Bangladeshi owner of Gandhi Mahal whose restaurant was damaged in the BLM protests serves to remind us of an exciting history of South Asian and Black communities solidarities, especially from a UK vantage point.
‘The owner said that a shop could be replaced, but George Floyd’s life could not. In the UK we have seen histories of South Asian and Black families throughout the 60s and 70s into the 80s coming together under the banner of “political blackness” against the racism of the state in its legislation as well as policing and criminalisation of communities and through racism within unions etc.
‘This history should remind us that there is a strong precedent for South Asians to collaborate with Black siblings against white supremacist structures and imperialist capitalism.’
‘Today our oppression globally and locally is intertwined so it only makes sense that we state the value of Black lives in all of our daily struggles and institutions and work against complicity in such structures, otherwise we’re undermining the broader struggle against racist oppression. There will be no consolidated broader justice unless we oppose every type of racial injustice.’
Suhaiymah has also collated a Google document of resources people can use to unlearn white supremacy and practice solidarity.
It’s not just the way our histories are intertwined that should make South Asians empathise with Black people but also that we owe them for paving the way.
Both majority and minority cultures benefit off Black talent, arts, fashion, but seldom tackle the injustices that the group face.
South Asians and other minorities will do well to remember that it was Black people that led the civil rights movement in America and the UK (see the Bristol Bus Company boycott) that carved the path for minorities.
Black people have supported all radical movements and inspired many, including against anti-Asian sentiments in Britain.
It was pioneering work of Black feminists like Kimberle Crenshaw who coined the term intersectional feminist and Tarana Burke who birthed the #MeToo movement which allowed Black women and other women of colour to, finally, be included in gender discourse.
The first people to buy the cameras that correctly picked up melanin on television screens were Black Americans like Oprah.
But allyship shouldn’t just be because of the value that Black people have added to our lives, but because, to put it simply, Black people are equal to us.
South Asians have benefitted from anti-Black racism for too long which has kept us from being at the bottom of the pecking order.
Academic Dr Fatima Rajina says South Asians need to unlearn this and actively try to change it.
She explains: ‘I don’t think there is enough support for Black lives in South Asian communities. This is because the community holds onto well-established tropes about the Black community, including the belief that they bring the suffering upon themselves.
‘This is dismissive and completely denies the way this society is organised in a way that enables the mistreatment of Black communities.
‘South Asian communities take comfort, basically, in knowing they are not Black, implicitly accepting their proximity to whiteness and that they will remain untouched.’
The first step to changing that is educating yourself, read and listen to black people – don’t expect them to explain everything to you. Unlearn problematic behaviours.
You can learn so much from following and supporting publications like Galdem, Burnt Roti, Black Ballad (to understand the experience of black women).
Identify where you’re enabling anti-blackness. Unpick it, question it. Pass that knowledge on. Put your money and energy into this effort.
Because, truly, no one is free until black people are free.