I proudly walked into the courtyard with my newly bought backpack and jeans, hair brushed back into a tight bun, a smile plastered onto my face. It is the first day of high school, and my 14 year old self couldn’t wait.
My father held my hand. He was squinting as he tried to observe everyone in the courtyard. I looked at what he was staring at and noticed a group of young black girls. Their braids jumped up and down as they were giggling with a youthful glow on their faces. They were excited to embark their journey of high school, just like me.
Suddenly, my father turned me around and said something I’ll never forget,
“Khalode shate khoto bolo na. Khalo manush kobe karap. Don’t talk to black people. They are bad.”
This conversation happens in the majority of families in South Asian communities. Why? What is this fear and hatred against black people? When did it start? One would argue that once Europeans settled into South Asia, their way of living influenced South Asians. Their language, technology and even their racist views. However in reality, Asians already perpetrated it long before Europeans established their white superiority. For an example, the East African Slave Trade in the 7th century.
Arab traders settled in the African coast and sold men as domestic slaves and took women as sex slaves to the Middle East and in India. Yes, you heard me. South Asia once took Africans as slaves. We were once slave owners. Our families took in black people as slaves and we were just as brutal as the white men. They were not seen as humans. When I told my mother, who was born in Bangladesh, about this, she was just as shocked as I was when I first heard this. But we’re not slave owners anymore, so our hatred against black people are gone, right? No. It’s not. It’s still apparent and it’s deep rooted into our culture. We might not openly spew our racist thoughts to our black counterparts, but when we use words like “bandhar” (monkey), we’re continuing the vicious cycle of racism. So, are we really any different than those racist white people we hate so much? We as a community must face the actions our ancestors once did and hold ourselves accountable.
Antiblackness interconnects with beauty standards as well.
“Tumi ato khalo keno? Why are you so dark? Here, put this on!” Almost every girl of all ages hears this to every wedding they go to. You see it on billboards, ads, movies and t.v shows.
“If you put this on, all of your troubles will go away! You’ll find a husband because of your beautiful light skin!” This “magical creation” that they’re referring to is called Fair and Lovely. Fair and Lovely is a skin lightening cream that is very popular in South Asia. According to Aneel Karnani, about 27 million bottles of Fair and Lovely whitening cream is sold every year. Ads all over South Asia constantly upholds the idea that light skin equates to beauty and a dark complexion equates to ugliness.
Growing up as the darkest member of my family, I’ve always had aunties coming up to me about my skin. They would say things like,
“How sad. You didn’t come out as beautiful like your mom. If only you had her light skin complexion!” or “what happened? Don’t play in the sun too much, don’t you want to be light like your mother?” After hearing this throughout my childhood, it scrutinized my self-esteem. I resorted to skin lightening creams and tried every organic mask that would help lighten my skin.
The greater impact it had was not only my destroyed my self esteem but how I saw black people. The destructive words I’ve heard all throughout my life made me believe those who had darker complexions were ugly. This vicious cycle of hatred against those who are dark is called colorism. This also routes back to colonialism. As Europeans enforced their colonial regime on South Asia, they made it known that their high status came from their light skin. But how does this connect to our hatred against black people? Easy. We do not consider them beautiful. When you look at Bollywood movies, you always see white back up dancers with long straight blond hair with very pale skin. You will never see a black woman in our movies, let alone with their natural hair.
In the Western- South Asian community, we welcome black culture like it is our own. Referring to each other by the n word, and rapping to Drake or Kendrick Lamar, but we still call them “bandhars” and “khalis”. If we appreciate black culture and entertainment, we should start to appreciate black people as a whole.
When I spoke to my family members about this, they dismissed everything I had to say.
“Us? Racist? How is that possible? It’s not like we lynch them like those crazy white people!”
We might not hear about it in the news, but it happens. An African man celebrating his birthday in New Delhi was beaten to death by a mob of teenage boys because he was black. Another incident happened in February, when a Tanzanian woman was stripped and beaten by a mob in Bangalore. In 2014, a group of men killed three black men with sticks in Delhi train station chanting, “India! India!” The list goes on and on. The hatred against black folks are prominent and is still alive, but as a community, we are very good at hiding our racist thoughts as we are very subtle about it. Our parents warn us about black people in our homes. They purse their tongue with a disgusting look on their face when they see a group of black folks and quietly walk to the other side of the street to avoid them.
Race is still an issue all over the world. As a Desi woman myself, I am still discriminated against everyday for my heritage. I am afraid everyday for my brother and father who travels to Manhattan every day late at night. But, I am sure every black man cannot go outside with his hoodie on because he’s afraid a cop might shoot him. Or that a black mother kneels down behind her bed, praying that her son comes back home safely. As racial tensions are starting to unfold itself in, showing their true colors, I’m sure all of us are afraid. However, we must stick together. We can no longer be divided. We must join hands and unite. We all have the same fears, the same dreams and the same struggles in this white capitalistic society. To my brown friends, when your parents look at your black friends with a disgusting look on their face, educate them. Explain to them that they are struggling just like us. We should not only fight for justice for ourselves, bur for the black community as well. We must stand up in solidarity with our black brothers and sisters. Just like Assata Shakur said, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains”.