Let’s be honest. Brutally honest for once.
My neighbour’s brother told me about his friend, who was Indian and a bus driver for Edmonton Transit. He told me stories of how his friend would openly discriminate against Indigenous folks on the bus, mock them if they didn’t have a ticket, call them drunks. He himself laughs as he says this story, as if it’s all a big joke.
Earlier this year, a mob outside of Delhi brutally beat five African students, sparking a new conversation about anti-black racism in Indian society. My family friends openly use anti-black slurs. I refuse to say those words here, but Hindi speakers will know what I’m referring to.
Why does this happen? How do we allow such language and such behaviour in our communities? One thing’s for sure, we can’t pretend like it doesn’t exist. So, let’s analyze it – and most importantly – do something about it.
First off, I just want to firmly acknowledge that the South Asian community isn’t a monolith. We’re a massive group of people – some folks are from Africa, some from the Caribbean. Some are upper-middle class, while others have had to struggle with poverty. The specific group of people I’m talking about are the middle to upper class South Asian diaspora, or desi folks, in Canada.
Within this middle to upper class, educated desi diaspora, we see entrenched racist attitudes. Many believe it’s merely amongst the older generation and the younger generation is becoming more open minded. But oppression doesn’t disappear with age. I’ve heard my peers express anti-black and anti-Indigenous sentiments. There exists a lack of self-criticism, self-reflection, and a genuine will to work towards anti-oppression. People are very comfortable with racism, just so long as it doesn’t affect them.
But racism does affect the South Asian community. South Asians do experience racism, stereotyping (*cough* Apu from Simpsons *cough*), poverty, and other forms of oppression. First generation South Asian kids know too well of the stories of our parents initially working as truck drivers, gas station owners, positions that are considered “beneath” them. Then they “climbed the ladder” to higher success under a capitalist society, which deems people’s worth by how much money they make. Now, if the community hears about oppression towards black or Indigenous people, it’s simply because they didn’t “work hard” like us, they’re only involved in criminal activity, they deserve what they get, and that’s all they’ll ever be.
I strongly believe that this racism is tied to the notion of meritocracy – people deserve the good things only if they “work hard” enough and accept the rules that capitalism puts forth. It’s not that capitalism creates a huge wealth gap, it’s just that people don’t work enough and thus deserve to be poor. It also further means that we believe the world is a just place. Those who are marginalized actually deserve their oppression because the world isn’t harder on one group over another. This thinking individualizes oppression, instead of holding oppressive systems responsible. The reality is that colonialism has left Indigenous peoples disenfranchised, marginalized, and criminalized. Racism has caused police officers to criminalize black people more than their white counterparts.
Once we’ve identified the problem, then what? The first step is to stop our complicity in racism. It’s not enough to say that we don’t discriminate. The South Asian community should step up to call out racism by our peers. We should refuse to become the “model minority” – the minority that seemingly does well under a capitalist, racist society. Ultimately, the race to the top of this racist ladder only comes at the backs of oppressed peoples. Let’s refuse to engage in this race and fight in the name of justice.
Look out for Part 2 on tips for anti-racism education! And check out Wab Kinew talking about anti-Indigenous racism in Canada: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlkuRCXdu5A