We’re not natural allies to #BLM, but we should be
Brown people have a deep and abiding hatred of blackness. We only allow our whitest specimens on-screen. These stars then sell fairness cream back to us. Multinationals sell fairness deodorant, in case darkness peeks out of your underarms. They sell vagina fairness creams, in case all the proposals get approved but the husband runs away screaming on the wedding night.
Brown people will happily retweet #BlackLivesMatter and look down on dumb Americans, but don’t get it twisted. We hate blackness. Nevermind the stares we give black tourists, we hate ourselves. We have internalized colonial racism deeper than even white people, many of whom are waking up. My own relations had a dog named N***** and saw nothing wrong. Brown people can be racist AF and we are not natural allies of this movement. But we should be.
Black Lives Matter is a call for everyone to look in the mirror. For us, this is literal. We need to walk to a mirror and look at our own faces. And then walk around and look outside. We are, for the most part, brown. As many of us are dark as are fair. If you turn on a TV or even a kids cartoon, however, we’re damn-near white. Sometimes radiantly so. But this isn’t true.
We are closer to black than white, in more ways than one. We should be natural allies to #BLM and yet we are not. Through colorism and outright racism, we’re part of the problem.
Our colorism starts at birth. People will literally stand over a baby and tell the mother that it’s dark. They’ll say sin, meaning that this baby has incurred some fault in a past life, to be cursed with darkness. And this kid is cursed, by constant comments like this.
A dark child is much more likely to be bullied in school. They’ll be lucky if their name doesn’t simply become Kalu (black). Even teachers will use it against them. God forbid they go to the beach, the same aunties and uncles will be waiting.
“Aney, you’ve got dark”
These are the accursed greetings of our culture. You’ve got dark and you’ve got fat are often the first things to come out of someone’s mouth. It’s a constant, immediate reinforcement of what matters here, which is bullshit.
We’re so racist that we’re literally trying to weed darkness out of the gene pool. The matrimonial ads are full of fair brides. This of course applies mainly to women. At our own weddings, the makeup artists routinely make the bride three or four shades whiter. They’re often unrecognizable. We literally wear whiteface to our own weddings.
In a current example, popular Sri Lankan actors Saranga Dissanayake and Dinakshie Priyasad were called out for wearing blackface and mocking darker-skinned people. In most cases, they were invited to learn.
Instead, they reacted with denial and bullying, calling out All Lives Matter (the response of white supremacists), trying to gather personal data on critics and getting their fans to attack critics. In Saranga’s words, they got their followers to ‘spread hate’. People react this badly to even having racism and colorism pointed out. We obviously have a long way to go.
Of course we’re not allies to Black Lives Matter. We live on a continuum of black and white, and black is bad. At a very deep level, dark=ugly in South Asia and hell yes this has consequences. It literally colors who gets treated well in school, who gets jobs, who gets on TV, who gets to marry whom, and just who can walk through life without constant bullshit. And yes, it’s one more thing that affects who gets beaten, abused, or killed by the cops.
We don’t encounter Africans or African-Americans much, but if we do, we stare or react with offensive curiosity or worse. If we go abroad we don’t become allies to other colonized people, we become Tories or Republicans, applying bleaching agents to our brains. I know immigrant aunties and uncles who voted for Brexit to keep ‘immigrants out’. Priti Patel is proud of legislation that would have rejected her parents.
And yet we love black culture as much as anyone else. So we’re happily trending #BlackLivesMatter, and looking down on those dumb, racist Americans. But that’s not the lesson of #BLM. We have got to look at ourselves. We have to look in the literal mirror. We are brown. Some of us are quite fair, but many more of us are dark. Why do we hate ourselves? What hatred are we putting out into the world?
We have got to dump years of internalized colonialism and casteism and stand in actual solidarity with black people, not smug voyeurism. We need to cast the Chhota Bheem out of our own eyes before we get a mote out of anyone else's.
I support Black Lives Matters and am inspired by what they’re doing, but I’m all too aware of where and how we live. We should be allies in this struggle, but we can’t do that until we confront the colorism in our midst. It’s, quite literally, not fair.
- Hasan Minhaj has a good speech on colorism/racism in our own communities
- This is a good article on anti-blackness and blackface in South Asia