The phrase “model minority” itself is a tool for White people to use against Blacks in America.
Growing up as a child of Indian immigrants in America has taught me many things. In my house, my parents always emphasized working hard and not taking things for granted. These values are essential and have made me into the person I am. But I also heard many controversial ideas from within the Indian community. Many things I heard are wholly incorrect but affected how teenagers and young adults in the South Asian community see other races. As the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum, it is vital to address anti-Blackness in the South Asian community so that we are educated and productive allies in the fight against police brutality and systemic racism.
For one, colorism is a massive problem in the Indian community. Not only do celebrities like Priyanka Chopra advocate for skin-lightening products, but mothers and aunts are also frequently caught telling their daughters to lighten their skin or pointing out pretty “fair-skinned” girls. This mentality causes kids to feel insecure about their skin color from a young age and changes how young kids view darker skin. I want to say that only the older generation feels this way, but I’ve heard so many Indian girls my age complain about being “too dark.” In the Indian community, being “too dark” comes with the connotation that you’re ugly, less-than, and scary. We see these ideas reflected in Indian commercials and Bollywood movies as well. These same judgments translate over to the black community. These ideas are toxic, especially when it comes to a movement like Black Lives Matter, which emphasizes how dangerous it is to make judgments based on skin color. The South Asian community as a whole must get rid of its glorification of light-skinned people because it’s only contributing to the oppression of blacks in America. What I find even funnier about this whole mentality is that it contradicts a crucial part of Indian history: British colonization. Brits oppressed Indians for years, and decades later, the Indian community still allows this colonization to take hold in the form of colorism. Let’s face it: no matter how “light-skinned” an Indian person is, they will never be white or treated as a white person, so why are we making that a goal? Colorism is just another form of racism, and it is detrimental.
Another issue Indians need to address is the model minority myth. Asian immigrants were allowed into this country if they had a high level of education or other resources to get here. Because Asians were already held to a higher standard before entering this country, it was more likely that they would succeed in whatever profession they chose. By doing so, many Asians gained more socio-economic power and became known as the “model minority.” The term “model minority” has been used to oppress Black Americans further because it indicates that Blacks cannot be a “model minority.” Here’s the thing: Black people in America had a different starting line than Asians in America. After centuries of oppression, Black people slowly began getting civil rights and had to catch up to the rest of society. And even while they were catching up, they had a harder time being selected for better opportunities because of their skin color. The phrase “model minority” itself is a tool for White people to use against Blacks in America. Being a model minority isn’t something we Asians should be proud of. We should be embarrassed that we’ve allowed ourselves to be used in such a way.
The last, and arguably most prevalent problem amongst the younger generation, is the appropriation of black culture. The N-word was casually used in my town, even though most people were White or Asian. That word doesn’t belong to anyone outside of the Black community, I mean what year is it? This problem isn’t just in my town. I’ve heard Indian rappers use it, like NAV, and still hear Indian college students say it. I’ve always thought that Indians, particularly boys, used the N-word because they felt it made them look cool, thought all minorities could use it, or heard other Black people use it casually. But none of these reasons hold up when you analyze the meaning behind the word. Emmanuel Manacho, a former NFL player, recently made a series titled “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man” on Instagram, where he is planning to answer common questions he hears from white people. In the first episode, he addresses why non-Blacks saying the N-word is problematic because it is synonymous with hatred and reminds blacks of their painful history. He also points out that Black people have turned the N-word into a term of endearment for each other to take control of their narrative. If a non-Black person tells them not to say it, that is further censoring and oppressing Blacks in America. I couldn’t agree more, and I get so confused when people disagree. Why would you want to use a word that isn’t yours to use in the first place and carries a long history of hatred? And how would you feel if the roles were reversed?
As a minority group in this country, South Asians have had countless experiences with racism, which should be brought up as well! But now is not the time to be arguing about which minority group has had a worse experience! By neglecting the struggle that Black people face and by believing in racist ideals, South Asians are only contributing to the oppression Blacks face. Just because a person isn’t shouting racist slurs at Black people or holding “All Lives Matter” posters doesn’t mean they aren’t racist. As a community, we must be accountable for all the subtle ways we’ve furthered black oppression and learn to be actively anti-racist. The good news is there is still time to learn and grow. It begins with listening to how Black people feel about issues that affect them and unlearning the harmful ideas we may have grown up with. In the current situation, the South Asian community has privilege and power, and we can use that to help instead of denying it. I genuinely think addressing these issues within the younger generation is crucial. Even though the older generation may have started the problem, we still have the power to right their wrongs. If we are willing to learn, listen, and act, nothing can stop us.