When talking to a fellow member of my University’s Feminist Society about allyship, we noticed that there was a lot of literature about White to Black allyship but a lack of literature about Asian to Black allyship or South Asian allyship. Obviously, White allyship is focused on, for good reason. The fight against racial prejudice is the fight against White supremacy. White allyship is focused on because White people are part of the ‘ingroup’ and privileging from racial prejudices. Thus, their allyship is needed to fight against racism, they must use their privilege for good. However, ‘Anti-Blackness’ is subtly practised and upheld within a lot of cultures, due to a lot of Asian and South Asian countries’ history of colonisation. Thus, other Asian and South Asian cultures have their own specific duties to ‘ally’ with the Black community against the specific anti-Black racism they are faced with. They should do this by stopping the anti-Black sentiments in their own cultures. In order to debunk the normalisation of anti-Blackness in society and cultures.
Thus it is important that other racially oppressed groups ally together to fight for the Black Lives Matter movement but do not tread on Black people’s toes. A fine line between allyship and taking over must be found as it is important to understand that each racially oppressed group has a unique oppression and it would be wrong to lump us all together and homogenise our oppression. Undoubtedly, racism affects all people of colour, which puts other people of colour in an unique position for allyship, but when it comes to Black people, they face a unique anti-Black prejudice. This anti-Black prejudice is perpetuated by white people but also other racial groups.
The History of South Asian and Asian Allyship.
Black and Brown people have a rich history of empowering and supporting each other. A history that we should look to once again. During the Minneapolis protest following the murder of George Floyd, the Indian Restaurant Gandhi Mahal caught on fire. The owner proclaimed ‘Let my building burn justice needs to be served’ . This reminds us of this rich history of allyship. Further, Gandhi Mahal’s page posted Gandhi Mahal’s post which has been shared over 10,000 towns and concludes:
“[We] may have felt the flames last night, but our fiery drive to help protect and stand with our community will never die! Peace be with everyone. #JusticeforGeorgeFloyd #BLM.
This highlights the importance of the South Asian community and Black community empowering each other, in order to solve the overarching problem of White supremacy. We are stronger together, and our enemies seek to divide us so we become less of a threat.
These are some examples of the history of Black and South Asian Allyship:
In the 1970s, The CCCS school, and Paul Gilroy in particular, showed that race was not just a mechanism of regulation and social control, but could also be a form of identification that could be appropriated and infused with a new ideology to challenge racism. In other words, Black and Asian people had taken hold of the ascribed racial identity of Black people and infused it with a new ideological meaning to fashion a ‘community of resistance’. This was a way in which Black and Asian people shared a sense of solidarity against White supremacy and allied together through this shared identity. Despite there being a huge wave of criticism by members of both communities who argued that solidarity shouldn’t mean a shared identity as it falsely equates racial discrimination and the unique character of racial discrimination, this is an example of a powerful allyship and solidarity.
MLK and Gandhi
Martin Luther King was famously inspired by Gandhi’s methods of non-violence which inspired his own pacifism. After the arrest of Rosa Parks, King led the 381-day boycott that would make him famous. When discussing the use of non-violence King said “Christ showed us the way, and Gandhi in India showed it could work.’ When he finally visited India in 1959 he was greeted with flowers and a luxury hotel and honoured Gandhi by laying a wreath of flowers on his memorial.
Following the 2016 police killing of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old Black man, a group of South Asian Americans drafted Letters for Black Lives, addressed to aunties, uncles, mom and dad. A bid to prevent anti-blackness within the community. A quote from the letter:
“Sometimes people are rude to us about our accents, or withhold promotions because they don’t think of us as ‘leadership material.”’ Some of us are told we’re terrorists. But for the most part, nobody thinks ‘dangerous criminal’ when we are walking down the street. The police do not gun down our children and parents for simply existing. This is not the case for our Black friends.”
THE LETTER IS HERE: https://asianlawalliance.org/black-lives-matter/
Asian and Black Allyship.
From Vice magazine:The Asian American Movement, which took off in the U.S. in the late 1960s was largely inspired by the Black Power Movement. The Asian Solidarity Collective, a San Diego grassroots organisation, told VICE that they acknowledge that many of their attained privileges resulted from the Civil Rights Movement, Black liberation movements, legacy of Black abolitionists, and Black feminists.
There was widespread support from the Black community’s for the Asian American fight for justice after the racist murder of Chinese American Vincent Chin in Detroit in 1982, as the two white men who murdered Vincent initially served no jail time for his murder. Read more here: https://www.history.com/news/vincent-chin-murder-asian-american-rights.
These are just a few examples but in reality there is much more history and I have barely scratched the surface of the vast history of support.
Anti-Blackness within Asian and South Asian communities.
Whilst we have a vast history of support there has to be an acknowledgement of racist tendencies within our own communities. The idleness of Thao, an Asian American officer, complicit in the murder of George Floyd, has become a symbol to express the tendency of the Asian community to turn a blind eye when it comes to matters of race. South East Asian communities, and South Asian people have called out their own communities for perpetuating anti-Blackness in their own communities. This emphasises, how perhaps we aren’t as good allies as we should be. Therefore, being the best allies that we can be would involve us calling out these racist/ anti-black tendencies within our communities.
Anti-Blackness within our communities come in a variety of forms:
- It is no secret that South Asian and South East Asian cultures have a societal obsession with fair skin , with the skin whitening product market being a multi-billionaire market. Products such as ‘Fair and Lovely’ propagate this belief that darker skin is inferior, emphasising the anti-blackness within the Asian communities. This obsession with fair skin which is reproduced within the Bollywood industry and the beauty standards, is a symptom of White supremacy, and a system of a colonial past. Preventing the colorism in our community by calling it out and not adhering to it, would stop oppression within the community and allow us to be good allies in the process of the denormalisation of anti-blackness.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Few8kJ0zfnY In this racist video, a chinese woman ‘washes a’ black man so he comes out white.
- 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. Consequently, South Asians can do better by showing support for the protests in the U.S and for Black people in their communities. There seems to be a strong inability to recognise Black people within communities and standing up for their causes.
3. Desire to be white.
This comes from the colonial, eurocentric belief that we can fit in more if we act more like White people. It is practised by the belief that individual economic success will allow us to individually break through systematic injustices but at the expense of leaving our community behind. Furthemore, the desire to be ‘accepted’ into White spaces rather than fighting to decolonise the system so we can succeed without conforming to ‘White’ standards.
The desire to be White sometimes meant pushing other groups down to be accepted by the ‘Whites’ and a White supremacist culture. This reduced racial consciousness and created a ‘racial wedge’ between differing ethnic minority groups. Consequently, creating a hierarchy between ethnic minority groups, who were all still oppressed under a White supremacist society . This created divisions and faults in allyship.
This racial wedge took the form in a variety of different ways.
Asian Americans are and have been stereotyped to be hard working and law-abiding citizens which was a staunch contrast to the perpetuated stereotype of a lazy, criminal Black man . This created a hierarchy of ethic minorities depending on White standards and the ability for the White man to define and approve them. This ability to divide ethnic minorities by a White man’s approval was a strain to allyship, preventing collective action against racism and White supremacy. Especially as anti-blackness was being practised within these ethnic communities.
Furthemore, the racial wedge took other forms:
Gandhi, by some historians depict him as a racist: In The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire, Desai and Vahed write that during his stay in Africa, Gandhi kept the Indian struggle “separate from that of Africans and coloureds even though the latter were also denied political rights on the basis of colour and could also lay claim to being British subjects’.
In his book Her Majesty’s Other Children, philosopher Lewis Ricardo Gordon lays out the two dominant principles of racist ideology: “(1) be white, but above all, (2) don’t be Black.”
Consequently, Anti-blackness is institutionalised, where racial equality was positioned to be equal to White and White standards. De-institutionalising anti-Blackness would mean differing racial groups stopping to aspire to be white.
Preventing this colonised belief that we have to aspire to be white to gain justice and equality is crucial to allyship and freedom. Preventing anti-blackness in every culture, is crucial to stop whiteness defining superiority.
Family harmony is a value generally carried by Asian Cultures where challenging elders or their views can be seen as a sign of disrespect and disobedience.
However, the Instagram account South Asians 4 Black Lives argues that everyone should stop making excuses for the anti-blackness in their family! – they are not too old, they are not too set in their ways, stop saying they had a bad experience, or it’s just a joke.
In conclusion what can we all do?
- Prevent anti-Blackness in our own communities.
- Prevent white people defining our progress or acceptance. This is a tool used by supremacists to create a racial wedge.
- Read more about Black oppression, listen to Black voices whilst realising our unqiue positions in being Allies as our ethnic minority cultures have ALL suffered from a history of colonialism thus the indoctrination that white is right being embedded in our societies.
To be an ally requires work. It requires active unlearning and examining one’s implicit biases and complicity. Yet it is crucial work.