Internalising Anti-Blackness & Manufacturing Model Minorities in Western Asian Communities

Photo by James Eades on Unsplash

It’s time for our communities to confront the fact that we are not “model minorities”, instead we should be need to be stopping these manufactured narratives, because they re-enforce anti-Blackness and upholds systemic racism. 

The UK has internalised anti-Blackness. It upholds systemic racism through political legislation, societal and cultural myths, and by arguing that it does not exist. You can find anti-Black racism in various forms. It exists in the form of micro-aggressions. It exists within the education system and in schools with the never-ending casual racism. It exists through the demonisation of Black individuals in the media. For instance, Meghan Markle and Raheem Sterling are both Black, yet they are vilified in comparison to their white counterparts in the British media. Grenfell and the Windrush Generation. How many more examples do you need?

An ‘American Problem’. No, it is also in the UK.

If you have ever experienced it, racism in the UK is not subtle, but it constantly attracts less global attention. The UK is nowhere near dismantling systemic racism. The first thing you will hear is that racism in the UK is ‘subtle’, or ‘covert’, or it doesn’t really exist. This is the same country that has never been forced to own up to its history of imperialism and colonialism. Of course, it’s not a White person’s sole problem to fix, every other race shares the responsibility in overcoming systemic racism and anti-Blackness in the UK. The first thing this country needs to do is acknowledge its anti-Black culture. This anti-Blackness has been internalised by non-Black people of colour too.

Alright, you can argue that racism is more polite and more dignified, it is still racism at the end of the day. A CNN poll found that “nearly two in three Black people say the UK has not done enough to address historical racial injustice, twice the proportion of White people who say that”. It is public knowledge that slavery was not really abolished, but rather payed off by the public, which is another way in which racial injustice against Black people has not been addressed in the UK. In 2018, the Treasury gave one of its Friday Facts, which said: “In 1833, Britain used £20 million, 40% of its national budget, to buy freedom for all slaves in the Empire… it wasn’t paid off until 2015. Which means that living British citizens helped pay to end the slave trade”. The tweet no longer exists but it showcases how the UK still does not understand slavery. Why is there any pride in taking £17 billion to compensate slave owners for the loss of their ‘human property’?

What about the Windrush Generation? They are suffering, as well as their descendants, as anti-Black and anti-immigrant policies are extensively put in place. These policies are leading to loss of jobs, eviction from homes and people are facing deportation after living in Britain for decades. The CNN poll highlights how the country is deeply divided in terms of race “whether it comes to policing, representation or history”. The anti-Blackness that is embedded in all communities needs to be confronted, and as Menelik Shabazz says, “the greatest trick racism ever pulled, was convincing England it doesn’t exist”. Anti-Black sentiment is poignant in western Asian communities. 

The ‘Model Minority’ Narrative

I just want to remind everyone that I do not speak for all Asians, nonetheless, there is no such thing as the ‘model minority’. I want to make that really clear right now that being a ‘good’, ’quiet’, ‘assimilated’, Asian is a societal narrative that needs to be pushed against. There are intricacies between Asian communities, however, it still stands that the ‘model minority’ myth is a cultural construct that acts uphold systemic racism and perpetuate anti-Blackness. There are so many arguments that pit the ability to succeed within Asian communities against the inability to overcome hurdles within Black communities that act as a form of negating the concept of racism in western societies.

Here is what is not considered in those arguments. There is a selective recruitment process when companies hire people of colour. If you look at the statistics of top corporations diversity is virtually non-existent. I just want to say that hiring only Asians, to be ‘diverse’, is not actually diversity. For example, LinkedIn’s annual workplace diversity report showed that 47.5% of its employees were White, 40.3% were Asian, 5.9% were Latino and only 3.5% were Black. This is how the ‘model minority’ narrative works. This is in 2019, at 40.3% it’s a little difficult to argue that there is a minority, wouldn’t you say?

You need another company? Let’s take a look at Google’s annual diversity report. In 2019, the composition of the company’s hiring was 43.9% Asian, 6.8% Latinx and 4.8% Black. By 2020, the composition changed to 48.5% Asian, 6.6% Latinx and 5.5% Black. How is it that the company has hired more Asians at 4.6% when comparing it to the former groups whose numbers have decreased by 0.2% and increased by 0.7%? This is another example in which the ‘model minority’ myth has played out. This is how the ‘model minority’ narrative perpetuates systemic racism and this is just in the recruiting and tech industries.

You cannot compare western Asian communities to other groups in terms of overcoming hurdles, especially Black communities, because it is a fundamentally flawed comparison. By comparing the two groups, you are essentially suggesting that Asian communities have put in the same work as Black communities to overcome centuries of enslavement. I am not undermining the obstacles that every group has gone through, or still has to go through, what I am doing is highlighting that ethnic groups are really being pitted against each other to undermine one another. Who comes out on top? The people that stand on top of White structures.

Simran Randhawa explains the concept of the ‘Model Minority’ and Anti-Blackness.

The ‘model minority’ is a narrative that has been manufactured by White men who need White supremacist structures upheld. By perpetuating the idea that one person of colour is ‘better’ than another then we will be upholding these structures even longer. It is because we are at odds with each other, much more privileged classes (or rather White people), are more likely to benefit from and maintain positions of power. You can think of the ‘model minority’ as the buffer between White people and other people of colour, in turn, that ‘model minority’ works as a comparative model that downplays systemic racism in the continuous struggles of other ethnic and racial minority groups.

The ‘model minority’ largely uses East Asians to perpetuate anti-Blackness in the USA, while South Asians are used to perpetuate anti-Blackness in the UK, either way we all play a role in whether we want to continue this myth or not. I know I have been in that role for long enough now, I do not want to be the poster-child for diversity, or affiliate myself in political beliefs that would previously have me ostracised in very White spaces. It is okay to change your politics no matter how old you are. If you want to be the next Sunak or Patel, go for it, but I no longer feel like being the ‘model minority’. That is just my opinion and you are free to disagree with me. 

This is for my fellow Asians who do not wish to involve themselves with Black Lives Matter, or to take a stand against anti-Blackness in our community, or even educate yourselves on anti-Blackness in our communities. Just remember that our skin is only tolerated because we’re not Black.

Discussing Black Lives Matter & Anti-Blackness in the Asian Community

I understand how difficult it is to have political conversations in the Asian community, let alone conversations about race, which is something that is largely avoided at least in my own experiences. The best way to start the discussion about Black Lives Matter (BLM) is to illustrate what the movement is about. BLM is not a slogan that disregards all other lives, it is a movement about how Black lives matter, too. BLM will not, in any way, undermine the lived struggles and experiences of Asian immigrants. There is no reason not to support BLM.

Why is it so ingrained in our communities? I can only confidently speak within the Indian-Punjabi community, but anti-Blackness does exist in other South Asian and East Asian communities, it is just rarely addressed. It is important to understand how anti-Blackness has been perpetuated in our own communities. I want you to think of India under the East India Company and the British Raj. This spanned over two centuries, whereby white was considered superior, and there is an internalised colonialism that exists in our communities and our mindsets. There is another cultural connotation of dark skin in Asia, whereby it is associated with rural poverty, as it suggests an individual has been working in the fields.

I have discussed the prejudice against dark skin with friends and classmates of Asian descent and there is a general consensus that dark skin is not okay. We are told from a young age not to be out in the sun for too long, to consume certain foods and drinks to become light-skinned or to even apply products to ensure we have light skin. These ideals are ingrained in commercials, films and is prevalent within both the fashion and beauty industries. Simmi, from Paper Samosa on Instagram, has suggested ways of tackling anti-Blackness in the South Asian community. Michelle Kim, has listed the ways in which anti-Black racism is perpetuated on a daily basis, and rightly argues that “We can’t fight anti-Black racism unless we can notice its manifestation in ourselves and others on a daily basis in our workplace, social interactions, and online engagement”.

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