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Understanding my Privilege as a South Asian Model Minority to Become a Better Ally


*Disclaimer: this post contains controversial content. Please recognize that I am expressing my thoughts and perspective.*

My heart has been heavy for the past few weeks.

It’s important for me to talk about current world issues, specifically, the Black Lives Matter movement (which, btw, Black Lives Matter) and my privilege, before deep-diving into the other content I want to post. And I will try my best to be as articulate as I can — there are a lot of thoughts and emotions. These past few weeks I’ve been trying to better understand the Black Lives Matter movement, and specifically, how I can be an ally as an Indian-American. Yes, acknowledging my ethnic identity does matter. Here’s why:

As an Indian-American, I want to speak to my privilege that has been perpetuated by the model minority myth. Note that I did some of my own research to help inform and educate myself and to better support my ideas. The model minority is an ‘an ethnic minority demographic group whose members are perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average. This success is typically measured by income, education, low criminality, and high family/marital stability.’ Source: Beneficial State Foundation. The model minority myth puts America in a position to look like it has always welcomed people of Asian descent, and that they are able to achieve the American Dream. Hard work = success, right? In actuality, this idea is designed to create a wedge between Asians and other marginalized communities, such as Black and Hispanic communities.

(Without sidetracking too much, I also want to take this time to recognize that the model minority myth does NOT apply to all Asian demographics. It is more specifically associated with East Asians and Indians and ignores the diversity of all Asian cultures. Not all Asians have shared experiences, however, the model minority myth considers as such. This is another privilege I recognize.)

Circling back, the model minority myth compares Black communities against the model minorities as a way to further enable a divide and downplay racism. It’s basically saying, “If Asians can do this, why can’t you?” It puts the blame on Black communities without any regard to systemic and institutional racism. In fact, the model minority myth is a tool to brush systemic racism under the rug. It ignores the fact that the Black community faces challenges that are so deep-rooted in America’s history that anti-blackness has become an unconscious bias. It ignores that segregation (such as residential) is a huge factor in unequal access of high-quality public education, healthcare, and wealth accumulation/job opportunities difficult for Black communities. Here is another resource that’s helped me better understand the model minority myth and here is a resource to help understand how residential segregation creates opportunity gaps.

What does this mean for me? It means that Indian-Americans have historically been placed higher in the racial/ethnic hierarchy. The labels that we Indian-Americans are given are not the same as the negative and degrading labels given to the Black community. Although I have experienced racism, I have not experienced the kind of racism that is embedded within the social systems of this country. I am not feared of, or looked down upon because of my race. I come from a family of immigrants who worked tirelessly to achieve socio-economic success and stability. I grew up in a predominately white neighborhood with no one questioning whether I belong. I’ve also grown up in a predominantly Asian community, where I’ve gone to a public school with ample resources and opportunities. Getting a university education was a given, not even a question. For many, from the day we’re born, we are whether we want to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Not one of these expectations and successes are discounted because of my race. And because of that, I am privileged. This actualization was a hard pill for me to swallow, but it’s a truth that I will wholeheartedly acknowledge.

It’s no secret that Indian communities have continued to maintain ideas of anti-blackness. For many, this is a catalyst used to assimilate into the white dominant culture and systems. In fact, model minorities perpetuating anti-blackness fulfills the role that was originally designed for them. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had extended relatives tell me to not go out in the sun too much because “I’ll get too dark.” Even worse, I’ve overheard aunties tell their children to not date or marry a “kaala” (black). I remember when I was younger I recognized there was something wrong and damaging about those statements, but wasn’t sure how to speak up. I wish I did. Also, forget natural beauty, their personality, or their academic achievements – if you bring home a darker skinned significant other, you bet that is all your aunty is going to talk about. What’s more, South Asian beauty standards praise women for having lighter skin. Don’t even get me started on Fair and Lovely (now “rebranded” to “Glow and Lovely” – an Indian skin lightening cream).

I understand it can be difficult to have these conversations with our communities, and you may expect some push back, but they’re drivers of change. Our South Asian families need to know know that their struggles and experience as immigrants are NOT discredited by supporting BLM. However, as part of a model minority, we should be further educating our communities to support the BLM. It’s important to have these difficult conversations and make ourselves aware of the privilege we have.

I also highly recommend watching Hasan Minhaj’s (one of my favorite public figures) We Cannot Stay Silent About George Floyd | Patriot Act Digital Exclusive | Netflix. He perfectly calls out exactly what I’ve been trying to say – speak up. South Asians are not excused from this fight.

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