What can I tell you that you don’t already know about anti-blackness? What can I say that Hasan Minhaj and Deepa Iyer haven’t already said? #BLACKLIVESMATTER is the buzzword of the moment. My guess is that if you’re reading this, you want to make sure that it’s not relegated to a blip in human history. It is a fact that requires zero qualifications, excuses, or pundits.
My aim is to write to you from my soul — without judgment. One woman to another.
The most important thing is that you must BELIEVE US. African-Americans have been vocal about the suffering and injustices inflicted upon us since the first ship docked near Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. It has required a global pandemic, canceled entertainment, and mass unemployment for the world to believe us. The next time a person of African descent communicates that they are in pain, is in need of assistance, has been the target of racism or microaggressions, do not presume that we can take the pain or are over-exaggerating.
And then it’s time to do some internal work. First, we must all admit that there’s a little white man that lives inside all of us. He has a huge ego and a Napoleon complex, and requires that his opinion is centered in every conversation. Sometimes he’s shouting from the rooftops. At other times, he’s quivering in the bushes, whispering what you should think and how you must behave.
I’ve come face to face with this little man. I’ve decided to allow him in the room and when he opens his big mouth in an attempt to suck up all the air or poke me in the ribs to remind me of my place, I tackle him, flip him on his back, and look him dead in the eyes. The little white man I speak of is a metaphor for the “white inferiority complex” more commonly known as the “white supremacist” that lives inside your head and your heart and wracks your bones.
Racism doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We are all complicit. Reckoning with this cancer of anti-blackness means that we must unlearn most of what we were taught about ourselves and others so that we may heal. Relinquish feelings of imposter syndrome and guilt regarding tolerance of global injustices. Once you engage in this healing process, you can begin to move the needle of racial injustice and inequality.
Unlearning anti-blackness means that you cannot stand tall with Black people while continuing to subjugate or turn a blind eye to the Dalits (those who were members of the lowest rung of the now-abolished caste system which Gandhi fought to disassemble). The terms Kalloo and Kaala Kaloota must be abolished from your lexicon. More importantly, the negative connotations associated with dark skin must be called to the floor and disrobed for the disruptor that it is. When you hear the word Kala mentioned in a negative way amongst members within your community, call them out on it. Social shaming has been proven to be an effective tool in changing behavior. It’s already working in some spheres, with many South Asians and South Asian celebrities speaking out against the skin lightening creams sold in India.
So what else can you, personally, do to fight anti-blackness? Support Black men and women in professional spaces. I have been disappointed on multiple occasions when I entered a room and believed I was in the company of a South Asian ally, only to be met with indifference and resignation. Acknowledge us in hallways. Speak up in meetings. Show your support in memos and emails. Recommend Black women for exceptional opportunities. I love the social media initiative of #SHARETHEMICNOW. Consider launching a similar IG takeover between South Asian women and women of African descent.
Civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” South Asians are targets of violence in North America and Africa. When you stand with Black people, you are ensuring a less complicated future. We won’t all reach the mountain top but if we work together, our children will.
Check out We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta’ Nehisi Coates. This non-fiction work sums up hundreds of years of history, sociology and of course anti-blackness in 416 pages. The Ted Radio Hour podcast recently broadcasted a brilliant episode featuring writer, poet, teacher, and activist Clint Smith. In 51 minutes you will be confronted by the face that wears the mask.