When the UK voted to leave the European Union, I was dismayed. But when I learned that people from South Asian immigrant communities voted Out, I was devastated.
When I heard that Donald Trump was courting American Hindus, I wasn’t surprised by his tactics. But when I followed the trail to find active Twitter and Facebook accounts with the name “Hindus for Trump”, I was in shock.
When the news broke of yet another police shooting of an unarmed Black man, this time in Tulsa, I was heartbroken. But when I didn’t hear a single sound from the Jain community, whose central tenet is non-violence towards all living beings, I felt hopeless.
When South Asian communities are silent against persecution of other minorities, we have all but accepted a fantasy that we are somehow different.
When South Asian communities are silent against persecution of other minorities, we have all but accepted a fantasy that we are somehow different. As author and activist Deepa Iyer writes, we have persuaded ourselves that it is through our hard work — and hard work alone — that we have succeeded. We are South Asians and we’re good at math. Our kids win spelling bees and grow up to run tech companies. And of course, a never-ending supply of good news from our family and friends only serves to confirm what we already knew about our success.
We have accepted… a racial bribe… that somehow our version of minority is superior and that we have climbed the racial ladder towards the ultimate goal, Whiteness.
When we are persuaded to vote to leave the European Union because migrants are a problem (the European ones, not us), and we consider hosting events for a Presidential candidate who is outwardly racist towards migrants (the Hispanic ones, not us), we have accepted what Iyer and others call a ‘racial bribe’. That somehow our version of minority is superior and that we have climbed the racial ladder towards the ultimate goal, Whiteness. Incredibly, the Twitter account “Hindus for Trump” actually has the by-line “American Hindus are model citizens, educated and industrious”. Rather than dismantling a hierarchy that creates painful divisions in our society, we have willingly participated in the creation of a ‘model minority’ status.
We are not the only ones guilty of accepting a racial bribe. At the height of the Civil Rights movement, African-American community leaders urged Martin Luther King Jr to have patience and pursue what they termed a peaceful path within the law, rather than civil disobedience. Today, as Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow”, has pointed out, some African Americans are equally willing to propagate a message of tough sanctions against gangs, drugs and violence in their communities, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that white people are more likely to be involved with drugs than people of color.
This disassociation with our fellow countrymen boxes them into a corner. It creates isolation, marginalization and has consequences for the opportunities that are open to them. It can also plant a more dangerous seed. Elsewhere I have written about how people feel when their tribe comes under attack and how it can often be in defense of their tribe that they commit atrocities.
If we truly understood the level of persecution that minority communities face, would we be silent?
But our silence is equally effective in reinforcing the racial hierarchy. If we truly understood the level of persecution that minority communities face, would we be silent? I suspect not. Would we condemn the peaceful protests and condone violent police action? I suspect not. Instead, we would mobilize our plentiful resources to agitate for change in institutions, in conversations and to break down the racial barriers that are to the detriment of full participation by all members of our society.
Indeed, some prominent South Asians have used their platform effectively in the representation of others. At Black Lives Matter protests. To campaign for labor rights. To seek justice for undocumented immigrants. Many others hold powerful positions — in the Attorney General’s office, in Governorships, in technology firms, in the community. To them — and to all South Asians — I urge you not to accept the racial bribe offered to you. Stand up. Be heard. And let’s change the model minority story for good.
*With thanks to Deepa Iyer for comments on an earlier draft