I should’ve been shocked when I heard about the recent assault of an unidentified black woman in an Asian-owned beauty supply shop. After all, the footage is brutal: although the woman is heard saying “Check my bag. I’m telling you I don’t have anything,” store-owner Sung Ho Lim kicks and strangles her, confident that she’s a thief. As she writhed helplessly under his grip I thought of Latasha Harlins, the 15-year-old black girl shot in the back of her skull at near point blank range by Korean-American shopkeeper Soon Ja Du (who didn’t spend a day in jail). Yes, these acts of ruthless, senseless violence should be shocking, but then I remember the virulent strain of anti-blackness thriving in non black people of color communities.
It’s tempting to dismiss these incidents as one-off events. But how do we rationalize the experiences of other black customers in these businesses, whether it’s receiving differential treatment from white shoppers or being followed around? How do we rationalize East Asian-American teenagers from Cali to Canada calling each other “n***a”? How do we rationalize Asian-American protesters rallying around Peter Liang, a cop who shot an unarmed black man and (almost) went to jail for it? The answer is we don’t. As uncomfortable as it might be, progress won’t be made until we stare down racism against black people by other POC.
Those of East Asian descent aren’t the only guilty ones. As Arti Patel wrote in the Huffington Post, it’s high time for South Asians to stop saying “n***a.” While they’re at it, they should also stop using AAVE, especially when engaging in anti-blackness. Proof lies in #CurryScentedBitch, a clever hashtag that began by calling out Azealia Banks for her disgustingly racist behavior and ended in more of it. (It’s possible to drag a black woman without telling her ‘don’t forget where your weave comes from,’ calling her a ‘monkey,’ or posting selfies with the captions ‘slay’ and ‘fleek.’) This is to say nothing of the “Formation” parody which attempted to challenge stereotypes about South Asians, while managing to appropriate a song about black power.
Celebrities are in on it too. In an episode of his show Master of None, Asis Anzari tried to make a valid point about the lack of representation of South Asian-Americans in Western media. Too bad he lashed out against other minorities, complaining that “People don’t get that fired up about racist Asian or Indian stuff. I feel like you only risk starting a brouhaha if you say something bad about Black people or gay people.” Oh, if only hyper-visibility came with any sort of respect! As if the fact that these groups are often the center of attention means that they receive better treatment. M.I.A. was under the same false impression, lamenting that “It’s interesting that in America the problem you’re allowed to talk about is Black Lives Matter,” to the detriment of other issues. Like black people haven’t been degraded for speaking out on police brutality, something that puts us in mortal danger.
Next we come to the Latinx community, which too has dealt out a fair amount of anti-blackness. Just recently Jessica Caban, the non-black Latina girlfriend of Bruno Mars, came under fire for wearing a dashiki at one of his concerts. This could’ve been a learning moment, but instead Caban began to block anyone who dared to criticize her, reveling in her appropriation. Maybe this slight would sting less if concepts such as “mejorar la raza” (improve the race) didn’t exist, one that encourages people to choose light-skinned, straight-haired partners in order to avoid having dark kids with kinky hair. In other words, it’s to prevent the propagation of black children.
Blackness isn’t spared among Arab-Americans either. There’s a disturbing phenomenon of calling black people “abeed,” a term that means slaves. You see the problem. Not surprisingly there’s also an issue with colorism, and those with darker skin are often a punching bag. Case in point, this twitter thread mocking a woman claiming Lebanese blood because apparently she’s too dark-skinned (all the while using black slang to add a dash of irony).
Certainly black people can be racist towards other POC, and we must be held accountable for our own prejudices. But there’s clearly a legacy of anti-blackness virtually everywhere, and if we’re to fight racism on all fronts we have to fight it among ourselves too. How can we have solidarity between POC if the humanity of black people is constantly questioned? We can’t.