April 2015: I attended a talk on racism in London. The crowd comprised of mainly men and women of color, and I was sat in the middle of it.
Expectedly, we reached the topic of slavery and the impact of white colonialism on the black community. The slave trade and the invasion of Africa left societies torn. Millions of black people still face the struggle of equalizing the dualist world we live in.
The crowd roared.
We then approached the impact of British rulers on the Indian subcontinent. The British stole Indian jewels, Christianised entire communities and scapegoated Indians from their own economy. The education system was redesigned to mirror the British way, and societies were entirely reorganized. Indians were treated as second-class citizens, forced to witness their land being taken over.
India as it was known, no longer existed.
The crowd was silent.
No one cheer. Not one heckle. Not even a crying child at the back of the hall. I stood there confused and voiceless. Why didn’t the Indians in the room feel as passionately about their past as the other people of color?
Do we not care? Are their problems more significant than ours? Or was it that we are seen as the same, and our problems have been shadowed?
I left that crowd feeling completely alone. I wanted to know why no Asian cheered for their rights the way the black community did.
It seemed to me then, that the dualist nature of society had forced all the people in the Indian subcontinent, into the same bracket as any other person of color. This meant that anyone who remained quiet in this group, were shadowed.
The black community have been bold and remained proud. They have stood up for their rights as equal citizens and continue to flourish today in film, politics and science. Racism has long been a black and white problem, with other people of color slightly in the background. The anti-racism movement has been lead by black people, who have brought the inequalities they faced to the forefront of media, and made their voices heard.
Why are there much fewer Asians doing the same?
As a British Pakistani woman, I feel it is my responsibility to address the quietist attitude of our women in western society now, before we fade into the background.
Why have we become politically quiet? The problems we face as Indians, Pakistanis, Bengalis and Sri Lankans are entirely unique from anyone else's. We come from cultures rooted in honor systems and a range of religious ideals which shape our identities in unique ways. The way western imperialism has impacted and warped our societies has a different lens, and needs a different approach to dismantle and reclaim.
The sooner we recognize that our fight is unique, the sooner we can begin fighting.
This group of women have internalized their stereotypes of being passive, submissive and obedient. British Asian women have somehow carried these traditional traits overseas with them, despite living in vastly different societies. The western portrayal of the Indian women has romanticized their shyness and hyper-femininity. If society views these women a certain way, it might be that these women have subconsciously adopted some of these traits.
We now need to break away from these stereotypes and form our own identities as British Asian women & American Asian women. We need to be proud of our heritage and voice the struggles we face in society. There are now so may platforms to advocate our rights, tell our stories and make people aware of who we are.
The first step is to speak up. We can be as loud, as bold and as dominant as anyone else, if we make the conscious decision to recognize that there is a gap in the anti-racism movement. Here is our game plan:
- Talk to everyone, especially those closest to you. Be honest and open with your opinions and don’t shy away from standing up to your friends and family. They are your support.
- Get together. It’s time to put our minds together and think of ways to make our voices heard to a wider audience. Great ways to do this are starting a local forum, a university society or holding talks at school.
- Keep spreading your message! Make sure your own stories and experiences are valued and heard, and make your mark on the anti-racism movement.
Let’s make history heard.