In late May, the nation erupted in protest as every state in the country and countries around the world opposed the brutal murder of George Floyd and the system that enabled it to happen.
While many celebrities have been beacons of hope, others have exposed themselves as performative allies, jumping on the racial justice bandwagon only when it became trendy and convenient for them. As an Indian immigrant, I am particularly disturbed by the hypocrisy in the responses to Floyd’s death from my South Asian friends and Indian celebrities.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas, for instance, a Bollywood and Hollywood actor, posted on her Instagram in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Later her husband, Nick Jonas, tweeted out that they both were distressed by the events and had donated significantly to the ACLU. On the surface, the actor’s post was nothing more than a generous post from a prominent figure.
However, if we delve into Chopra Jonas’s history, an unmistakable pattern of ignorance and discrimination emerges: Chopra Jonas has always supported the far-right Modi government, which is directly tied to racist, casteist, and Islamophobic violence. In addition to being complicit in this oppressive regime, Chopra Jonas openly praised the Indian Army in a tweet that came right after the Indian government ordered a retaliatory airstrike against Pakistan.
Jai Hind #IndianArmedForces 🇮🇳 🙏🏽
— PRIYANKA (@priyankachopra) February 26, 2019
In 2019, a Pakistani-American beauty influencer, Ayesha Malik, confronted Chopra Jonas about the ignorance of her tweet at Beautycon. Chopra Jonas belittled Malik, implying she was “venting” (and thus playing into the trope of the hysterical woman) and saying “Girl, don’t yell at me.” All this happened as guards seized the microphone from Malik and dragged her away. It’s also worth noting that Chopra Jonas is no ordinary celebrity. She’s a UNICEF ambassador. Someone who is supposedly supposed to advocate for justice everywhere, not just when it benefits them.
Colorism has long been ingrained in South Asian society, leading to overt discrimination against darker-skinned individuals
Chopra Jonas’s statements do not exist in a vacuum. Rather they are indicative of a much larger issue of systemic discrimination in South Asian communities. For example, fairness creams are an incredibly lucrative business that exploits and weaponizes India’s obsession with fairness. Chopra-Jonas is just one of several South Asian celebrities who have endorsed fairness creams and in doing so, perpetuated racist and colorist standards. Others include Sonam Kapoor, Disha Patani, and Deepika Padukone.
As a child, family members would tell me not to play in the sun, to take exceptionally good care of my skin. All these messages reinforced to me that, ultimately, fair was lovely; dark was ugly. My experience is not isolated.
Colorism has long been ingrained in South Asian society, leading to overt discrimination against darker-skinned individuals. Tarun Vijay, a politician of the Bharatiya Janata Party, once claimed that Indians can’t be racist because they’ve lived with South Indians for so long. South Indians are often darker-skinned than many North Indians. All this to say, South Asians are obsessed with color, infatuated with light skin, set upon pedestalizing and aspiring to whiteness.
South Asians in the US largely subscribe to the model minority myth, a uniquely manipulative tool of white supremacy.
This aspiration towards whiteness goes further than just skin-deep fairness creams. South Asians in the US largely subscribe to the model minority myth, a uniquely manipulative tool of white supremacy. The model minority myth depicts Asian Americans as hard-working, intelligent, and highly productive members of society — and, most sinisterly, pits them against Black people, who the myth portrays as the opposite. Neither of these images is true, and falsely present both Asian and Black Americans as monolithic groups. The truth about the model minority myth is that it is solely a tool of white capitalism intended to blame the oppression of Black people on their own ostensible shortcomings (the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” fallacy that ignores systemic racism and institutional oppression) while ignoring the root of their disadvantages.
Of course, this all happens as the South Asian community continues to exploit Black culture for our own entertainment. Young South Asians are avid consumers of Black music and culture. South Asian figures such as Lilly Singh routinely exploit Blackness for their own profit.
A classic dancehall tune! Badman Forward remake and this time it’s for the ladies.
No matter your size, shape, colour, orientation, preferences or style, this one is for you sister.
— Lilly Singh (@Lilly) April 27, 2020
Clearly, I’m not saying don’t listen to or support Black artists (far from it!). But I am saying that the pattern of appropriating Blackness while simultaneously endorsing explicitly anti-Black ideologies is a prime example of both racism and hypocrisy. We can’t love Black culture and oppress Black people at the same time.
We can’t love Black culture and oppress Black people at the same time.
While discussing the issue of anti-Blackness in South Asian communities with others, dangerous rhetoric about the merits of the model minority myth and disturbing colorist remarks have shown up, which raises an important question. How can one be pro-Black and pro-Black Lives Matter while also maintaining these inherently anti-Black ideas? Oftentimes South Asians are unaware of their own internal biases. We’ve been raised in a community that values colonial standards of whiteness so greatly that they’ve become normalized to us. We may say, do, or think things that explicitly go against our supposed beliefs.
Anti-racist advocacy starts with you. It starts with actively decolonizing your mind so that you can truly believe what you endorse. It’s impossible to be a true ally to the Black Lives Matter movement while also maintaining problematic standards.
When I say that we must examine our own internal biases, I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t openly voice solidarity. I wholly believe that right now we should be doing everything to amplify Black voices. But you cannot truly support Black communities while endorsing colorist, casteist views. You cannot endorse change without condemning systems that have explicitly oppressed Black communities.
Before we can decolonize our systems and institutions, we must decolonize our minds.
To all South Asians who have yet to acknowledge and address their own anti-Black biases yet continue to post on social media in support of Black people: before preaching to others, focus on yourself. You cannot support casteism, colorism, Islamophobia, or perpetuate the exploitation of Black culture and be anti-racist. Education and understanding how your own biases have shaped your view of the and your treatment of others.
Advocacy starts at home. With you, your loved ones, and your community at large. And before we can decolonize our systems and institutions, we must decolonize our minds.