As the US continues to reckon with a racist past and present, there are some Indians living in the country who do not feel it’s relevant to them. They think things like, “This is their issue: Black people and white people,” or “We are immigrants. We should not be bothered.” Or “Let’s keep quiet and carry on with our lives.”

But this country has been home to us, even if it’s just been for a few years, and we need to act. For me and my husband who have lived here for the better part of three years, this country is our first home where we have lived together, and we have thrived in this multicultural environment. We cannot turn our back to these injustices – and neither should you.

This is what we must do

First, Indians in the US must acknowledge and address that we may be part of the problem if we harbour racist thoughts and actions. I have heard my friends and family in the US say they feel scared to go to a movie theatre, library, or events if there are large groups of African American people. They say things like “I do not feel safe going for movies in that area. That area has so many jamuns (a black coloured fruit which is used to refer to black folks).”

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Whenever I have said that this is wrong, we should not stereotype the entire community and we need to stop calling them with racist name as “Jamun”, my friends and family have responded by saying these are harmless comments and I am unnecessarily overreacting. Or, some have said, “This is not racism – we are not hurling abuses at them – we are just scared.”

But it is racism

This kind of racism is deeply held within Indian culture. Back in India, dark-skinned people are made fun of, bullied, and face endless embarrassments to the extent that they become insecure in their own skin tone. On multiple occasions, I have heard people commenting on the dark skin colour of a few of my friends in a very demeaning tone. I remember someone from my family even once told me, “Never marry a dark-skinned boy”.

In contrast, white skin is idealized. Growing up, I grew used to hearing comments like, “She is so beautiful, white as milk”. Bollywood and celebrities who play such a significant role in influencing the attitude and beliefs, promote a discriminatory “white” beauty standard and shamelessly endorse skin lightening creams where success is equated to being fair-skinned.

Hence from a very young age, we are taught that white skin is good and desirable and black skin is not. No wonder the skin lightening creams have made a fortune in our country.

Shame on each one of us who have kept quiet and perpetuated discrimination back in India and then brought it with us here to America. It is dehumanizing. It’s high time we realize that we are also part of the problem.

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Indeed, I say to my fellow Indian immigrants in the US: We must undo our own biases and truly support black people – and not just with trendy hashtags or black squares on social media.

We can start now

We can educate ourselves about the history of African American people and listen to their stories of oppression and struggles and their triumphs and achievements. We can speak to our close family and friends through constructive discussion and acknowledging what has been done in the past and what can be done to facilitate inner reflections on changing the narratives which have been ingrained in us. Let’s think, what kind of legacy we are leaving behind for the next group of Indian immigrants and for the next generation.

We also need to have an open discussion with our families back home. I did. My mother-in-law only saw the looting which dominated the prime time in Indian media. We made her aware that people are out on the streets amidst this pandemic because years of suppression and brutality have stripped them of basic rights and liberties, most are not looting, and how and why we must support these protests.

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And of course, we can be right there at the protest. If we can’t, support it online, donate money to organizations which have been working tirelessly to bring systemic changes. Many of our skills will be crucial at this point. Many of us have the right to vote here, and now we must use this in the right manner in local, state and federal level elections.

When the entire country is protesting racial injustice and police brutality, we need to be doing so too. It’s time for us to be on the right side of this historical moment, our moral conscience will not forgive us if we don’t.

Image Credit: Fox

Monalisa Padhee, PhD, is a senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a 2019 Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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