One facet of the white domination of ethnic minorities in Britain has been divide and rule. Instead of ethnic minorities all uniting together against oppressive white racism, some ethnic groups look to align themselves with white people, in order to gain certain privileges.
This is not always the fault of said communities, but more a reflection of the way people are forced to internalize their racism within this model of “multiculturalism”. Proximity to whiteness is seen as desirable within a society where structural racism makes it difficult for those who are not white to progress.
One community that has done this more effectively than most is the British Indian community, particularly Hindus and Sikhs. They have taken on attitudes of anti-blackness and Islamopbobia, to gain proximity to whiteness and the acceptance of many British people. Part of this springs from colonial ideals of “chosen races”.
I remember when I was studying my undergraduate degree at SOAS, one imperialist white class-mate spoke to me about how his grandfather fought alongside Sikhs, as if this was something we should bond over and as if this was something I should be proud of. Good old Sikhs, following the white man into battle. Yet rather than being something to be proud of it is a sign of how South Asian’s were enslaved by the British and forced to fight under the pretence of “liberation” and “democracy” despite the fact their own country was occupied.
This racism has been internalized so that people think this is a good thing. It is often a celebrated part of South Asian culture: “We fought alongside you, please accept us”. But it was never an equal relationship, and it never will be.
One only has to look as far as the Prime Minister’s comments on Muslims or to any major newspaper in the country to see how truly Islamophobic Britain is. Playing into the divide and rule of colonialism, some British Sikhs have adopted this Islamophobia. In fact this is true of a lot of South Asians in Britain, who have continued to view Muslims as the enemy as a fall out from colonialism, rather than venting their anger at the British, the actual colonial oppressors. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve heard countless Hindu and Sikh people comment on how “you can’t trust Muslims, look what they did to India”. Well, by that logic we certainly shouldn’t be trusting white people either!
This internalised racism is so inherent that the BNP was even able to trot out a Sikh man to appear in their 2010 General Election campaign video! The elderly Sikh described Islam as a “beast” and in the process became a powerful weapon for the BNP to dismiss claims of their racism. Unable to decolonize his mind he blamed Muslims for partition, rather than the British, who divided and ruled India in barbaric fashion. My namesake, Amit Singh, was also a key figure in the EDL for the same reasons. His actions were a way to gain proximity to whiteness, to bond with white racists.
It’s a fools errand but proximity to whiteness is often rewarded. Just look at the current business secretary Savid Javid, who has done a lot to distance himself from his non-whiteness. South Asian’s have had a preferential experience in the UK as a result of such behaviour.
From speaking to family members and members of the South Asian diaspora, many seem to have bought into a lot of the lies about black people by racist British discourse. As a result some will even lend themselves to white people who want to reinforce these views, just as Amit Singh lent himself to the EDL. Anti-black attitudes are perpetuated in a bid to be seen as the “good ethnics”. The much celebrated, but controversial figure, Mahatma Gandhi, was a staunch anti-black racist.
Why? Because Ghandi saw Indians as above African blacks. He thought, partially because of the way he’d internalized his colonization, that Indians were more civilized, that they were more similar to the British. These sorts of attitudes from Indian communities living in African countries such as Ghana or Kenya are not uncommon. Racism and anti-blackness are rife within Indian communities often regarding themselves, in the same way white settler communities do, as separate entities to indigenous populations.
Indians in Britain today are equally guilty of this. There is a depressing lack of black/south Asian solidarity and this is how the British want it to be. South Asians should stand together with their black brothers and sisters in opposing racism and white supremacist oppression, rather than foolishly trying to gain proximity to whiteness.
Siana Bangura, the editor of black feminist publication No Fly on the WALL, asserted that: ”The only thing worse than being brown is being black” and revealing that a lot of her South Asian friends would say that their parents wouldn’t want them to bring home black partners. This isn’t uncommon and I remember one older South Asian family member declaring “no blacks and no Muslims”.
For Siana the rise of political blackness is particularly problematic because of anti-blackness.
”Although it is very useful to unite under one political umbrella, at times the biggest issue with political blackness is the fact it covers up anti-blackness in brown communities and other communities of colour. We turn our attention to battling with the white man but leave the anti-blackness that is rife in PoC communities to fester. Everybody wants to be black until it is time to be black.”
No person of colour will ever truly be accepted into the elite club of whiteness, so there really is no point in trying, even if there are some minor rewards for outright assimilation and adoption of racist ideas. White people will always see South Asians as different, even if India was the “jewel of the crown”.
South Asian’s need to do a lot more to banish these racist views and to stop trying to gain proximity to whiteness, because the white man’s acceptance will never come. Instead we can unite with other oppressed groups to campaign for a more just society.
As Siana said: “White supremacy is so successful because of divide and rule, it gets those on the margins to do it’s work for it. We are distracted by colourism and shadeism and tear into each other while rich white men and women continue to be our overlords, and we are too busy hating each other to deal with that.”