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South Asians, Islamophobia, anti-blackness and the internalization of racism

29 Jul , 2015  

By  -  
Amit is the co-editor of Consented

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.

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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.”


18 Responses

  1. This is an absolutely fantastic piece that begins to speak about things that the Indian, and specifically Sikh community, fears to speak about. I hope this provokes conversation, debate and communication across ethnic groups about ways in which internalised structures such as these can be combatted.

  2. Okay after more thinking, I think by having ‘British Sikh’ and ‘British Hindu’ communities as a focal point may detract from the point you are making: the way in which these structures have been perpetuated and moulded by the British over hundreds of years.

    By putting a focus on the religions, and not ‘Indians’, it can be misconstrued as a religious phenomenon when really it is wholly cultural.

  3. Bob Badan says:

    Excellent article and very well written

    I am a proud Sikh man in a what’s app group of all Muslims and I am very happy

    Thank you

  4. Abu says:

    This is an excellent and well written article. Islamophobia is a disguise to return to racism and the bigotry of the past. What makes it more sinister and dangerous this time is the use of minority groups to propagate the hidden ideology of the majority. Some non Muslim minority groups have become more virulent Islamophobes than even the known racist and bigots. These minorities should however be aware that, a racists and a bigots do not value and respect anyone except their own. Their supremacy is their only goal. So when they are done with the “Muslims” they will eventually turn their attention to another minority, and this time it could be the very people singing and abetting their crimes against Muslims today. Europe condoned, submitted and allowed Hitler to hate only the “Jew” and we all know what happened eventually. He wanted more than just the Jews.

  5. Jasdeep Bains says:

    I do agree a lot of Sikhs in the UK would never align with Muslims (in the UK) and would rather with white folks (people are people)but to blame this on us trying to become or appease white people is false. yes the British did rule India and many Sikhs don’t harbor ill will towards this but Sikhs and Muslims have had a long negative History together and still do in Britain, and I can see why Sikhs would rather trust a white brit over a Muslim brit because of this. As far as not trusting Black people well thats just stupid as ones color is irrelevant.

    “These minorities should however be aware that, a racists and a bigots do not value and respect anyone except their own. Their supremacy is their only goal.”

    you do realize some religious people preach this as well? Trafalgar square anyone? Speaking from personal experience as a Turbaned Sikh, every white Brit i have met I have gotten along well with. Not sure why but we seem to see eye to eye on this. I have a huge amount of respect for them, and I don’t blame them for their countries economic turn in the past resulting in colonialism.

    • Abu says:

      Thank goodness you have had a good experience so are many Pakistanis and India Muslim. The issue isn’t individual experience but the collective experience of the Majority within the minority communities. After 9/11 a lot of Sikhs were targeted with the excuse that they look Muslim. This is balbadash because the attackers knew exactly who they are attacking. It is the very reason why religion should be put aside in fighting racism and bigotry. After all Hitler had Jews in the beginning who wanted to be more like Germans.

  6. Muji Rahman says:

    Let’s face it, the main reason why so many Hindus and Sikhs are angry with Muslims, is because of the large number of young girls who initially date Muslim boys and eventually convert to Islam.

    This seems to be a problem that has developed within the South Asian Muslim community, due to the development of the sex culture in the west and within middle class Asians in Asia itself, who probably aspired to be more European. Basically a course seems to have started, western culture is becoming increasingly fashionable the world over.

  7. Muji Rahman says:

    After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, every westerner must have given a collective sigh of relief, their patience had paid off and at last their way of life was victorious. Maybe this was a sign that the time had come to look South East towards the Middle East/Asia, at the last remaining threat.

  8. Sum Kiani says:

    This article is hideously, inflammatory. The writer needs to remind himself that it was infact, JINNAH demanding for the creation of Pakistan going against the United League which worked favourably, in creating divisive attitudes amongst those of differing faiths & practices within the subcontinent! Also, the anglo-Indian colonial past has been compensated for as British Indians hav pretty much flourished economically, in Britain, upon immigrating here at the latter half of the century. This is an issue stemming from the barbarism that is Islam, a non sanskrit faith that unlike Sikhism or Hinduism has only shown itself to cause trouble wherever it flocks to!

    • Amir Azam says:

      You are badly mistaken on your Indian history here, and in particular what you’ve said about Jinnah has been proven wrong and hasn’t been taught in any Western faculty since the 1980s. This it too long to go into here, but effectively what Jinnah was aiming to do was hang the ‘spectre’ of Pakistan over Congress/Britain in order to secure Muslim representation at the political centre, which he knew wouldn’t be assured in a Hindu-dominated India. This plan failed and Pakistan was created, but his politics were consistently staunch nationalist at the All-India level, and any communalism was tactical rather than ideological (he was barely Muslim himself). ‘Revisionist’ history, nowadays accepted as orthodox, blames Nehru and Mountbatten for Partition. I’d recommend reading Jalal’s ‘Sole Spokesman’ or Roy’s ‘High Politics of Partition’ if you haven’t got the time for Jalal, or if you’d like I could send you some notes on this.

      Remember, when you describe Islam as ‘barbaric’ within the Indian context, you are bowing down to your former colonial masters. It’s easy to forget how pre-Britain, Indian internal borders were never drawn up on religious lines, only afterwards this is the case, with historic Punjab and Bengal sliced in two. Divide and rule during the empire became divide and quit during Partition.

      As for you saying that Sikhs have been compensated by flourishing post-Empire, which absolves Britain, I’m not sure where to start really. What about the thousands of Sikhs dead in the Anglo-Sikh wars, the numerous colonial wars the ‘martial’ Sikhs were made to sign up for, and the hundreds of thousands who died during Partition? Not to mention the fact that today, Sikhs in Punjab feel oppressed by central government and many want independence. I’m sure your ancestors who suffered under the Raj would be very happy with you saying that Sikhs have now been ‘compensated’ by Britain.

    • Hassan says:

      You need to stop talking and educate yourself. First of all you need to know that Muslims never wanted Pakistan in the first place. I from a Kashmiri background and if anything I prefer Pakistan because if India would let Kashmir become Independent so would Pakistan also Indians are committing genocide on us because they’re jealous of us haveing white skin, better resources and economy. If Kashmir became independent it would become a very successful state with 24/7 power unlike India and Pakistan. Next you need to know that because we’re in the UK and South Asian no matter what our religion we have stronger connections and bonds with each other than we could ever have with white supremacists. Once they’re done with the Muslims I promise they’ll move on to Sikhs. Finally you need to realise that Muslims have been here for centuries, the first British masjid opened centuries ago. The only reason they’ve decided to pick on Muslims now is because they’ve seen that a lot of brown people are Muslims and its easier for them to target religion compared to directly targeting race.

  9. Ashok says:

    Sum, you India right wingers need to check your history. The subcontinent before the British was never united in a state, except almost under Bin Tughluk & Aurangzeb (both Muslim ironically) and thousands of years ago almost under Ashoka which included Afghanistan and Iran (want them too?). It was only the British that ever ruled modern India and Pakistan as one state (‘British India’) after they conquered modern day Pakistan *from Afghanistan*. Before the brits annexed it to their British India, the borders of modern pakistan were almost identical to the borders of the Duranni Empire of Afghanistan, which was a more natural union. Even before the Durranis what we now call pakistan was almost always part of a state to the west of it, and the borders between them and India remained roughly the same as now (with some ebbs and flows) Eg before Durranis was Afsharids. If anyone has a complaint about artificial division caused by the creation of Pakistan, it is Afghanistan and the Balouchis, not Indians except possibly East Punjabis which shouldn’t have ended up in India.

  10. Sum Kiani says:

    A more natural union? How so exactly? The muslims of Pakistan with exceptions to Northern parts and Kashmir are ethno linguistically closer to their Hindu neighbours. Acknowledge partition was one of the greatest fails in history and be done with it!

  11. Sum Kiani says:

    You can’t be serious Ashok, millions perished as a result of partition and as a consequence the Bengal (east pakistan) famine took place. And who decided they wanted their own bloody state? Who wanted to rile up even more aggression? Jinnah

  12. Harpreet says:

    Anti islam sentiment grew amongst the sikh population long before the British. I would say jehangir torturing Guru Arjun Dev ji to death played a part.. And the over hundred years of violent ‘convert or die’ invasions from muslim kingdoms might have infleunced perceptions of the Muslim population..

    • Amir Azam says:

      It’s selective history to suggest that Muslims and Sikhs are at odds because of the actions of the Mughals. It’s worth considering the Mughals not as Muslims per se, but as an imperialistic ‘foreign policy machine’, with the ultimate goal being territory and power. This superseded all other goals, Islamic or otherwise. Muslims were outnumbered vastly by Hindus and Sikhs combined, and it’s simply illogical to suggest that the Mughals were trying to convert Hindus and Sikhs en masse – this would have threatened the power of the aristocrats.

      Moreover it’s worth considering that, in those days, Sikhs would not have been seen by anyone as the major world religion that it is today – rather, it would have been seen as a militaristic offshoot as Hinduism, one which would have particularly worried the Mughal hierarchy. Further still, to label the Mughals as representative of Indian Muslims historically is false – the vast majority of Muslims would have had no power, and it’s simply ridiculous to conflate ‘Muslim’ and ‘Mughal’; it’s to do with class rather than religion. Punjab before it was partitioned was perhaps the richest part of India, a place where Sikh and Muslim lived together and Lahore and Amritsar were very close geographically. It was partition and the effect of British oppression that divided India on religious lines, with Sikhs forced to enlist in British Armies creating a modern sense of white proximity, creating a state where Muslims and Sikhs even in Britain and America, far away from India, are mutually distrustful and have ‘othered’ each other.

      This isn’t to say that Sikhs weren’t oppressed by Mughals at points, and the execution of Guru Arjan remains one of the great Sikh historic tragedies. But to blame Muslims for this, especially modern Muslims, is false, misleading and divisive.

  13. […] Read the rest of the article here. […]

  14. […] In his article, Singh introduces several deep-seated issues within the British South Asian community: the internalisation of racism, islamophobia and anti-blackness. He alludes to communities of British Sikhs and British Hindus having desired proximity to whiteness as a way of ‘successfully’ integrating into British society. […]

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