Right off the bat, I don’t claim to understand what Black Americans are going through right now because their grief is not my lived experience. However, based on our shared humanity, I am also angry, annoyed, and, most importantly, ashamed.
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin wielded his position as a law enforcement officer and white male to brutally murder George Floyd. He knew he was being filmed, and yet he did not care. Through his egregious actions, Chauvin reasserted his dominant position in America’s racial hierarchy, while simultaneously reiterating George Floyd’s place.
It is not that such brutality hasn’t happened before. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, Kendra James, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, and Trayvon Martin are all victims of systemic racism.
Countless other Black deaths didn’t make it to the headlines, but all contribute to the many chilling statistics out there. In 2019, over 1,000 people were killed by police. Black people made up 24 percent of those murdered, despite being only 13 percent of the population.
The murder of George Floyd, though, struck a chord. It shook me to the core and forced me to evaluate my complicity as a person of color (POC) in not caring enough. White people in America, even well-meaning ones, bear the sole responsibility for anti-Black racism and, therefore, must dismantle their racism to ensure equality and justice for the black community.
However, POCs must also reflect on the role they have played in allowing this racism to persist. We are not without blame.
Racism in the US
European racial dominance and its associated racism have been part of the American culture from its earliest days. The enslavement of Blacks and their continued oppression even after the end of slavery through Jim Crow laws is a continuation of the same phenomenon.
In today’s America, this manifests itself in mass incarceration and killing of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement and others.
The silence of or timid response from POCs in America also validates the actions of white supremacists. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Silence and Colorism
To course correct, it is essential to understand the genesis of silence. The apathy can partly be ascribed to colorism among POCs and their position in America’s social hierarchy. Colorism among POCs, specifically first-generation migrants, is mostly a function of where they come from.
For instance, I grew up in Pakistan, a country that reveres whiteness. From a young age, girls are told not to go out in the sun too much, lest they may get dark. Lighter skin is symbolic of beauty and sometimes of socio-economic status. Those who are lighter-skinned and exhibit other physical attributes similar to Europeans, consider themselves ethnically superior to the rest of the population.
This obsession with white skin is not limited to Pakistan. Most countries in Asia, the Middle East, South America, and North Africa perpetuate the same mindset. Reasons for it may vary from region to region, but the outcome is the same.
American Pop Culture
The influence of American pop culture on forming perceptions around skin color is quite palpable. I grew up watching Hollywood movies that presented degrading stereotypes of Blacks in a way that, at the time, seemed to be based on reality rather than fiction.
For instance, Black representation was marked by typecasting them as gangsters or violent people. My understanding of the Black community was informed by what I watched on TV. Hence, when I first arrived in America and was living on a college campus, I was always afraid to see a Black male on a deserted street when I would go out at night.
Fortunately, my understanding of colorism and its impact have since evolved.
When immigrant populations come to America, they bring their inherent biases with them. In some instances, POCs, especially first-generation migrants, are predisposed to think that the closer they are to being white, the better off they are. Whiteness becomes a class marker, a barometer for how well POCs can realize the American Dream.
This bias takes many forms, such as a preference for living in predominantly white neighborhoods, sending kids to mostly white schools, and sometimes erasure of the black identity within communities of color. We hear slogans such as Muslims for Blacks or Latinx for Blacks, not recognizing that there are sizable black subgroups within broader Muslim and Latinx communities.
— Kashif (@mKashifUSA) June 11, 2020
Hence when blacks are mistreated in America, some POCs don’t feel a strong sense of despair due to their subconscious bias in favor of white people. To them, standing up for the Black community invariably means calling out white atrocities since the perpetrator is often white.
Second, POCs themselves are victims of some form of discrimination due to their ethnicity and skin color. Recently, we have seen these biases take the form of a Muslim ban, mistreatment of undocumented Americans, and the dehumanization of the East Asian community during the pandemic. POCs’ silence can sometimes be seen as preserving their position in a predominately white society.
Nevertheless, it is becoming more apparent that POCs can no longer stand on the periphery. We have skin in the game. The mistreatment of African Americans makes us much more vulnerable to discrimination as a community. It goes without saying that standing up for the Black community is the right thing to do.
It’s about time for POCs to do some deep introspection and move past their preconceived standards of who is deemed superior and stand shoulder to shoulder with the Black community.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.