How I dealt with anti-blackness in the South Asian community – Jasreen Jawanda

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How I dealt with anti-blackness in the South Asian community – Jasreen Jawanda

There’s no doubt that colourism is embedded into the South Asian community, from a very young age I was taught that the fairer I was, the more desirable I was. After realising Britain’s colonial past, it became evident that such colourism came from India’s Eurocentric beauty standards as a result of the British Empire that ruled their lives up until 73 years ago. From my grandparent’s generation to my parents, and now to mine.

Although we are a minority in Britain today, I quickly learnt that we are confined to some sort of racial hierarchy where we are deemed as the ‘model minority’ – this could be down to the stereotype that we are a very academic race destined to become doctors, lawyers, dentists or something very similar. The colourism and hierarchy combined led us to the idea that we were in a position in society that was below white people but above black people. However, the reason it was possible for South Asians to move to countries like the UK is the blood, sweat and tears of Black People who fought for Civil Rights.

As a young British Indian girl, I would watch my grandmother whisper about our extended family, and if they were slightly darker than us that would always be classed as an insult, that they looked ‘Blacker’ than normal. Instantly, I knew this was a very deep rooted issue that needed to be fixed and after having many conversations with my own mother, she now agrees that this mindset did come from colourism that was taught by her mother and passed down from generations as a result of the Eurocentric beauty standards that have been installed into many Indians since the British rule. In the current climate, it is definitely not enough to be ‘Not racist’ we must all be anti-racist; and my family now understand this. I ensured that they watch some documentaries detailing the roots of racism and why we must dismantle it; from TV shows such as Sitting in Limbo, Netflix’s When They See Us, and much more.

When it came to relationships, it was never really discussed in our family at all unless someone announced their engagement which meant we were taught it was a taboo subject to talk about at all. Previously, when my parents were young, dating was out of the question unless you were dating to get married almost straight away. In addition, it was painfully obvious that in our own wider family, people did date outside of their own race, but it was always a white person. This brings me back to the idea that Eurocentric appearances was always the most accepted. What I did know however, that in most Indian families, dating a Black person was especially scandalous and I learnt this from hearing whispers between aunties at social gatherings.

Rewind to 3 years ago when I started dating my ex-boyfriend who was of Caribbean and African descent, I knew introducing him to my family was not going to be easy, but I was determined to break this barrier that had been in my family for generations. My mother surprisingly came around very quickly and accepted the relationship, but I did not tell my father until I was 6 months into this relationship. My father has always been very over-protective of me, so I knew I had to approach it very carefully; I actually wrote a letter detailing my then-boyfriend’s background, what he did for a living, and what type of man he was because I knew my dad’s mind would go straight to the negative stereotypes. I have to say, this definitely changed his whole perception of the Black community.

Fast forward to present times, I am now currently in my second relationship with an amazing guy who is also Black and of Caribbean descent, and thanks to my efforts 3 years ago, since then, I have had open conversations with the older people in my family, more specifically the same grandma that was making remarks about darker skin – she has now warmly accepted the idea of me bringing a Black man home. I can now openly talk about my relationship within my family and I can definitely say it has opened my parents’ minds to the idea of their children dating Black people.

Another example of a result from my conversations with my parents, when the BLM movement was at its peak after the passing of George Floyd, my mum ensured she had a conversation with her apprentice at her workplace who was Black and let her know that she will always listen if she had any concerns or needed to talk about anything which I believe was a huge milestone.

Aside from relationships, I was always taught to be kind to everyone regardless of their background, hence why I grew up with amazing friends from all over the world, but I never understood why dark skin was so ugly or why dating a Black person was so unheard of in my community – I never agreed with any of the ideologies that I grew up with, and in the age where the BLM and anti-racist movements blew up, I refuse to be silent and will do anything to amplify the voices of my Black brothers and sisters.

It is not enough to be not racist, we must all be anti-racist.

By Jasreen Jawanda

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