Updated: May 28
Dear Asian Youth,
Across America, we are witnessing a revolution. Uprisings against systemic racism are continuing in the wake of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. The Black Lives Matter movement has forced us to reckon with the brutal realities of racism in the United States, and, like many of you, I have been having ongoing conversations about these topics within my own community.
As a first-generation Asian American, I am very blessed to have been surrounded by a large Indian community here in Seattle throughout my entire life. I have a circle of friends, aunts, and uncles who share my brown skin and have known me since birth. Within this tight-knit community, I am able to celebrate my heritage, especially during holidays such as Diwali: our festival of lights and one of the most important holidays in Indian culture. They keep me close to my South Asian identity as a student at a predominantly white high school. We are inextricably connected to one another, bonded by our rich culture and shared experiences.
It seems that these uprisings have forced us to think about and discuss issues of race with a deeper nuance and complexity than ever before. We have been discussing issues of racism on a systemic level as well as the ways in which the South Asian community benefits from white supremacy. During these conversations, however, I continue to notice a certain group being particularly quiet. *hint hint* It isn't the girls.
Many of the guys within my South Asian circle actively use aspects of Black culture in their daily life. They listen to rap music by Black artists, compare sneaker collections, call themselves “hypebeasts”, and post about their favorite Black athletes routinely on their Instagram stories. Despite this, ALL of them have remained virtually silent on social media amidst the Black Lives Matter movement and are unwilling to engage in substantial dialogue about systemic racism. Why are brown boys who regularly exploit Black culture and the labor of Black people to appear “trendy” and “hype” refusing to make even the slightest effort to support the basic human rights of Black people? It is as though their “brownness” provides them with a racial shield, exempting them from ever having to *gasp* examine their privilege or speak up against racism. It is this same “protection” that allows many to think they have a “free pass” to use the n-word. No, Desi-frat-boy, you absolutely DO NOT have permission. Your indifferent attitude towards saying the n-word and willful ignorance of the issues facing the Black community are symptoms of the anti-Blackness and the heteropatriarchy that are deeply ingrained within South Asian culture.
It’s no secret that anti-blackness is rampant within the South Asian community. Asians have essentially been used as pawns by white colonizers to justify racism. When the Immigration Act of 1965 passed in the United States, only the most highly educated Asians were permitted to enter the country, perpetuating the model minority myth and showcasing them as upper-class citizens. Not to mention the notions of colorism perpetuated by colonial powers and booming skin lightening industries. Couple this with the hypermasculinity and misogyny that are instilled in brown boys from a young age and their behavior has especially toxic manifestations.
Unfortunately, misogyny and rape culture are very prevalent within Desi culture as well. Many South Asian countries are dominated by patriarchal structures. Children internalize these notions from at a very young age. Girls learn to be subservient while boys are often seen as naturally “violent”, justifying cases of rape and gender-based brutality by placing the blame on women and girls rather than the perpetrators. Sexual violence against South Asian women is sadly ubiquitous, yet rarely covered by main-stream media. According to a study done by the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, 64% of Indian and Pakistani women have experienced sexual violence by an intimate partner.
This deep-rooted misogyny continues to be passed down to generations which is why it continues to persist in the U.S as well. Just recently, a new wave of high school and higher education #metoo movements broke out in America, predominantly in the New York City area among brown girls. Hundreds of social media accounts were created via Instagram and Twitter where girls shared stories and experiences of sexual harassment, violence, and all-around misogynistic behavior they faced from South Asian boys at their schools. Student activist Hiba Sohail also constructed the term “Brown Boy Misogyny” in a recent article she wrote exposing the lack of accountability brown men face for their sexist jokes and harmful normalization of rape culture.
Sohail breaks down this behavior into the form of a pyramid structure, describing how sexist jokes and rhetoric (Simping), lead to slut-shaming (Mia Khalifa), ultimately resulting in coercion and rape (Guilty). Clearly, this dangerous misogyny continues to be perpetuated by brown boys and not only impacts women and girls but also contributes to their silence on social justice issues like the Black Lives Matter movement.
Boys are often used to having their voices centered in the spaces they enter. Their male privilege makes it more difficult for them to empathize with marginalized communities that are often not included in these spaces, making them much less inclined to speak out about issues. South Asian boys specifically, while they do experience racism and discrimination, also face pressure to proximate to whiteness. From the toxic masculinity they’ve absorbed within their own culture and internalized racism, many feel that their masculinity will be invalidated if they advocate for communities that fall outside of their male identities. They fear being labeled as “soft” or “girly” by their male friends.
Brown Boys: you must do better. Please examine your internalized misogyny and anti-Blackness. Engage in discussions about social justice issues and call out friends and family for racist and sexist comments. Ask yourself: “How am I complicit in harming marginalized communities and what will I do to correct this behavior?” Finally, if anyone makes fun of you for it then trust me, you’re much better off without them.
Cover photo source: Hiba Sohail, https://www.browngirlmagazine.com/2020/07/unpacking-brown-boy-misogyny/