The “Oppression Olympics” and Other Post Colonial Behavior


The “Oppression Olympics” and Other Post Colonial Behavior

Anti-Blackness in the South Asian community created by colonization

Rebecca Dharmapalan





“There is no Hierarchy of Oppressions”

                                                         Audre Lorde


“When you rinse brown across a blue ocean

Does it get lighter or darker?

Your choice …

In 1964 the civil rights act banned discrimination against racial minorities

Footnote: when you throw a piece of paper in a pool of blood – who wins?…

In 1965 the immigration act instituted a system that gave preferential treatment to immigrants with skills

Footnote: bring in brown to keep Black down…

When I cry about Diaspora and missing my homeland

Even though my people chose to come here for more power

Did not mention the countless bodies we stepped on when we arrived

Just to get close enough to kneel

For a white man – dick or…

degree is there a difference —

Carry both on your tongue…” [1]

                             - Alok Vaid-Menon South Asian Activist and Poet


Today, Anti-Blackness within the Indian community is a topic little touched by society. As African students are being beaten to death on the streets of India - while no recognition is given to their lives - one questions the morale of Indian people. How was this anti-Black mindset created in India: can we blame the white man for the intentional separation of people of color to divide and conquer, or do we look at the institutionalized racism within the cultural deep structure of India’s caste system?

On December 3, 2012 five Indian men kidnapped a young Rwandese student of Delhi University. It is suspected that the student was stalked by a gang of racists from the same school. They followed him as he walked home, and beat him to death. They later dumped his body into a nearby river and left his body there to rot. Although details are still murky, sources say that the crime was initially concealed, even from the Rwandan High Commission. This incident was not accounted for, the men were not punished, and the story was not publicized.

Another Anti-Black murder was of Imran Mtui, a young Tanzanian IT student, was beheaded and left at a railway. The attackers were quoted saying that they wanted to “punish the Black.” [2] Mtui was buried headless, his murderers walked free, and his parents were left devastated looking for answers. Although the police claimed that Muti died from a train accident, the family’s spokesperson, Abubakari Ibrahim said otherwise: ”We refuse to believe that the findings are true because under normal circumstances accident could not chop off [his] head and leave all other parts of the body intact. Our own sources told us that he was slaughtered” [3]

The racist and bigot actions of Indian people lead to the questioning of the creation of Anti-Blackness in India. By taking a deeper look into the colonization of India, one can reveal the internal division of the subcontinent based on skin color and caste.Although pre-colonial India accounted for more than 33% of the world’s GDP, significantly more that all European countries combined, there is still a notion that the British brought wealth, an sophistication to an otherwise forgotten and savage land. As stated by Henry Mayer Hyndman, 20th Century British politician, “Many hundreds of years before the coming of the English, the nations of India had been a collection of wealthy and highly civilized people, possessed of great language with an elaborate code of laws and social regulations, with exquisite artistic taste in architecture and decoration, producing conceptions which have greatly influenced the development of the most progressive races of the West.” When the British infiltrated India, they removed the communal school system run by the Gurus for the community’s children. “The guru taught everything the child wanted to learn, from Sanskrit to the Holy Scriptures and from Mathematics to Metaphysics. The student stayed as long as he or she wished or until the guru felt that he had taught everything he could teach. All learning was closely linked to nature and to life, and not confined to memorizing some information.”[4]Colonizers replaced the village schools with Western curriculum such as the “sciences” and “mathematics (in quotations for the sciences and mathematics were already being taught in the guru schools);” in turn students lost connection to their communities. Colony schools did not encourage students to learn the humanities, stripping indigenous people of their ability to articulate the oppression that they faced.

Along with the education system, British administrators created ethnic security maps [5]within all of their colonies including India, Nyasaland in central-southern Africa, the Gold Coast in West Africa, Tanzania and Kenya in East Africa. These maps defined the “characteristics, considered relevant for internal security and order, of the different ethnic communities within the colonial territory. The notion of martial race denoted the ethnic groups believed to produce reliable and efficient soldiers, largely based on official British reports of the natives’ presumed military capacities” (Mathieu, 1994.) Through the British East India Company, many Indians were hired for police positions in East Africa. This created an indirect ruling over Africa, using Indian people as pawns. By employing Northern Indians in higher courts within Africa, and keeping Africans separated from their own governance, the British East Indian Company was able to remain in control pinning brown and Black people against each other. This also created the idea of a spectrum of raciality. With Blackness on one end of the spectrum and whiteness on the other, Indians had to navigate where they stood, and stand in between the two. Indians were pressured into aspiring to whiteness. We saw this as early as the Aryan infiltration in Northern India, while understanding that if they didn’t assimilate into whiteness they would be Black, which was implicitly a “less desirable” attribute.

The undesirability of Blackness was not present before the Aryan presence in India. Looking at ancient texts and religion, a deeper insight is given into the context in which Blackness was glorified in the subcontinent pre-Euro colonialism. We can see this in the ancient texts of Vaishnavism, or worship of Lord Krishna. Krishna who was the god of creation and was depicted as blue representing his dark skin. Krishna was Tamil, indigenous to India, and a descendant of ancient Black Africans who migrated and brought civilization to the Indian sub-continent thousands of years ago. Krishna was referred to as the perfect man, although he is a divine being, and women surrender to him. Krishna itself means “All Attractive: A person is attractive if he possesses unlimited beauty, knowledge, strength, fame, riches or renunciation[6].”  Having the most important god represented with dark skin, reveals that the idea of whiteness as superior was not present prior to European influences on the subcontinent.

Along with the infiltration of white supremacy, British colonization brought the institution of the caste system as a form of divide and conquer. In 1901, H.H. Risley commissioned an Indian Census using caste as a primary category. The British used this census to argue the importance of caste, which soon became an important method of classification. In Risley’s words, “The principle of Indian caste is to be sought in the antipathy of the higher race for the lower, of the fair-skinned Aryan for the Black Dravidian.” Fair skin color and race became a basis for caste difference. Religious differences were seen as supportive of the entire system. “The census was then used to determine where caste groups mobilized, to support the use of segregated land and quotas for various non-Brahmin peoples and to control electoral representation, appointments to government jobs as well as entry to educational institutions” (Dirks, 2004).[7]  Colonialism created the methodology that paralleled intellect and color, which in turn created the inferiority around color. By shunning Blackness within the Indian community and dividing light and dark skinned people, there became a cultural difference that transcended from Eurocentric ideas.

The British institutionalized the Caste System, including its roots in Hinduism. Prior to the British ruling in India, colonizers such as William Jones and Edward Moor created systematic means of oppression by controlling religion and connecting caste with economic standing and color. Colonial social structures created a bureaucracy of Hinduism as a competitor to Christianity.[8] The use of religion and caste was used by the British to maintain control of India, to divide and rule independent groups using skin color as a means of determining social ranking.

My belief is that the institutionalized racism taught though colonization has carried though generations, and is now engrained into the 21st century South Asian youth. As a first generation South Asian, whose mother was born and raised in a British colony in Tanzania and father who was raised in a British colony in (Tamil) Sri Lanka, I have even facedcolorism between both sides of my family. My father, a Dravidian man, was discriminated against when my mother told her family that she wanted to marry him. They wondered why she would want to marry a dark skinned man. This dichotomy is seen in many South Asian families that live in the United States, and this colorism is seen towards Black people in the form of racism: “the only thing worse than a dark skinned Indian, is a Black person.” This is displayed in the novel, Desi’s in the House: Indian American Culture in NYC:

Lower-middle class as well as upper-middle-class youth […] who had dated African American men and struggled with parental disapproval expressed perhaps the most emotional critique of the anti-Black prejudices of immigrant parents […] [parents would tell their children] “You can’t bring a kallu [darkie] home.” [9] 

This anti-Black prejudice of South Asian immigrants was created by post-colonialism andreinforced by the Black/white spectrum of American racial formation. This is also reinforced by “historical scapegoat of African Americans by new immigrants.” Household racism has become ingrained into Indian society, both in India and in first and second-generation Indian families. Negative comments around having Black friends, to Black’s laziness opposed to Indian’s willingness to “work hard” only perpetuates the idea of the “Model Minority.” Bernadette Lim of the Harvard Crimson articulates the problematic implication of the Model Minority writing:

“Many believe that the model minority label allows me to ride on the coattails of my ethnicity, giving me a “one-up boost” ahead of others. Yet to me, the model minority myth has done nothing but strip me of my humanity […] Believing that Asian Americans are the model minority diverts attention from past and existing discrimination. The stereotype renders racial inequity for Asian Americans invisible and unimportant.”[10]

 The basis of this idea only perpetuated anti-Blackness within the South Asian community, when families actually began to believe they were superior to black people yet always inferior to white people.  Comments such as, “If we did it, if we escaped our war torn colonized lands, why can’t the Blacks do the same?” are an attempt of comparing struggle, an extremely problematic habit. This frame of mind is called the Myth of Meritocracy, or the Horatio Alger myth. Alger’s novels follow the plot line of “rags to riches” or “pulling ones self up by the bootstraps” The author celebrated capitalist markets and insisted that in the United States, any poor boy with patience and an unwavering commitment to hard work can become a dazzling success.[11] This argument aligns with Mitt Romney’s claim of working for everything he owns, that he did not inherent a penny from his (CEO) father, that he built himself up from his first bottom level job at a consulting firm. That being said, what we call the immigrant struggle, or even the so-called American Dream is simply different than the Black struggle in America. In the Black Girl Dangerous article Especially in the Wake of Ferguson, It’s Time to Destroy Anti-Blackness in the Sikh Community, writer, Mai Bhago, articulates the household racism she faced within her family during the recent Ferguson protests. Bhago writes:

[My family] countered with a variety of racist and anti-Black statements, ranging from describing Black bodies as violent, to conservative racist statements claiming that the Black community should be “satisfied” with the rights that it had. I couldn’t comprehend it. My (mostly immigrant) family had firsthand experience with police brutality and racism in India and in the U.S., as did my uncles, my extended family, and in fact, almost ALL of my community, so why the inability to comprehend the intersection of our struggles?[12]

This same idea is transcends into many other South Asian families. Instead of seeing Black people as brother and sisters, we South Asian’s alienate ourselves, just as white supremacy has taught us to do. For that, colonization lives on, in our actions and behavior.

Despite empirical evidence, South Asians tend to disregard their own discrimination. The first discrimination South Asians faced in America dates back to the 1913 Alien Land Law, which prohibited aliens from buying or owning land in the State of California. This law was discriminatory and followed the anti-Asian, Yellow peril sentiment as well as the anti-foreigner exotification of South Asians.[13] There was then the Immigration Act of 1917, which named all immigrants from Asia to be either a prostitute, if female, or a beggar, if male. The law itself states that there is restricted immigration of:

'Undesirables’ from other countries, including idiots, imbeciles, epileptics, alcoholics, poor, criminals, beggars, any person suffering attacks of insanity, those with tuberculosis, and those who have any form of dangerous contagious disease, aliens who have a physical disability that will restrict them from earning a living in the United States…, polygamists and anarchists, those who were against the organized government or those who advocated the unlawful destruction of property and those who advocated the unlawful assault of killing of any officer. Prostitutes and anyone involved in or with prostitution were also barred from entering the United States. [14]

Therefore, the US only took those who were educated. Preferably in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or math. Remember, these are the same subjects they British colony schools taught. This is what I call Brain Slaves, or as Alok Vaid-Menon put it “close enough to kneel for a white man’s dick or degree, is there a difference?” Transcending into modern, more visible racism, post 9/11 South Asians (along with Muslims and Arabs) faced tremendous discrimination. This includes numerous accounts of police brutality, civilian attacks, and micro-aggressions.

“Media images stereotyping, dark skinned, bearded males with Arabic-sounding names as representing the primary threat to the national security of the United States contribute to racial, national origin, and religious harassment in the workplace. Government selective counter-terrorism practices and policies have institutionalized a policy of discrimination against persons perceived to be Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, or South Asian on the basis of their name, race, religion, ethnicity, and national origin.”[15]

One must remember, however, that Anti-Black racism in America is structurally and lawfully different than other forms of racism in America. Because of the extreme discrimination of Black people in America starting from the Middle Passage and slavery to the current situation with Mike Brown and Eric Garner, anti-Black racism takes precedence. [16]

From the Aryan influence over the subcontinent of India, to the institutionalism of religion, to separation of indigenous peoples based on caste and color, colonization and white supremacy created what we now know as anti-Blackness in America within the South Asian community. As Mai Bhago explained, South Asian parents are busy comparing struggles without siding with Blackness against white supremacy. As she watches her father playing the “Oppression Olympics” instead of forging “our struggles collectively and be willing to make huge sacrifices for each other in the name of genuine solidarity.” She realized that he was actually resentfulof the preconceived passivity of his people, that South Asians strived for assimilation, while “Black American’s [were able] to mobilize collectively around injustice, accurately name the violence committed against them, set up memorials, establish organizations, and write and publish accounts of their own history [which] is truly phenomenal” (Bhago, 2014.) 

In order for the South Asian community to move forward we must find solidarity and peace with our black brothers and sisters. We must recognize that the regime of white supremacy is not for our benefit, that is continues to exploit our people. As a community we must remember our oppression, our enslavement, and understand that this same torture[17] is happening to our people today. Instead of dividing ourselves into categories based on skin color, economics, region, and caste, we must unite as a people; so that someday we wont have to define ourselves on a spectrum of race, always in comparison to white supremacy.


[1] “Bring in Brown to Keep Black down.” RETURN THE GAYZE. Alok Vaid-Menon, 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

[2] Kilambi, Sputnik. “Anti-African Racism in India.” Web log post. Black Agenda Report. N.p., 19 Dec. 2013. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.

[3] “Black Student Beheaded in India.” Black Student Beheaded in India. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

[4] Kumar, Dr. V. Sasi. “The Education System in India - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation.” The Education System in India - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation. N.p., 12 Dec. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

[5] Deflem, Mathieu. 1994. “Law Enforcement in British Colonial Africa: A Comparative Analysis of Imperial Policing in Nyasaland, the Gold Coast, and Kenya.” Police Studies17(1):45-68.

[6] The Color of Krishna and Allah Quoted from vedic scriptures and Al-Quran; Krishna possesses beautiful dark color; http://www.harekrsna.de/artikel/Color-of-Allah.htm

[7] Malik, Savita. The Domination of Fair Skin: Skin Whitening, Indian Women and Public Health. San Francisco State University Department of Health Education, 14 May 2007. Web. 10 Dec. 2014.

[8] Heath, Ben. “The Impact of European Colonialism on the Indian Caste System.” EInternational Relations. Swansea University, 26 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

[9] Maira, Sunaina. Desis In The House: Indian American Youth Culture In Nyc. N.p.: Temple UP, n.d. Print.

[10] Lim, Bernadette N. “I Am Not a Model Minority | Opinion | The Harvard Crimson.” I Am Not a Model Minority | Opinion | The Harvard Crimson. The Harvard Crimson, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

[11] Saracheck, B. 1978. American Entrepreneurs and the Horatio Alger Myth. Cambridge, United Kingdome. Cambridge University Press.

[12] Bhano, Mai. “Especially in the Wake of Ferguson, It’s Time to Destroy Anti-Blackness in the Sikh Community -.” Black Girl Dangerous. N.p., 3 Dec. 2014. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

[13] “Webb-Haney Alien Land Law.” Webb-Haney Alien Land Law. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

[14] United States. Cong. H.R. 10384; Pub.L. 301; 39 Stat. 874. 1917 Immigration Act (An Act to Regulate the Immigration of Aliens To, and the Residence of Aliens In, the United States). 64th Cong., II sess. Cong Res. 27-29. N.p.: Davis Tucker and Jessi Creller, n.d. Print.

[15] Aziz, Sahar F. Addressing Discrimination against Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians: Testimony before the Equal Employment Opportunity CommissionSocial Science Research Network. Texas A&M School of Law, 18 July 2012. Web. 12 Dec. 2014.

[16] Tran, Kim. “Anti-black Racism.” Ethnic Studies 41AC Discussion. University of California Berkeley, Berkeley. 4 Dec. 2014. Lecture.

[17] “How the CIA Tortured Its Detainees.” The Guardian. N.p., 9 Dec. 2014. Web.

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