Dear Brown People: Stop Saying the n-word, Start Saying Black Lives Matter

It isn’t my place to speak for black people, but I believe it is my responsibility to ensure that I am an ally and confront the wrongs in my own community. This article is for brown [read: South Asian] people who have likely grown up in similar scenarios as those I have faced in my family and community. We profit so much from black culture and black resistance, and never take the time to acknowledge and understand this. It’s our duty to advocate for our brothers and sisters, and correct our actions and the actions of those around us when micro and macro-aggressions occur.

With that said, it’s time to stop saying the n-word, and start saying black lives matter.

Now, I’m not excused from any of this racial fuckery. I used to say the n-word. I rapped it. I sang it. I spoke about how its use by coloured people was okay. I know, I know. I was shit, okay? The key phrase here is “I used to”. The person I was greatly participated in micro and macro-aggressions  in the past, but I’ve been educating myself about my wrongs, and have been working to correct them for a while. The beautiful thing is that we can all learn to be better to one another.

Data from the 2011 NHS survey: 49.1% of Toronto's population is a visible minority, or part of the indigenous population.
Data from the 2011 NHS survey: 49.1% of Toronto’s population is a visible minority, or part of the indigenous population.

Being an ally to all POC is a never-ending process, but the self-reflection, advocacy, listening and learning can help us inspire change at a grassroots level. Be there for blackness like blackness has been for you. Start with the n-word.

I grew up in a diverse area of Toronto. This meant that I was constantly around people who shared my skin colour. Our melanin gave us something in common. It meant we weren’t white, and didn’t experience the same level of privilege.  Now, being brown amidst the whiteness of North America means a number of things:

  1. You will never quite “belong“.
  2. You will “belong” more than other POC.
  3. You fit in with the model minority myth.
  4. Your brownness will be held above blackness.

While each of these points work in tandem to promote white power, I’m mostly concerned with the last one. Many of the South Asians I know succumb to the racism we’ve been taught through whiteness. In an effort to fit in with the model minority myth, we are quick to shit on black people, even while we participate in and consume black culture. Let me give you an example of my own shittiness. (Please bear in mind that God’s been working on me ever since!)

I once created a Facebook event for my friends. I crafted a witty event description with all of the necessary details – but that description came complete with Biggie lyrics that used the n-word. None of my invitees thought it odd, until one of my black girlfriends saw it. She immediately told me not to use it. Here’s where I get shittier.

I said no. I said that I didn’t think it was a problem because:

  • “They were just lyrics!”
  • “I understand your struggle! We’re both discriminated against!”
  • “No one else is offended!”

How messed up was that? How much privilege did I display? How oppressive was I? I didn’t talk to a single black person when trying to understand why my position wasn’t okay. Instead, other people of colour and white people helped convince me that I was never in the wrong. While engaging with black culture (Biggie), I neglected to respect black people. I oppressed my friend further, thus becoming a part of the whiteness that I should have been acting against. Deleting the lyric to make my friend feel more comfortable wouldn’t have been a difficult thing to do at all!

Although I removed the lyric in the end, I did so grudgingly, without understanding the need for real allyship and solidarity. This article is a direct result of my micro-aggression and need to apologize for it. Thank you my friends, for helping me learn to be better, and not letting go of me in the process. I’m sorry for every instance in which I’ve done you wrong,  and hope that I can continue to overcome any and all of my oppressive behaviour.

South Asian Black solidarity.jpg
Alliance of South Asians Taking Action members stand in solidarity with the #blacklivesmatter movement. 

Brown people need to realize that we are guests to black culture, and need to respect it and understand our place within it. Whiteness pits POC against one another; we are entered into a hierarchical system where we all come after the whiteness at the top. When we, brown people, don’t work to stand up for or support black lives, we align with the oppressor, and work against the people who fought for our right to belong here on a “politically equal” playing field. Whiteness doesn’t give a shit about people of colour. Why do we work so hard to gain acceptance from it? We constantly put down other POC and stereotype them to bring our own culture closer to whiteness, but the truth is we don’t need it. Instead, our own means to success should revolve around supporting one another to break free of whiteness and the internalized hatred of self that it brings.

Whether it’s you, your friends, or your family, anti-blackness needs to be spoken against and challenged.

The n-word is not our word. We did not endure the suffering that black bodies have been through to be here. We don’t get to reclaim it. Instead, we can show our support for blackness and black culture by speaking up against inequality, and participating in black healing when we are welcomed. We need to be allies and confront our own racism. Whether it’s you, your friends, or your family, anti-blackness needs to be spoken out against and challenged. When POC work together, we can begin to dismantle the oppressive whiteness around us, and additionally participate in healing and decolonization of self.

We must actively make an effort to confront the racism in our own communities. This is a never-ending process – trust me, I’m still working on it. Start with simple changes and actions, and build up from there.

Stop saying the n-word. Start saying black lives matter.

 

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