Indians are being held up as a model minority. That’s not helping the Black Lives Matter movement

A protester holds up a poster during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in 
London on June 21.

London (CNN)”White silence is violence.” It’s a simple but powerful message shouted at Black Lives Matter protests around the world, and it marks a major shift in expectations: it’s no longer OK to just not be racist, you have to be vocally anti-racist. If you’re not, you’re part of the problem.But what about brown silence? Just as people are being told to acknowledge their White privilege, calls are growing louder for South Asian diasporas, particularly Indians, in the UK, US and Canada to check their brown privilege and speak out against anti-Black racism.

This tension has arisen in part because some Asian groups are still being held up as “model minorities,” celebrated for achieving higher levels of socio-economic success than others, often even the White majority. It’s an old tactic that has proven to cause more harm than good, but it’s one that is still very much in use.The problem with the practice is that it pits ethnic minority groups, which could otherwise be allies, against each other. It perpetuates stereotypes in and outside the group and, worst of all, it gives governments, companies and institutions of power a mask for their own systemic racism. It completely ignores the fact that one minority group may face very different challenges or levels of racism than another.

Many British media reports have pointed to the Indian diaspora’s success in the country: British-Indian graduates in England and Wales, on average, earn more than most other ethnic minority groups, even slightly more than the White majority, government data shows. They achieve better results in primary and high school than the White majority, often second only to British-Chinese students. And they are arrested less often than White people. Black people, on the other hand, earn less than most other groups after graduating, achieve among the lowest levels in primary and high school, and are over three times more likely to be arrested than White people. Similar trends have been noted in the US and Canada.There are many ways to digest this kind of data. Some look at it as a clear sign more needs to be done to tackle structural racism and close the gap, but all too often, it is used to congratulate those who have found success, and shame those who haven’t.Take UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Cabinet of ministers, for example, which he has touted as the country’s most diverse in history. But really, a look at its makeup shows it’s simply the most Indian Cabinet, with three ministers of Indian descent. The tension that has created was brought to the fore in parliament earlier this month, when Home Minister Priti Patel, who has Indian origins, dismissed Black opposition MP Florence Eshalomi, who was complaining the ruling Conservative government was not taking structural racism seriously. 

Patel’s response was defensive and aggressive, arguing she too had suffered racism so “will not take lectures” on the issue. It was her way of saying that because she had been the victim of racism, she could not possibly be ignorant of the problems Black British people face.Joan Doe, a Black high school teacher from London, said she found Patel’s response frustrating. She also said the Prime Minister’s recent appointment of Munira Mirza to lead another diversity review in the country was problematic. Doe says her problem isn’t so much that Mirza is of Pakistani origins, more that she is known to argue that structural racism doesn’t exist, as she has written in several articles for the right-wing publication Spiked.”They think they can just put a brown face to the problem and it will go away. And it’s always a Brown face that’s not too dark, not too light, so they can say they are representing ethnic minority groups,” Doe told CNN.She said that there was an issue in pooling all ethnic minorities under terms like BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) and POC (People of Color). “We all get banded together, and that just says that because you’re not White, you must all have similar experiences and therefore must have similar outcomes, which is just completely untrue,” Doe said.

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