British South Asians Speak Out About Anti-Black Racism Within Their Communities

Michelle Martin
Reza Malik et al. holding a sign posing for the camera: Adil Sheikh and a friend, from east London, at a Black Lives Matter protest from Parliament Square to Downing Street in June© Adil Adil Sheikh and a friend, from east London, at a Black Lives Matter protest from Parliament Square to Downing Street in June

“Anti-Blackness is in our history and customs through wealth, inequality and casteism, colourism and, later, colonialism.”

Journalist Sharan Dhaliwal is discussing anti-Black racism within south Asian communities in the UK – particularly in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has gained momentum during 2020 fuelled by police violence towards Black people.

“There has still been solidarity,” Dhaliwal told HuffPost UK. “But there have been many noticeable moments of anti-Blackness, whether it’s the N-word, microaggressions using Black vernacular or profiting off Black creativity.”

It is 43 years this week since the Race Relations Act became law in the UK, largely thanks to the efforts of Black campaigners.

The act finally gave some limited protection to Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people who faced discrimination in employment, the provision of goods and services, education and public functions.

But just as it failed to prevent systemic racism by white people, it also failed to prevent Afriphobia among other ethnic groups, too.

“It can be seen across many white and non-white people of colour communities,” said Dhaliwal. “Within the south Asian [community] I am in, I have seen it a lot.”

Dhaliwal is not alone in calling this out: British south Asians have stood side-by-side with anti-racist protesters of all backgrounds, as well as writing frankly about addressing their own internalised anti-Black racism. And people with south Asian heritage are, of course, victims of white supremacy too.

Colonial systems

Afriphobia within south Asian communities likely has its origins in the colonial system in Africa.

Africa’s then white colonial rulers placed themselves at the top of the social system, with south Asian workers serving as a buffer for commerce and administration. It was a deliberate move by the hierarchy to divide and conquer. South Asians placed in Africa were also given land and a large share of commercial trade in east Africa.

In 1963 Kenya gained independence from the UK, and the ruling African majority gave Asians two years to acquire Kenyan citizenship.

Fewer than 20,000 submitted before the deadline, fuelling growing animosity and distrust from Africans, who considered them to be disloyal. A policy of “Africanisation” was introduced and many Asians were sacked from their jobs and replaced by Africans.

The introduction of the Kenyan Immigration act required Asians to obtain work permits, while the Trade Licensing Act limited the areas in which Asians could trade. Many left Kenya and resettled in the UK.

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