Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Asian-British Racism Towards Blacks: The Racism We Don't Talk About Much

I read about the Bradford boy who stabbed his teacher last week, but it was only a few days ago that I learnt that the teacher was Black, a man of Nigerian origin. It was hinted in one of the headlines that appeared on my facebook feeds that race was involved, which prompted me to assume that the boy was White (yes, I know!). The boy had called the teacher the N-word. This assumption in turn prompted me to lose further interest in the story: sick and tired of hearing how evil White people. And yesterday, I discovered that the boy was of Pakistani origin.

Virulent racism on the part of British Asians towards British Blacks is pervasive, yet it is never talked about. I don't think that there is a single Black person in Britain who can say they have never had to deal with that kind of racism. The third place I lived in Britain was Southall. Like Bradford, and nearly as famous for this reason, this part of West London has a large Asian community. Through an agency, I worked as a refuse and recycling operative in not just Southall, but the rest of Ealing and also the neighbouring Hillingdon, Hounslow and Richmond Boroughs. It was Hounslow that I made my home for the longest before heading up north to Middlesbrough. But, I digress.

Staying in Southall brought me face to face with Asians. They did not come as a homogenous entity. There were Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims. There was also a group of Asians who felt an affinity towards Africans- even when they did not feel the same way about West Indians-because they too had come from Africa. These were the ones who fled Idi Amin's xenophobia. Many of them spoke KiSwahili.

There were Black communities in Southall. The West Indians had been there for a while. It was here that the band Misty-In-Roots was formed. Zimbabweans may recall their rendition of Ishe Komborera Afrika/Nkosi Sikelela Afrika and the much-played (overplayed, some would say) Own Them Control Them and Wondering Wanderer. Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah,OBE is also from Southall. However, the most visible Black people on the streets of Southall during the time I lived there were Somalis. The picture above, according to the caption on several sites, is that of an Asian convert to the Rastafari Faith, married to a man of West Indian origin, from Birmingham.

I think the first indication of a racial animosity I noticed was using public transport. There seemed to be clearly defined rules about who to sit next to and who to shun, even if it meant standing on the 207 all the way to Central London. I recall one time I was on the 195 from Shepherd's Bush and this Asian girl got on near Perivale and planted herself next to me. She said hello, and I responded unenthusiastically. This was just before the mobile phones that doubled as a media player, so you could not shut out unwanted conversation by wearing headphones. "They don't want to sit next to you because you are Black!" she said, loud enough for the entire bus to hear. "I know my people and how they think, and I am sick of it!" I asked her why she had sat next to me then, and she responded, "I was born here. This is a multiracial society, we are all people, but that lot makes me so mad!"

This leads us to girls. Asian chaps are notorious cock blocks. Try chatting up an Asian girl, and you could have a riot on the street. I saw one couple, the man was White, being harassed at a bus stop on South Rd. The men were asking her why she was shaming the community by being with a White man. I know a woman whose sister lives in hiding because her brothers want to kill her for marrying a Black man. A friend, a Zimbabwean, told me he was in a cab in Leicester(driven by an Asian chap) with an Asian girl he had met in club. The two Asians had an exchange in Urdu. Next thing, the agitated girl texts him: He is calling a lot of men to beat you up. My friend texts some of the other lads, and they call the police. Sure enough, his street is swarming with taxi cabs, but the police have also turned up. God knows what would have happened.

I did not realise how serious the situation is until I fancied an Asian girl myself. We met in secret, travelling to parts of London where she was unlikely to be recognised. I found this very difficult. Where I am from, only the local slapper gets to be treated like the dirty little secret she is, and she was certainly not the local slapper. So, I ended the relationship. I did go for a meal with an Asian girl, in broad daylight. The first people to feel that it was their business was a couple of Black Zimbabwean girls, who wondered why I was chasing chapatti when there was plenty of sadza in West London. When I saw her to the bus stop, an Asian man approached me and asked me if I knew what sort of Asian she was (i.e. Hindu, Muslim etc) and what her family name was.

These guys are serious with their disapproval. I saw a chat once where one guy bragged about how he and 14 others beat a Black kid to an inch of his life for "pestering" an Asian girl. This is not something to be proud of, and doesn't help the public image of Asian men, especially here in England, where it has taken a serious battering. As a commentator on the story of the Bradford teacher who got stabbed noted, in addition to being terrorists now young Asian men have to add racist to the stereotype. But, fact is they are not doing themselves any favours.

OK, to lighten up a serious matter, here's Macka-B.....

Asians have never made a pretence of their opposition to interracial relationships. The media is awash with allusions or even outright references. Who can forget Jess in Bend It Like Beckham (2002) in the changing room scene?

Teammate: Are you promised to someone?
Jess: Nah. My sister's getting married. It's a love match.
Mel: What's that mean?
Jess: It's not arranged.
Teammate: So, could you choose a white boy?
Jess: White, no, black, definitely not, a Muslim, eh-eh!

In another film, a made for TV drama whose title I forget, an Asian girl tells her father that she is dating a Christian. But it's worse....he's Black. He asks her if she is still a virgin. Her silence is answer enough and he smacks her. "We give you freedom and this is what you do?" he fumes. Later, she realises this whole integration thing is not really working for her and she becomes a suicide bomber. That has to be the worst cock block propaganda accorded the dignity of a topical British TV drama: Don't give your daughter freedom, she will have sex with a Black man and be so full of remorse that she will run off to become a terrorist.

To be fair, Black media has been known to present a very racist view of romantic relationships between Blacks and Whites. The Nollywood film White Hunters, which follows the desperate quest of some Nigerian women to bag a White man sees them having to contend with among others, a particularly disgusting Indian chap who smelled of garlic and spat everywhere. The message is: get that prize, ladies, don't settle for less e.g an Indian man.

Hostile attitudes towards Black people extend to the social and economic sphere as well. Bad customer service, ranging from condescending to outright rude. Many Black people shudder if the person at a desk is Black. I remember this one incident, when I worked in landscaping, I asked one of our clients if I could use the bathroom. The embarrassment of standing there, my bladder about to burst, while I was referred by an Asian lady to her Asian boss only to have him begin a lengthy explanation about insurance and how because of this he could not let me use the bathroom. I just walked out. The English lads in the next unit simply pointed to where the toilet was.

Religion too, has been tainted by racism. I befriended a Muslim West African who was recently arrived in Southall. He asked me where the nearest mosque was, so I did. A couple of weeks later, he had come to the conclusion that what he had been taught back in Ghana- that Muslims everywhere are brothers- was simply not true. Another Muslim friend, who had mastered Urdu, was able to listen in on the racist pejoratives from fellow Muslims.

And don't get me started on the landlords.

With all this happening in the United Kingdom, why is there little debate on pervasive Asian racism? Several explanations can be thrown up: focus is always on White racism against Black people and other racial groups. In fact, this should make us- Black people and Asians- allies. In several instances, it has. But not always. It is the not-always that glaringly comes home when a pupil of Asian origin calls a teacher of African origin a ni***r and stabs him in the stomach.

Another reason is that for all these examples of unpleasant personal experiences, there are many more that paint a picture of Asians who accept and embrace diversity. In a BBC Asian Network Radio discussion hosted by Nihal Arthanayake, a Sikh woman phoned in to say that she had married a West African man and taken him to the Punjab to meet her extended family. Apparently, he was a huge hit there. All of the Asian people I know, from the ones I went to school with back in Zimbabwe, people I have worked with etc, are nothing like this image of a bigotry that we normally associate with White (and, let's not deny, Black) Supremacists. These are people that represent the spectrum of what is called "Asian" in the UK, If any of them are faking it, they deserve several Oscars.

There is a dimension to the issue of Asian racism towards Blacks that I think the media ignores. Yet, this is the one crucial factor that is behind that same racist thinking.
By this I mean...

How come we never discuss caste and its power to shape Asian society? It is one of the most pervasive influences, transcending the diverse cultures from the sub-continent. The roots of the caste system are in Hinduism, but it is prevalent in Sikhism, Islam and Christianity. These latter religions, while critical of this aspect of Hinduism have not successfully shed themselves of its influence. For instance, the family name "Singh" was adopted by many Sikhs as a way of binding the community and transcend caste. However, in the UK, many Sikhs are reverting to names like Gill or Dhillon, which would reveal caste.

I have seen many instances of caste discrimination. I recall one shocking incident in Southall, where a shopkeeper was particularly rude to a customer. I protested. "Oh, she's low-caste!" the shopkeeper explained to me. I was so stunned, I simply walked out of the shop.

Yet, for all of this, caste remains ignored in the debate about race-relations in the UK. Government studies are unable to say how bad it is or even if the problem is getting better or worse. The law itself is practically in lacunae about caste-based discrimination, although it is being reported that there are plans to amend the legislation already in place. In the meantime, thousands of British people are subject to degradation and dehumanisation at the hands of fellow Asians. This includes even employment discrimination.

Does caste have a part to play in shaping the ideas some Asians have about Black people? I could not find any studies on the subject, but I think a look at the caste system itself in the Asian context is revealing. The higher castes can be readily identified by their light-skin, while the lowest are dark. Indeed, the Sub-Continent is dealing with a lot of issues about skin shade, and the association with certain shades with idealised beauty and the others with ugliness. It is a logical conclusion that this sort of association, pervading as it does popular Asian culture, influences how Asians look at all dark-skinned people. Let me hasten to say that this is not a view that Asians have always had. कण्‍व Kanva, who composed some of the hymns of the Rig Veda is described as dark-skinned. Many scholars now agree that British colonialism may have had a hand to play in setting in stone the idea that skin-shade determines how much a person should be regarded as human. Whatever the case, the fact remains that Asian culture needs to confront itself, especially in our global village.

I cannot understand why the caste system is not discussed or confronted in public debate. Yet, it is integral towards understanding incidents such as the stabbing of this teacher, or the widespread rape of girls in India. (according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, four Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched every day. The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights reports that over 67% of Dalit women have faced some form of sexual violence.) It may also be integral towards understanding the incidents in the UK of Asian racism against Black people.

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