Indians are black too.


Whenever I suggest this I’m often met with looks of confusion and I’m generally not taken very seriously, cue the question: “How can Indians be black? We’re brown.”

For a long time, I wasn’t aware that anyone who isn’t white is automatically classed as black – politically speaking. This includes south Asians, east Asians, south Americans, native Americans, Africans, Caribbeans, people of mixed heritage etc. It’s a large and problematic umbrella term, especially when people are trying to balance an ethnic heritage with a national identity. 

“Why does this even matter to us in this day and age? Things aren’t as bad as they were when the first bunch of immigrants came over and made a life for themselves! Be glad you’re here, because back in your motherland things are so much more worse.” These are just a few of the blindingly ignorant statements that I hear whenever I try to discuss my ethnic heritage in a British space – it’s dismissed and not taken into account. For a long time I thought that I was the only person who thought about this sort of thing, but thanks to the hashtag #NotYourAsianSidekick I soon discovered that there were millions of Asians around the world who felt the same way that I do and have done for many years. 

Last month I wrote a post about where I’m from and how much of an impact it had on how I view myself today. I was one of a handful of south Asian girls in my secondary school; it got quite lonely sometimes and I didn’t really fit in anywhere. Whenever a teacher mentioned something about “Hindoooism” or “Indiaaa” (yes that’s how they pronounced it) I was met with a sea of ignorant eyes expecting me to come out with richly embroidered tales of how my family rode elephants in India, a never ending plethora of knowledge about India and Indian culture. They’d ask me if I knew the waiters at their local Indian restaurant, if I could speak “Indian” to them and if I preferred India to Britain – despite the fact that I’m British, have never been to India and have  3-4 generations of my family in East Africa.

But the icing on the cake was when Black History Month (BHM) rolled around. Every October, for a month, we learnt and celebrated the achievements of notable black people who’d made a difference in the world. Or perhaps I should say, the white world. I find BHM slightly problematic: on one hand it’s great to see the achievements of black people being celebrated and recognised. However, one month a year is pathetic considering Britain’s history and relationship with many previously colonised nations. Photos of Nelson Mandela, Dr Martin L King, Rosa Parks, Mary Seacole and Malcolm X were splashed out on display boards with their inspiring actions in captions underneath for all to read. So far so good, these are people that I personally look to for inspiration, but I couldn’t see anyone whom I could relate to. Was I not a part of BHM because I wasn’t African or Caribbean? I definitely wasn’t white so where did I fit in? I didn’t understand why there weren’t any Asians being featured in BHM – should there have been an Asian History Month?

I didn’t get it for a long time, my roots hail from the Punjab and Punjabis are fiercely proud of their history and heritage. I grew up on stories about the bravery of Mai Bhago, the strength of Bhagat Singh and seeing countless images of women being empowered in my religion. Yet no one else seemed to realise this; to the outsider we were just a group of people who stood in a quiet limbo, wanting to get on with our lives and put up with everyday discrimination. 

It wasn’t until my final year of university where I studied modules that focused on literature written by black British writers that things suddenly began to make sense. It was like I’d found a missing jigsaw piece and something had clicked. Indians are black, at least in accordance to the political definition at the start of this post. At one point we were even called “niggers” and “coons” because they had lumped non-whites into the same group. Obviously nowadays, there are options for you to pick with regards to your ethnic heritage. 

Asians deserve to have their achievements, their heritage, their history and their culture celebrated in the same way that we revere the actions of Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Dr ML King etc. Asian history, heritage and culture matters just as much as any other culture in the world because it is about people and how humans choose to record their experiences of life. We are a part of post-colonialism’s continuing story and a big part of that is acknowledging different histories, groups of people, their cultures and what they have to offer to the world. 

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9 thoughts on “Indians are black too.

  1. Being a big Wrestling(real wrestling),Martial Arts,& Exercise buf I have researched some history of India as I found the story of the Great Gama interesting as I researched I found such a wealth of so much history,knowledge ,& courage in India that the world is rarely exposed 2 its like the world has been brainwashed that all heroes & history must contain a White Rich Man(See everything Christianity has ever touched absorbed then ruined)….guess we can thank the filthy,diseased, slaves 2 hierarchy the British for that.

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    • Thanks for reading my post Charles and I agree! Dara Singh is also another notable south Asian wrestler you may want to look into.
      And absolutely, Asia and Africa are beautiful continents full of colour, richness and life that the West is completely unaware of which is a terrible shame. I can only hope that more people decide to read beyond newspaper headlines and see for themselves what it’s really like. xx

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  2. Celebrating achievements of Asian people should be a continuous activity and maybe not just for a month, however as a starter for 10, small steps, run it for a month. The publication of such a thing should span areas of politics, education, sport, community work and business. Not only should it touch upon events past but also here and now, I think the younger generation need role models closer to heart, people who have dealt with the barriers posed in today’s time and achieve what they have.
    I can see a nee project on the horizon for a certain someone…

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  3. My problem with ethnicity and the term “white”, etc comes from the fact that such terms are extremely suggestive. In the United States, white was really exclusively only for those of Nordic appearance, and it really still is that way. What gets on my skin the most though is the term “Caucasian” being used. First, Caucasian literally means anyone with Indo-European heritage. Second, real Caucasians come from the Caucasus.

    Plus, views on ethnicity vary by country to country, and by person to person. I’m pretty sure if you ask the average American, they’d have a different view on race than say, a Brazilian, Korean, or a Nigerian. It’s all subjective, and I don’t care much about ethnic identity anymore.

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    • Thank you for reading my blog Hans. Whilst I agree with some of the points that you make, the post itself was written with regards to a British perspective on how racial, ethnic and national identity is currently viewed here. I agree that views on ethnicity vary depending on where you go in the world.
      This is the problem with categorising people based on facial features, skin colours, hair types etc – it’s all subjective and unfortunately the “one size fits all” technique currently used in the UK is not accommodating enough. I do hope that it changes one day with enough people being made aware of it.
      I respect your opinion on not caring about ethnicity; many don’t as they view it as a tedious topic that is ‘over-done.’ However, it’s an important discussion that needs to be spoken about because it’s about humans and how we choose to identify ourselves. It’s also important with regards to PoC’s experience in the countries that they are born in and live in – if their cultures are not recognised, one cannot expect a successful integration into mainstream society.

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  4. From your write-up I pick up the ignorance that many people continue to have about Asians despite being in touch with them in their everyday lives for so many generations. Liked your blog and views.

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    • Thanks for reading my blog and your comment. Agreed, the level of ignorance is unbelievable at times – it just shows how dangerous ignorance is.
      Hopefully in the future, Asians will be able to assert themselves and continue to build on the successes we’ve already achieved. 🙂

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  5. Pingback: Anti-Blackness and the South Asian Diaspora | Avid Scribbler

  6. Pingback: Anti-Blackness and the South Asian Diaspora | DIASPORA

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