Upon recommendations from The Juggernaut and writer Fariha Róisín, I recently watched the 1991 Mira Nair hit “Mississippi Masala” featuring the sublime Sarita Choudhury and dashing Denzel Washington.
It’s a movie that depicts anti-Blackness with a timeline of historical events weaving through the love story between Meena (Choudhury) and Demetrius (Washington), and there’s a series of influential moments caught on-screen.
From former Ugandan President Idi Amin’s expulsion of over 50000 South Asians from Uganda, which caused racial tension and upheaval, to the hierarchy of those in “white America” who even as South Asian immigrants look down on Black people—the film covered a lot of ground. Particularly, it depicted how South Asians could be in working relationships with Black people, but forget about long-term friendships or (shock, horror,) even love!
The storyline centers on the pair’s interracial relationship in America’s deep South and the friction it causes between their minority groups. Meena’s parents are forthright with their unjust views, even though they had Black friends in Uganda who were as close as family. Her mother exclaims, “You call this love? When all you’ve done is bring such shame on our heads?”
Demetrius (Washington) further exposes the truth of their feelings, “You think I ain’t good enough for your daughter, is that it?”
The brown community unravels upon finding out about their romance and it’s something of an all too familiar taboo that plays out on screen and seeps into real life. Back then, and even now in this day and age.
From colourism, to biases against Black people and especially romantic Black partners, the use of racial slurs, blackface in old Bollywood movies, and the hierarchy of the caste-system—these have all contributed to how anti-Blackness in South Asian culture is perpetuated.
It has ultimately been taught to us since childhood. God forbid you were caught sunbathing, it wasn’t out of the norm for parents to yell “Don’t go out, you’ll turn black!”
Light-skinned women are deemed as more desirable in Bollywood overall, and those who aren’t are often depicted as poorer characters and given less screen time as the “kalli” (Black woman).
As a cruel Auntie points out in Mississipi Masala “You can be dark and have money, or you can be fair and have no money, but you can’t be dark and have no money,” which is a perfect example of power dynamics solely based on skin tone.
With an ongoing theme in our culture that the darker you are, the less “worthy” you are, the direct impact is detrimental behaviors towards the Black community.
I’ve heard the “casual” use of the N word flitted around with abandon, both before and after the 2020 BLM events during gatherings. I’ve seen the hijacking of Black culture— where it’s OK to play Tupac and Biggie, act like you’re “from the streets” (when really, your Mum has paranthe ready for you the minute you’re home!), wear Black-inspired attire such as large chains, caps and baggy sweats and have exactly zero Black friends or support towards the community.
It’s been taught to us that “Blackness” is lesser than, and it’s up to us to reject this narrative with real action. Stop appropriating; start appreciating. Become more aware and intentional. The core of anti-Blackness stems from colonialism and white supremacy which also extends to every other race that isn’t white.
Understanding our own biases and overcoming them to align with our Black community to become allies rather than continuing to oppress them is key, and disregarding what we’ve been taught too. It can be more difficult to change the ways of thinking and beliefs of the older generations who are stuck in their ways, but we can certainly make that change for ourselves.
Watching media that allows us to reflect is one thing, but taking impactful steps towards change is quite another. I recommend everyone to read “Do Better” by racial justice educator, activist and healer, Rachel Ricketts. It’s an eye-opening guidebook to dismantling anti-Blackness and racism to essentially, be better and do better.
We won’t always get it right, but making the effort to get educated and learn the best ways to tackle this issue means moving in the right direction for us all.
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Avneet TakharMore by Avneet Takhar
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