On July 31st, Beyoncé released “Black Is King,” the visual companion to her 2019 album “The Lion King: The Gift.”
As many of us quickly hurried to create a Disney plus account, or more realistically, start a 7-day trial -- it was amazing to observe the work of art which catered to a Black audience and the Black experience, that is far too often overlooked.
Soon after, Twitter and Instagram were abuzz, highlighting the different elements included in the visual album, like the presence of U.K.based model Sheerah Ravindren, who was featured in the visual for the song “Brown Skin Girl.”
Sheerah is Tamil, which is important to note considering the erasure of this identity in many Instagram posts and Tweets that discussed her appearance.
As mentioned by Sheerah on Instagram, “Tamils are one of the South Asian groups who are massively underrepresented and marginalised.”
For this reason in particular, it was incredibly special and culturally significant for a Tamil person to be included in mainstream art.
Sheerah took to Twitter to express her gratitude for Black womxn, stating that “it's because of the Black Community, especially Black Womxn that me & so many other South Asians are allowed to be proud & unapologetic in our melanin.”
It is unfortunate, but the truth, as highlighted by Sheerah, is that South Asian film industries purposely exclude dark-skinned people, reinforcing white supremacist beauty ideals. This is also shown in our local South Asian creative industries, that continuously use white or fair skin models as inspiration.
For this reason, we as South Asians must amplify the importance of solidarity with the Black community, while undoing anti-black racism within our own community.
How are we as South Asians supporting marginalized groups that fall under the label of South Asian?
We need to interrogate internalized caste and power relations while simultaneously addressing the lack of communication and care for marginalized South Asian groups globally, including the Tamil community, as Sheerah has pointed out.
The South Asian diaspora, like many minority communities, has been homogenized due to a lack of cultural awareness. An example of this is immediately labelling Sheerah as “Indian” or solely “South Asian” without acknowledging her Tamil identity.
This type of homogenization contributes to othering and erasure.
It is important to shine a light on the complexity of identities within the diaspora, and acknowledge the multiple relationships at play.
This is why when discussing Sheerah’s appearance in Brown Skin Girl, it is crucial to acknowledge and celebrate her identity as Tamil.
The journey for true equity and social justice requires constant learning and unlearning, which is why we must engage in critical discussions about the current representations of our communities so we can do better.
*Due to the complex relationship that Tamil people have with the state of Sri Lanka, that has performed mass genocide towards thousands of Tamil folk, many do not identify as Sri Lankan.