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Going Beyond the Racial Justice Binary – Ankita Bharadwaj

WHEN I FIRST LANDED in America in 2015, I hoped for a more liberal and free life for myself. I thought it had to be better than India. After all, they call this the land of the free. I was wrong. A few weeks after my arrival I was called a “sand n*” on State Street and a “free-loader” on campus. A year after my arrival, I was subjected to unequal standards at my co-op by being assigned more house chores while I was recovering from a hip fracture. When I obviously failed to do them, I was “voted out” by a house full of white people where I was the only person of color and an immigrant. Later I was “voted in” at another co-op. I thought my life had to get better. After all, how much hate can one receive? I was wrong again.


Within five years of my arrival, I’d twice been subjected to housing insecurity by white majority systems who claimed to house low-income, marginalized folks on their tax forms. Add verbal assaults on the streets and on campus to that. And in 2020, while America burned for racial justice and called for radical change, the same co-op system quietly found ways to discontinue housing for the Nepalis and the Indians, the Hindustanis or people from the country India, that lived there. What followed for me and others was immediate homelessness. But it wasn’t before I was told by advocates of “community policing” that I should put my body between the cops and a now convicted abuser, when they came to arrest him, that I realized the movement has gotten this all wrong. They said this after knowing full well that this person had also beaten up South Asians in a bar after insulting Islam. He was charged with a hate crime, which was later dropped by the
court in exchange for a less serious felony charge of disorderly conduct. The harm on those folks was downplayed. Asian hate was not only taken seriously but a precedent was set for future cases like this one.

I am telling you all this for two reasons.

The first is that I want you to see America from the eyes of a South Asian person, a perspective that desperately needs more visibility. Second, so that you can see how the current system, as well as the systems that “leftist radicals” are proposing, do not work. This is obvious from the fact that co-op living, which is often called a “radical pushback against Capitalism” embarrassingly fails in the face of real and inclusive racial justice. It allows and gets away with violence against those of us who are often left out in the “Great Western Racial Justice Movement.” This is also evident from the fact that brown Asian immigrant lives matter less as we are often expected to give more than we receive. Expecting me to put my body and my life on the line to protect a domestic abuser and a person who beat up my brown South Asian
brothers for their color and religion is not only reprehensible, but also hangs those of us out who do not fit the narrative, out to dry. But what narrative am I talking about? Emma Dabiri, a Nigerian-Irish Lecturer in the UK who holds in her book “What People Can Do Next” said in an interview with Time that “When you go back to the roots of it all, you see that the same system that is putting our environment under threat is the same system that gave us the racialized hierarchy, the
idea of a white race, a Black race, and everything in between.” She is right. This narrative centers whiteness as some sort of a yard stick to compare oppressions of non-white folks, and it definitely pits non-white folks against each other. And while I refuse to fall prey to this narrative, I have painfully acknowledged that people around me might. I want to emphasize that race is a social construct with political and economical implications and has nothing to do with the physics behind chromatics. We are people. Not electromagnetic waves. Comparing oppressions is white supremacy.

Sadly, this narrative is what drives the Western efforts towards racial justice. I have seen white folks who marched for Black Lives stay silent on Asian hate crimes. I have seen white socialists who marched for AbolishIce lecture immigrant Asians how we do not belong in the movement. I have seen white leftists call Asians “privileged” as they ironically group us together as a homogeneous group of people, while conveniently forgetting their own. Recently when some Asian students were at the receiving end of hate crimes, Madison’s supposedly leftist news outlet refused to write about it. The
reason cited to me was, “We cannot believe the police reports.” The only way they could write about it was if the students came forward to talk about it while making themselves vulnerable by exposing themselves, or if a video of the incident went viral. Both options are not only unreasonable but also puts the onus of proving the hate crime on the victims, ie. the Asians. Western leftists preach that victims should be believed and protected. The irony was not lost on me. This also showcases that Western leftists fetishize opposition to the police system.

A famous diversity and inclusion author, Robin DiAngelo, has contributed much to raise awareness about subtle and overt racism. She even coined the word “white fragility” to describe the defensiveness that white people resort to when held accountable. If you read her work and watch her talks and interviews, you will see a race-conscious and woke white
person using her privilege to educate other white people. But if you go deeper, you’d see a white person defining race as she sees it. She centers her experiences and her narrative. She further portrays race as a binary concept: Black and white. She dives deep into police brutality on Black folks while conveniently forgetting about more numerous Native murders
as she stands on stolen native land. Yes, I know I told you I won’t compare oppressions. But this repetitive narrative makes
me wonder, why is this propaganda propagated all over the West? Why is the left so insistent on creating a binary racial discourse? Why is there so much emphasis on creating a color “spectrum” that centers whiteness? I firmly believe it is because whiteness has committed so many crimes against humanity that it cannot bear the burden of dealing with
all of the intense resultant trauma caused. I also believe that the sheer number of atrocities whiteness has caused and continues to cause makes one resort to the comfort of self-righteous Marxist or a leftist ideologies. It drives whiteness to paint a narrative that suits its self-preserving agenda. After all, Karl Marx was a rich white man who had the luxury to
be heard and seen. He has the opulence to be revered as an anti-capitalist hero by modern leftist wokes, even after his death.

The real tragedy of the “Great Western Racial Justice Movement” is that major racial justice movements have been found around Marx’s philosophy. The West reveres a man who famously said, “Is it a misfortune that magnificent California was seized from the lazy Mexicans who did not know what to do with it?” And while the “left” and “woke” West religiously follow an extremely flawed binary racial justice discourse and worship a white man who had the privilege to be heard and seen even after his death, the “in-betweens” remain invisible to the “Great Western Racial Justice Movement.”

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