Reforms in the wake of racism protests will help South Asian community too

Photo: Reuters

NEW YORK – Protests and demonstrations to condemn and mourn the murder of George Floyd, has grown to be vastly more significant in the two weeks it’s been raging, like a forest fire fanned by high winds: there’s serious contemplation on downgrading police services, disband them; making police action more liable; banning strangleholds and chokeholds, remove disparities in policing. Most importantly, there is now agreement in America that systemic racism is to be eradicated. Not just for the black community, but for people of all color.

But to shoo away racism in America with protests and random police reforms is easier said than done, as a study reckons.

Stanford psychologist Steven O. Roberts and Michael Rizzo, a postdoctoral fellow at New York University and the Beyond Conflict Innovation Lab, in a new paper, which will soon appear in American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association, theorize that “American racism is alive and well”.

“People often define racism as disliking or mistreating others on the basis of race. That definition is wrong,” said Roberts, who directs the Social Concepts Lab, part of the psychology department, in the School of Humanities and Sciences, at Stanford. “Racism is a system of advantage based on race. It is a hierarchy. It is a pandemic. Racism is so deeply embedded within U.S. minds and U.S. society that it is virtually impossible to escape.”

After examining research on racism from psychology, the social sciences and the humanities, the researchers argue that American racism systematically advantages White Americans and disadvantages Americans of color – but that it does not have to. It all starts with awareness, they contend.

“Many people, especially White people, underestimate the depths of racism,” Rizzo said, in the paper. “A lot of attention is rightfully put on the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and far too many others. But people need to understand that those horrific events are a consequence of a larger system.”

Amongst the seven reasons that the authors say contribute to racism, is the fact that adults and children alike, tend to feel and act more positively toward those they consider to be like them and in their “ingroup.” This means that they are likely to treat people from outside of their social circles less favorably.

For many White Americans, their ingroups do not include Black Americans, say the researchers. Part of the reason for this has to do with America’s fraught history of racial segregation, which kept White and Black communities separated. Roberts and Rizzo point to studies demonstrating that the amount of exposure a child has to other racial groups early in life affects how they will think about and act toward those groups when they are adults.

The duo also take into account factors like hierarchy, which emboldens people to think, feel and behave in racist ways; power, which legislates racism on both micro and macro levels; media, which legitimizes overrepresented and idealized representations of White Americans while marginalizing and minimizing people of color; and passivism, such that overlooking or denying the existence of racism encourages others to do the same.

Of the seven factors they identified, perhaps the most insidious is passivism or passive racism, according to the scholars, reports Stanford. This includes an apathy toward systems of racial advantage or denial that those systems even exist.

At the end of the review, the scholars call for a move to anti-racism. Inspired by historian Ibram X. Kendi’s work, Roberts and Rizzo contribute two new terms to the conversation -reactive anti-racism, defined as challenging racism whenever it appears, and proactive anti-racism, or challenging racism before it appears.

“One of the most important steps for future research will be to shift our attention away from how people become racist, and toward the contextual influences, psychological processes and developmental mechanisms that help people become anti-racist,” Roberts and Rizzo wrote. “In a state of increasing racial inequality, we hope to find future students and scholars, both in the U.S. and beyond, well-versed and embedded within a psychology of anti-racism.”

That notion, of course, would work in an ideal world. However, America has in recent years veered more and more conservatively when it comes to immigration, which is what fuels diversity. If the Trump administration continues to bar the inflow of skilled migrants, especially from Asia, then those ‘future students’ from overseas, that the researchers talk about, would dwindle.

Rishi Madnani, an Indian American student at Bates College in Maine, in a Tik Tok video has called out systemic racism, referring to the model minority narrative, reported

Madani, referencing the 1965 Immigrant Act, said, “The U.S. only allowed Asian immigrants in that had very high education levels or special skills. And because of this, we were predetermined to be successful. And when we were, the media painted us as ‘model minorities,’ as good, law abiding citizens that were the opposite of black people.”

He continued: “Remember, black Americans were not introduced to society on the base of education. They were brought in as slaves, as property. And then they were lynched and segregated against and forced into ghettos and not given jobs and they were mass incarcerated against and criminalized for petty drug crimes and so much more. These issues generationally affect their communities because it’s a part of the system. So yes, South Asians face ignorance — casual racism, hate crimes — but we have never in American history been systematically dehumanized and oppressed in the way that black people have.”

For the South Asian community, the talk of reforms in society in the wake of the George Floyd protests, have come to at the appropriate time, despite their tag of a ‘model minority’ for over five decades now.

In recent years, there’s been increasing talk of denying Green Cards and visas to the brown people of the world. It doesn’t take long before that oppressive and racist narrative turns its gaze at the brown folks who are already living in America; try make life difficult for them, and their generations to follow.

While the protests themselves have seemed headless, there is a groundswell of outrage and activism by religious leaders and faith-based groups across the United States, reminiscent of what occurred during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, reported Reuters.

More than 1,000 rabbis, pastors, imams and other religious leaders held an online conference last week to brainstorm ways to address systemic violence against African Americans.

There is a new “breadth and depth” in the faith-based response, said one participant, Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, citing a great hunger for connection after months of social distancing and lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Folks are just so angry. They’re angry about enduring racism, they’re angry about the incompetent response to COVID, they’re angry about bigotry and racism, about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and white supremacy,” he said.

It’s an anger felt by many, including by diplomats at the United Nations. Chief Antonio Guterres on Tuesday told staff they were not banned from joining anti-racism demonstrations sweeping the United States and other countries, in a letter that aimed to clear up any confusion on the world body’s guidance.

“It does not in any way indicate that staff are to remain neutral or impartial in the face of racism,” Guterres wrote in a letter to staff. “To the contrary, there is no ban on personal expressions of solidarity or acts of peaceful civic engagement, provided they are carried out in an entirely private capacity.”

In the letter, obtained by Reuters, he said recent guidance by the Ethics Panel “was meant to emphasize the need to balance such activities with one’s best judgment as international civil servants and our official duties.”

“The position of the United Nations on racism is crystal clear: this scourge violates the Charter and debases our core values,” Guterres wrote to staff. “Every day, in our work across the world, we strive to do our part to promote inclusion, justice, dignity and combat racism in all its manifestations.”

Martin Luther King Jr. had famously said: “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

Hopefully, for the South Asian community, the reforms that are now sure to be implemented in the wake of the protests by the masses of ‘good people’, will help them, not in just the upkeep of their ‘model minority’ status, but to live more a dignified life. With the knowledge that their coming generations will be treated with more respect and at par, in the country they know as home.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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