With all that has been going on in the US lately, from a white woman calling the cops on bird-watcher Christian Cooper, saying, “I’m going to tell them that there is an African-American man threatening my life,” to the chilling murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police in Minneapolis, many of my Pakistani friends showed support over the Black Lives Matter movement.
Some marched in solidarity in the streets while others posted black squares on Instagram. But it all dawned on me to be a little hypocritical because Pakistanis have always openly had an inherent dislike towards dark skin, no matter where they live. This conditioned belief is, to an extent, visible in the way our community interacts with Black people. We find it easier to exploit the Black community than repair our views towards them.
I’ve even seen some Pakistanis turn their nose up at the plight of the Black community, to the extent of blaming them for not working harder to change negative perceptions in society, meanwhile brushing our issues of female infanticide, homophobia, domestic violence and most relevantly, colourism, under the rug.
The phenomenon of colourism runs rampant in our community where being darker than your neighbour is considered sinful. Grandmothers are quick to tell their granddaughters not to spend too much, if any, time in the sun. Dark is bad. White is right. The darker you are, the less your chances you have of getting married, and many other lies have seeped down through generations afflicted with the guilt of colonisation and casteism.
Being white in Pakistan is a privilege equivalent to “an added educational qualification”, writes Bilal Hasan, a social commentator known as @mystapaki on Instagram, regarding the BLM movement.
Our anti-Blackness is so strong that even the internet’s mascot on all things South Asian, Hasan Minhaj, gave an opinion.
“I can’t speak on what it’s like to be Black, but I know how we talk about Black people and it’s fucked up,” says Minhaj on his show The Patriot Act. He talks about how we love seeing Black people succeed in sports and politics but when it comes to our children wanting to marry a Black person, it’s unacceptable. Minhaj also highlights the use of the term “kala,” meaning Black in a derogatory fashion, being used to describe dark-skinned folks.
“These ideals are nailed deep into our subconsciousness. Fairness creams are advertised right next to Big Mac commercials, it isn’t even seen as a big deal,” Hasan said. “Blackface and cultural appropriation isn’t even seen as something wrong hell it’s done in broad daylight on the many mind numbing morning shows that air across the country.”
We can and should do better
We need to understand that undoing anti-Blackness should not be the work of Black people: this is our work and we will never be free until Black people are also free; our freedom is bound up, inextricably, in Black liberation.
Practice active allyship
Invest time in Black art, Black literature, and Black businesses to show true allyship to Black people. Call out your friends for using anti-Black language like the ‘n’ word.
Educate yourself and your families
Many of the freedoms Pakistanis enjoy today, like our very ability to immigrate, are thanks to the work of Black activists. In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement helped dismantle heavily restricted immigration policies in the US which had the sole purpose of preserving Anglo-Saxon homogeneity. The movement directly impacted the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (the Hart-Celler Act) which opened immigration into the nation from all Asian countries.
Recognize Pakistan’s very own Black community
I often find our embedded anti-Blackness hard to believe since we are inherently a brown country, despite 99 per cent of Lollywood being ghostly white. The diversity in our shades of brown is so vast that we even have our own Black community known as the Sidi.
The Sidis are small and mostly poor ethnic Africans concentrated in the coastal regions of Makran and Sindh. Many Sidis are believed to be descended from slaves brought to India from East Africa by the Portuguese. Historians say their ancestors were soldiers, traders, pearl divers and Muslim pilgrims. In Pakistan, estimates put their population in the tens of thousands, with many pocketed in the Layari area of Karachi.
Resort to religion
I understand that not everyone will apprehend why we need to work harder to be anti-racist instead of bystanders. For that, I happily resort to religion, one subject Pakistanis irk to divert from.
Speak to your families about Black Muslims beyond name dropping Bilal ibn Rabah. Learn about the Hausa and West African Empires, the intellectual powerhouse that was Timbuktu, and let’s not forget Mansa Musa of the Mali Muslim Empire, who was the richest man who ever lived.
If we want to be non-performative allies against racism, we need to right our own wrongs. Until then, the activism from our communities will remain a social media trend.
Click here to see a list of anti-racism resources.