CAMD Scholar Natasha Singareddy ’19 Confronts Anti-Black Sentiment in Indian-American Communities

Natasha Singareddy ’19 first became interested in her topic when she learned about the the murder of Akai Gurley, a case in which a black man was shot and killed by a Chinese-American police officer.

The public discussion on the relationship between white and black people significantly overshadow that between the black and Indian community, according to Natasha Singareddy ’19. As a Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) Scholar, Singareddy presented her research paper titled, “Is the Price Right?: Confronting the History and Implications of Anti-Blackness in Indian-American Communities,” in Kemper Auditorium last Friday night.

Singareddy detailed the rise of an anti-black sentiment in the British colonization of India and the continuation of such ideology in America due to the influence of white supremacy.

“The foundation of anti-blackness in Indian communities was born out of a learned hatred for our dark complexions through Britain’s exploitative manipulation of the caste system. It did not begin with judgments towards the color of African skin, but with our own. Indian’s selfishness with accepting the model minority myth, despite its implications towards African-Americans, has hurt both minorities in different ways. Because prejudice towards Indian-Americans is still starkly less in comparison than that faced by African-Americans, we have remained complacent with white supremacy for so long that we sometimes forget the direct ways in which it harms us,” said Singareddy.

According to Singareddy, the British began to perpetuate colorism by labeling the Dalits, the lowest class in the Indian caste system, or the Untouchables, with the use of the n-word. Through police abuse, social scorn for the darkness of skin, lack of education, and acute marginalization, the British enhanced a system of oppression against the Dalits. In these forms of persecution, Singareddy compares the Dalits to African-Americans.

“Indians and Africans share a common ground of oppression and although it is a shared history, it is not the same history. The racial climate towards African-Americans was more deadly than anything these new Indian immigrants had witnessed or experienced and it frightened them. Fear is the weapon. Indian immigrants understood that complying with white America’s guidelines and adopting the same anti-black sentiment would ensure their safety,” said Singareddy.

However, this British persecution united South Africans and Indians under British colonization, according to Singareddy. During the 1960s, many Indians and South Africans were working in the plantations of the Caribbean, uniting against harsh British rule.

“In an effort to prevent the solidarity that occurred in South Africa from happening again, British demarcated the two minorities with continuous labor competition in the Caribbean islands. Tensions rose as British rulers praised Indian ethic to highlight the failures of African work, a device used to veil Britain’s true motivation, averting Africans and Indians from uniting,” said Singareddy.

Karen Sun ’20, an audience member at Singareddy’s talk, thought the talk benefited from the dualistic approach in examining the post and pre-colonized history of India. Sun believes that Singareddy was helpful in revealing the links between Indian and American communities.

Sun said, “I really love how the presentation was constructed, I think what was incredibly interesting was how she explored two areas, taking this concept of post-colonized area of India and immigrants going to an area that was never decolonized. The way she led things into subjects and provided connections between Indian immigrants and black people within American who have this history of being enslaved and discriminated against, it was a really clever way of making those meet together.”

Throughout her presentation, Singareddy also specifically addressed the Indian-American audience.

“In recognizing that we can fight as Indian-American and other immigrants with brown skin for the same tools of freedom and resources that white Americans have. We don’t need to emulate them, we don’t need to see our skin anything other than what it is,” said Singareddy.

She continued, “In latecomers to the fight against white supremacy in America and as a minority that has some voice among the whiteness, we have the ability to change pristine, docile, and modeled image of Indian and other Asians and face the reality of oppression. As a sister minority, Indian-Americans have an obligation to stand in solidarity with African-Americans like our ancestors who have stood together in alliance throughout history.”

According to Singareddy, she was fueled by the desire to raise awareness on the racism within minority communities. Singareddy was specifically influenced by the shooting of Akai Gurley, an African American male, by a Chinese-American police officer and the lack of discussion on campus regarding it.

“I want my people, my family, people related to me, to be able to acknowledge their inherent racism and fix that so it doesn’t become an intergenerational disposition,” said Singareddy.

According to Hilena Misganaw ’21, Singareddy discussed a topic that is not discussed on campus or in the communities in which Misganaw has lived in.

“I think I gained a new perspective on not really colorism, but anti-black sentiment in Indian culture and how we can combat as a whole, being a black person and working with my Indian-American friends and my Indian friends and just everyone gaining a new sense of racial consciousness and to treat others equally,” said Misganaw.

The racism in our society is not only caused by white supremacy, but by the white sentiment and mentality within minority communities as well, according to Singareddy. By acknowledging the ingrained racist attitudes in minority communities, people of color can then unite and enact change.

“What I really liked about this presentation was how [Singareddy] really showed how minorities need to stick

together and how we can’t do minority against minority and to stop comparing. Indians and other minorities need to recognize their privilege because ultimately, recognizing your privilege, even if it makes you uncomfortable, is the first step on battling injustices, battling white supremacy on the path to equality,” said Kiran Ramratnam ‘22.

According to Singareddy, the CAMD Scholar Program allows for students like her to explore racial issues that would otherwise might go ignored. Singareddy attributed the program for allowing her to share this presentation.

Singareddy said, “We discuss a lot on campus and I give the administration a lot of credit because we really do talk about everything. And there are obviously little niches that we miss, which makes sense because we are looking at the overarching scope of issues that are plaguing society and the world today. We don’t always focus on these little pockets…  In that sense, CAMD gives people the path to manifest that into something meaningful.”