Today I start a new series of posts: An Autobiography of Political Blackness. This series will be about my connection as a South Asian-American to Political Blackness, a term now in use to describe solidarity across races. Once this was called the Rainbow Coalition. Never mind. These are darker times.
WHENCE my political blackness? What is my history? I grew up female in India seeing fairer-skinned girl cousins favored and showcased; fairer-skinned girls put forth and praised; fair skin fetching higher values in marriage marts; no dark-skinned actors or actresses in the most powerful dream machine called movies; gods and goddesses in bazaar calendars and framed pictures at home glowing with the hot ghee tint; and of course the ubiquitous “FAIR AND LOVELY” skin-lightening cream, the brown girl’s nightmare and nemesis now proven to contain toxic ingredients.
Untouchability equated with dark sin. Poverty equated with dark skin. Insignificance and degeneration associated with dark skin. Africans? Though India’s direct contact with African peoples goes as far back as the 6th century AD at least, Africans in our cities seen as monsters, sub-humans, idiots and barbaric. Called “Habshi Khojas” (for “Abyssinian Eunuch,” a distortion of the name for a tiny demographic in pre-modern Islamic courts with defined and respected social functions). African students in India bullied, lynched, spat on.
THENCE Political Blackness in my life time as a girl growing up in India, compelled to chant and try to believe palliatives like “Kaalo Jagater Alo, Shada Jagater Gaadha.” In Bengali, ‘Dark skin lights you the world, White Skin is for dumb beauty.’ Little known, sparsely used, and of small comfort.
As this panorama rolls before my mind’s eye now I try to put some of this shady history into the second novel I’m now writing, titled Homeland Blues. It’s the partly true story of a South Asian woman in the US forced to face her internalized racism when her husband’s unexplained disappearance and presumed death test her Indian-American or ‘Desi’ community’s loyalty as she begins her descent into the hell known as illegal immigrant status in the United States. She’s thereby ejected overnight from diasporic ‘model minority’ privilege and colorism into radicalized kinship with a bisexual African-American man as well as immigrants facing deportation in Trump’s America. As the story progresses, it also reveals itself as one about the atrocious, systemic inequality experienced by India’s Untouchables or ‘Dalits,’ and People of Color in America. Ultimately, it’s about multi-tentacled hatred and fear surrounding gender and racial traumas, but also about the love we must find to empathize with the stranger we’ve always been taught to fear. It is stunning, especially to me, to see how my novel about the self-evident causes of solidarity between India’s Untouchables and America’s POC — started four years ago —reads now like a script for what we are calling Political Blackness today. Wish me well with it, please.