This is a guest post by Shelley Angelie Saggar. Shelley is a 19 year old English Literature student at Leeds University (UK,) cultural re-appropriator, angry Black grrrl, and (somewhat) apathetic activist.
So most of y’all will know what ‘ABCD’stands for; if not, the term was coined to fit a collective experience of growing up as a brown face in a white space. ‘American-Born-Confused-Desi’ was a 1999 film about the plight of our parents in wanting to see their newly Americanized kids reaping the rewards of the old South Asian proverb: ‘health, wealth and wife.’ It’s an acronym for the generational divide that whilst not being specific to the South Asian/American diasporic community, is almost exclusively attributed to it. In this article I want to redefine the ABCD term and challenge old notions of what it means to be born brown in America.
A- Traditionally, this stands for American. Indian-Americans have been in the US for awhile, and this is who coined the ABCD term originally. The 1999 film looked at brown kids who had embraced a version of the American dream that didn’t quite fit with the one of hard work and respect that their parents had in mind. I’d extend this to other brown kids in the diaspora, especially in the UK. As of 2011, Asians/British Asians make up 7.5% of the UK population, a number that is growing fast. I would argue that the ‘A’ in ABCD simply translates as ‘Westernised,’ caught between what your peers think is normal being your parents worst nightmare. It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘American’ but still recognizes our hyphenated identities in the broadest sense.
B- B is for Black. The embrace of political ‘blackness’ by some members of the South Asian community is a pretty radical shift for some. Traditionally, the rejection of political blackness, although not absolute, has often played a part in our families, often even to the extent of either an embrace of white liberal postracialist thinking or more worryingly, an explicit form of anti-blackness. Ever been told by your relatives to be careful of those ‘khalas?’ Look back to colonial India/East Africa,* the racialisation of groups into carefully stratified categories based on ‘how civilized’ we were, although it should have created a bond of solidarity: us versus our oppressors, economics was more important. Being successful in the white man’s game meant more to a lot of us than love for our skinfolk. The acceptance and embrace of ‘blackness’ is one of the most important things displaced people can do; it unites us and challenges neo-colonial ‘divide and rule’ tactics. Pitting us against each other only serves to reinforce a white supremacist agenda; if we reject this we can stand up to them, together. More importantly, as generations of ethnic South Asians (and others) continue to grow up in a white majority, Western environment, clinging to a ‘South Asian’ background will become more difficult to preserve. Loss of language, culture and religion all mean that we will have to find a new identity. This must be a collective ‘black’ identity, both recognising the different experiences we have, but simultaneously maintaining a united front to assert our existence.
C- Black girls can be difficult to love, and we’re often pretty Conflicted. We need care but are jaded by disappointment, want the freedom to be sexual without being fetishized, need to be allowed to express our cultures, despite sometimes having a tenuous relationship with aspects of them, without being either patronized as ‘FOB’s’ or delegitimized as ‘coconuts.’ We might, seem contradictory or hypocritical, but allies must remember that decisions about identity are ours alone. Oppression is not some badge to pin on your chest to prove your worth in an activist community, it’s a daily injustice that we live with and you don’t have to. Allies must acknowledge this, and when called out or intentionally excluded from decisions and dialogues must not make us feel guilty for refusing to center our discussion on them.
D- The experience of being a Westernized South Asian female is often different to the ABCD experience generally. The culture of silence in our families often disproportionately applies to excuse males for behavior that would be the height of impropriety in daughters. Sons don’t often shame their parents, they are still prized more by some in our community no matter how successful our daughters are. Anecdote: on the birth of my baby brother, I was charged with delivering mithai to the neighbors. The responses: “a son after three girls? Your parents must be so relieved!” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not jealous of our brothers, it’s the attitudes that need changing. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and marrying race into gender politics should be obvious. Unfortunately an intersectional approach is still not widely accepted, and public/private practices in our communities are (I’d argue) amongst the most hypocritical. As we continue to exist as black women in white male dominated spaces, we have to embrace fighting oppression on all fronts, and that means systematically dismantling any internalized prejudices we might have been taught about homosexuality, other races, classes, gender politics/identities, disabilities and more.
*I exclude other South Asian communities such as South African and West Indian here as I’m primarily examining the majority that migrated to the US/UK in the 60s.
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