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  • Uliya

What it is about the image of a flying monkey that is so compelling to me when thinking about the model minority myth, a myth that keeps on getting even mythier?

And not just compelling to me...a cursory search of "flying monkey" reveals that the term is used in psychology for those who aid and abet narcissistic abuse in a an abuse-by-proxy fashion (ie, carrying out a smear campaign on behalf of the abuser). Monkeys are racialized. Black people, and other non-white people, often get likened to apes for obvious derogatory reasons. It's painful to conjure and assert, but likening those who actively perpetuate and uphold the position of a model minority to flying monkeys is a compelling and necessary simile for me.

I recently had a conversation about Asian complicity with a family member. We discussed the pervasive and corrosive mentality of the elite in India (wealthy Hindu, Bania and Brahmin caste owners [I descend from both]). No matter where Hindu Indians go, they employ the idea that in order to be okay, they must feel superior to others. My realization here is directly indebted to Frank Wilderson III. They must be at the top or near the top of hierarchies either through action or through buying into harmful stereotypes and investing in existing social histories. We both agreed that this is not just an Indian phenomenon but a global one.

To be specific, South Asians in this country are treated better. Their presence and wealth accumulation, on the backs of others, is used as continued justification for brutality towards Black people and poor immigrants. And South Asians, in particular Hindus, uphold this idea that they are better. In India, Hindus, and other privileged Indians, have built their wealth and status on the backs of the caste oppressed, Dalit-Bahujan and Adivasi, people in India. They've used their labor with little (or sometimes, no pay) for centuries. They've deceived them, exploited them, suppressed their social movements, attempted to silence them, and more.

Honestly, as I describe savarna people in India, I am continually shocked by how similar they sound to white people (read: colonialists) globally, including in the US.

Because of the cost involved in entering and surviving in the US, those who are the highest earners in India are the ones who end up disproportionately making up the Indian population in the US, mostly savarna people.

Now in the US, Indians come here and many aspire to wealthy whiteness (and some succeed) but when it serves them, opportunistically paint themselves as victims of white supremacy. As Suraj Yengde pointed out in an IG live stream with Juggernaut, South Asians are happy to be victims and success stories but they never want to claim responsibility for how they can do and be better. He goes on to astutely point to the ways that privileged South Asians have benefitted from the US system, the same system that relentlessly oppresses Black and poor communities. And the evidence is clear: Asian Americans, in particular Indians, have the highest median income of any racial or ethnic group by far at 100k even more so that whites. I'll add a couple caveats: Factoring in cost of living and education would be wise here. Indian Americans tend to have higher educational achievement since that is another cost of entry into the US. They also tend to have higher cost of living, and therefore higher incomes, as they cluster around larger, more expensive cities. It is also worth mentioning that income stratification among Asians is higher now than for any other racial/ethnic group.

Many have pointed out that South Asians in this country are some of the direct beneficiaries of the civil rights won by Black people. And yet, there is a lack of reverence towards these facts and even a consistent disdain of Black people by South Asians, particularly Hindu Indians.

Anti-Blackness can show up in so many ways in the South Asian community. It can show up in our lack of interrogation of Hinduism and caste. It can show up in our buying into the model minority myth. It can show up in our colorism towards one another and other races. It can show up in out having actually bought into the myths about Black and poor Brown people. And in so many other ways.

Privileged South Asians, and in particular Indian Hindus, may be the oppressors in India perpetuating a regressive, feudal caste system from the dark ages but we are the Flying Monkeys of the more insidious machinery of the diabolically sophisticated racial caste system in the US.

  • Uliya

I recently sent this text to a friend:

I've definitely been feeling torn a part recently. I am in touch with all the ways that I have stood up for what is just and can remember how I've invested time, emotion, and resources. But I'm also connected to memories and ways I feel I've maybe been complicit, too silent or missed opportunities to really speak up and call something out. In this moment, it's specifically related to solidarity with Black people.

I recognize that I might not be the "problem" and I did what I did, or rather didn't do what I didn't do, for whatever reason back. But didn't I know better even then? Why didn't I have more courage?

And then I remember that none of this work can be done in a vacuum or frankly, can be done alone.

And I think now even when there's so much activity, and it feels like things might change, it really appears that the indicator is moving just a small blip despite the pain, effort, solidarity, and emotionality.

It frames my efforts or non-efforts as inconsequential. I feel hopeless.

So when I'm feeling fraught, intricate, and pointed feelings, I began to try write lyrics and melody. Song really helps me process and make purpose out of my sometimes excruciating anxiety.

Often I have lists of endless voice memos just sitting on my phone of different drafts and iterations. It could be that they change drastically, merge into one another, or are never heard again. Today, I'm taking some time to honor my process and also honor the ideas even in the nascent form.

Torn Apart
I'm torn a part again
I'm neither here or there
I have no place to call my own
No where to go that's home
Create some space with me
Make some for us to breathe
In and out...with me
In and out...we breathe

Seismic release
Shake me to the ground
Tension relieved
I am heaven bound

Close your eyes
Take a breathe
Time folds on to itself
From the past
Wisdom will rise
With the future we'll align
There is no X
There is no Y
There is no perfect upward line
Energy will ebb and flow
Clarity will come and go
I remember when I knew better...
I remember when I felt better...

And I'll leave you with a playlist I just boosted on my Spotify:

  • Uliya

Updated: Jun 5

For my fellow Asians or South Asians, you can check out this link here for recommendations on some actions you could take and some letters here for guidelines on how we can have tough conversations with our family.

As a queer person of fluid gender expression and an Indian-American, one with caste privilege and consistent class access, I feel vulnerable but also responsible, and also uniquely positioned as an outsider. For me, this is a gift. It allows me greater access to empathy and critical engagement, by feeling like I'm on the outside looking in.

There are many resources, including the ones above, about what Asians and South Asians can do right now and incisive and real analysis about the ways we owe Black communities for our safety now and how we continue to benefit from white supremacy and perpetuate the oppression of Black people.

Protesting and social medial activism is important. It is important to show up to be visible, have Asian bodies and faces in the streets and online, and demonstrate solidarity. There is a very real phenomenon that non-Black bodies in the crowds might mean less state violence perpetuated by cops towards protestors.

"Inaction" and silence are unacceptable. I get that and feel that. Expressing and supporting rage, Black rage is paramount.

But if I'm being honest, I feel resistant to engaging with social media (at all, in general) and resistant to protesting, beyond concerns about the spread of COVID-19. And, it makes me feel unethical or like a shitty person. But I must sit in this truth. And I ruminate on the validity of options that may not be championed, prioritized, or seen as enough.

Am I being avoidant? Is this a form of complicity born of convenience and privilege (the issue doesn't directly affect me so I'm leaning out or I'm invested in the status quo because it benefits me)?

I struggle to feel moved to devote time and energy to marches. They generate momentum, fervor, and energy that drives us somewhere; it gives voice to and honors righteous rage. I have been to the marches; I remember the feeling of being there.

But as I age, I understand the risks involved and I weigh them differently. Protests overwhelm me and as someone who is very sensitive, who cannot shut the vigilance off, the chaos and heightened precarity can be excruciating. Am I doing anything that's aligned with my continued purpose, gifts, or values or am I just trying to appear to be good?

And I also question the motivation behind digital activism. If I am feverishly posting content, am I contributing to desensitization without real "political gain," to "trauma porn," to anxiously sensationalizing and further triggering anxiety and sadness? Am I just performing for social capital to appear to be good?

For those who are gifted at social media, this is an opportunity, absolutely. And I still think it's important for us as people in solidarity to ask: What is the purpose?

Now I'm not here to proverbially gaze at my own navel. So what are ways I feel aligned with engaging that are not social media posting or being in the streets:

I avoid reacting.

I try to deepen my analysis by reading, listening and watching. I learn from history and prioritize content created by those most affected. I give money to those people and to organizations who are doing the work. And most importantly, I attempt to take time to pause and reflect and not just react. I think we get to a lot of places of harm by reacting and escalating.

I seek connection with others.

Intimacy and vulnerability are key here for me.

I enjoy connecting with my friends, family, and strangers who feel impacted or just need human connection.

I enjoy having tough conversations with family and peers and sharing and accepting care, resources, and information. Right now, that might be about why people are angry and why they're protesting. There's no one-size-fits-all script. We must speak to one another like real people, responsive and from the heart not like an article, coming from a place of being informed. I try to remember to not just challenge phobic or violent mentalities but also open the door to liberatory thinking (ie, let's not just say "don't be racist;" let's also show that supporting change is the more pleasurable and harmonious thing to do).

We seek to transform and build while we simultaneously destroy and dismantle. -me

I believe true human connection is both giving and accepting flows of energy, fostering ease and comfort and meeting people where they are at in their capacities. And I try to be self-reflective and avoid connecting if it's with the mindset of treating people like entities or causes. Would I want to go for a walk with this person or play a board game or share a meal?

I lean into my gifts and purpose.

Speaking of building, I double down on my creative practice and my craft. For me, that is music. And to the best of my ability, I divest from creating with monetization in mind. I create from my intuition, my heart. I attempt to be responsive to what came before and what's around me.

For me, I visualize someone putting on headphones and listening to my songs, entering a dream space for solace, introspection, and clarity.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor -Desmond Tutu

I understand, and am open to, the criticism that maybe I'm not doing enough, that my lack of activity amounts to complicity, that my priorities are all wrong, and that even, perhaps, I'm self-absorbed.

I also remind myself how we devalue art and invisibilize emotional labor. Yes, even, and maybe especially, movement spaces.

Domestic workers' and caretakers' labor consistently is severely under compensated and undercounted. Music plays constantly everywhere; it saves lives, lifts people up, and keeps them going, but creators are inadequately replenished.

More is expected of these caretakers and creators (sometimes one in the same) while the labor and contributions that people consume and benefit from is ignored or devalued, or, worse, exploited.

Art, images, words, music, poetry, dance and text messages, phone calls, tough conversations, hugs, care holds everything up; it gives life meaning and it's undergirds our way through and forward.

I can't exist in a world without fluidity and hybridity.

The implications of "you are this and must do this and be this or else" are dangerous to me, when I feel I'm consistently breaking rules by just being myself. And I think many who are marginalized understand this.

I guess instead of leaning out of anything; I'm really trying to lean into expansiveness.