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  • Uliya

Flying monkeys

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.