How to Talk to Your Immigrant Parents About Black History Month
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I’m a proud South Asian American, and as a person of color, I feel a deep connection to the Black Lives Matter movement and to my brothers and sisters who are advocating for racial equality. But what you don’t hear often is that there is a racist subtext in the South Asian culture that varies from family to family, stemming from ignorance and not malice.
Growing up, I was the smart one and my sister was the pretty one. I would constantly hear how beautiful my sister was because of her lighter skin, and that I should go wash my face and even consider bleaching it, hoping that would help.
The color of your skin should not determine job opportunities, love opportunities, and life opportunities.
I actually have cousins in Pakistan who have gone through skin-lightening procedures so they could have better luck in the love department. And unfortunately, it did help, which perpetuates the issue even further.
We Must Have These Conversations
The color of your skin should not determine job opportunities, love opportunities, and life opportunities. It should not determine your self-confidence or your status in society. And we must have these conversations with our immigrant parents because they often don’t know better.
Black History Month is a great time to talk to our families about race and equality, and BLM is the perfect backdrop. Here are four things I’m planning on doing with my parents:
1) Explore generational trauma to better understand their habits and behaviors, which were passed down to them from England’s past colonization and occupation of Pakistan and India. The truth is, racism isn’t something we are born with; this behavior is taught and passed down through generations. I’d like to truly understand — from a place of compassion — where they are coming from and why. And from there, educate them on skin pigmentation and reground values that have nothing to do with skin color.
2) Educate them on what Black History Month is all about. It's not just about slavery and the civil rights movement; it’s an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of Black people throughout history, but also the challenges and struggles they had to overcome and continue to overcome — even in 2021. This includes some of my favorite Black leaders, such as Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. I plan on having deeper conversations with them about the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, no matter how uncomfortable the conversation gets.
3) Continue to study Black culture by entrenching ourselves in iconic movies, watching and reading famous speeches, and reading books that educate how to be an ally for Black people that are inspirational, educational, and easy to understand. I want to make sure that I’m meeting my parents where they are in their learning journey and it doesn’t go over their head.
* Books that I’m considering: This Book Is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.
* Speeches that I’m considering reading: “I Have a Dream” by MLK, “The Ballot or the Bullet” by Malcolm X, and “Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth.
* Movies that I’m considering: Hidden Figures, Malcolm X, Ray, and Selma.
4) How to become an ally even when it’s not easy or convenient. This starts first at home and debunking skin-pigmentation assumptions when speaking with relatives. Then take it a step further by showing up as a good human being and standing up when we see someone putting our Black brothers and sisters down.
This behavior is not acceptable, and we must set an example for future generations.
This post is part of a monthlong February CircleAround series tied to Black History Month — the first since the loud calls for social justice this past summer — in which we asked writers to explore the topic of race in America from a variety of perspectives. The murder of George Floyd last summer catalyzed a national reckoning on race, with many questions to be answered. To see all the posts in the series — including relevant news stories — visit here. And if you'd like to contribute to the series, send us your thoughts to email@example.com or post on our "2021 Inspiration Wall."