South Asians: Check Your Privilege

Ah, you have finally made it. You have what they call a ‘seat at the table.’ You are the only minority on your work team or maybe the only woman in a team of men. Maybe you are an educator of color or perhaps you are part of a prestigious program. Except, you have not actually made it, not really if you peel back the layers. 

People often fight for women, minorities, people with disabilities and so on, to have a seat at the ‘figurative’ table. But I’d argue that a seat alone isn’t enough. In light of the state of unrest in our country in regards to how our Black brothers and sisters have disproportionately experienced the impacts of racism and police brutality, I have seen South Asians rise up and speak. Finally rejecting the quasi acceptance and ‘seat at the table’, by way of the model minority stereotype. This seat in which we were changing and molding ourselves to inch closer to whiteness while removing our ties to our heritage, acting nothing more than a placeholder at this ‘table’. We bleach our skin, straighten our hair and scrunch our faces at the mere mention of something that draws us closer to being Indian. And we proudly sit with a seat at the table, void of who we are and as placeholders who simply vote yes to whatever is placed in front of us while fulfilling the minority quota. And why wouldn’t we when the applause of the majority is so alluring? When it is hard to be the single lone dissenting voice in a room? 

But this isn’t why you were given a seat at the table. This isn’t how you should use your privilege. This isn’t even how Jesus used his privilege. Five years ago at Urbana, Cristena Cleavland spoke on the ‘Privilege of the Priesthood’ and how Jesus radically used his privilege to give a voice to those who were voiceless. She explained how in the biblical story of the woman with the issue of blood, when she touched his cloak and was healed, Jesus did something radical. In Luke 8:46 it reads that,

“And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me,”

Luke 8:46

and with this one question he brings forth a woman who was by all intents and purposes invisible to society and gives her a platform to be heard.  Jesus used all his power and influence to give a voice to someone invisible to society.

*Warning All American Spoiler in the next paragraph* 

Using your privilege isn’t reserved for model minorities, we all hold degrees of privilege in our lives, this is something Cleavland explained in her session. In Season 2, Episode 10 of ‘All American’, the protagonist, Spencer James, is injured and sent to the hospital. Because of the color of his skin, all sorts of assumptions were made of him and when a group of healthcare workers tried to delay his care, a nurse of color finally stood up. She had a seat at the table. She had a voice in the room. And when she heard someone being judged on the basis of how they looked, she spoke up for him and was the reason his quality of care changed. 

Though I don’t often see such overt examples of racism in my life, there are the microaggressions. It’s when you read a resume and judge someone because their name isn’t Sally, Bill or Gary. It happens when two students both act up in class but one student is sent to the office after acting up twice, while the other student needs to act up four times to be sent there. It is invisible but tangible and if you are able to wake up and see it, you can do something about it. 

If you are someone with a seat at the table, how are you using your voice? The applause of the majority is alluring. But this isn’t why you were given your privilege. If you see racial stereotyping- do you point it out? Do you advocate for women or people of color to have new positions or their own seat at the table? 

Because if you are privileged enough to have a voice when injustice is in front of you: are you actually speaking up?