In a recent interview with Complex Magazine, Priyanka Chopra— winner of the 2000 Miss World Pageant, Bollywood extraordinaire and lead actor in the hit series Quantico — claimed that she experienced racism and xenophobia at the whims of a Black peer while in high school:
“I was bullied by a freshman named Jeanine,” she told the Complex Magazine Reporter. “She was black, and supremely racist. Jeanine used to say, ‘Brownie, go back to your country, you smell of curry,’ or ‘Do you smell curry coming?’ You know when you’re a kid, and you’re made to feel bad about where your roots are, or what you look like? You don’t understand it, you just feel bad about who you are.”
Priyanka’s reveal comes on the heels of a recent beef between rapper Azealia Banks and singer Zayn Malik, which ultimately lead to her being banned by Twitter. Banks posted several tweets referring to Malik as a “curry scented b***h”, telling him “Imma start calling you punjab you dirty b**h.”
For many, it is difficult to fathom the intricate nature of prejudice between minorities. On community boards discussing Priyanka Chopra’s admission, some questioned the veracity of her claim and even openly expressed hostility towards the actress. However, neither of these reactions cuts to the core of the issue of prejudice between minority groups in America– neither even begin to address it. In this fight against White Supremacy, it is more politically expedient for other minorities to be allies to black people, not foes, but in order to establish a relationship of this sort, we must be honest on both ends.
Firstly, it is completely reasonable that Chopra faced prejudice and discrimination from Black people in America, particularly from Black Americans. As a first generation Black immigrant from the Caribbean, I also experienced this type of prejudice and witnessed it first hand.
“Why don’t you just go back to your country,” I remember other black children taunting whenever we had any kind of falling out. It was a particularly common refrain used to demean immigrant children: let us know that we were not “home” and had no claim to this country. They knew I was not American. And that fact alone– despite my obvious and undeniable blackness– was reason enough to ostracize me in many instances.
I, however, managed to wash myself clean of most of the indications of my immigrant background: I spoke with little traces of an accent (an easy accomplishment coming from a country where English is the first language), my style of dress and attitude were both heavily influenced by African-American culture. I could blend, for the most part.
Others were not so lucky.
“African booty scratcher,” I remember a group of African-American students taunting a boy in the sixth grade. His family had recently immigrated from Nigeria and he barely spoke English. Typically, he ate lunch by himself and cowered at the sight of other students.
This type of xenophobic abuse was not only limited to Black immigrants. I cannot even count the number of times I heard American children tell Indian children that they smelled. One Indian girl, in particular, was constantly reminded that she was “hairy and scary.”
Xenophobia and nationalism are both ingrained in the American psyche. After all, America is the best country in the world, right? All other countries are third world? Their inhabitants sub-human? These beliefs are not only ascribed to by white Americans. They are also thoroughly internalized and espoused by Black Americans.
This is not to claim that the impact of this destructive xenophobia/nationalism has the same impact on immigrant people coming from African-Americans as it does coming from whites. Inarguably, Black Americans do not have the same institutional power to subjugate and oppress other populations. Matter of fact, many of these groups tend to look down on African-Americans, especially people of Indian descent who openly express disdain for all Black people. For that reason, one should, more accurately describe it as prejudice or xenophobia, not racism, as Chopra did. However, that does not mean it hurts any less for the recipients of such hostility.
And not addressing this reality, pretending as if those who speak about it are liars, does more harm than good, without a shadow of a doubt. In order for stronger alliances to be built between minorities across racial lines, and despite nationality, we must certainly tackle xenophobia. Black America must forcibly dispel it’s own sense of nationalistic superiority, in order for there to be the possibility that these alliances can be forged.