“We built our dream home, which he painted, and installed the garage door…this was the home that he had built…for us and any kids we would have. (It was) our first step to starting our family. It’s so unfortunate that this dream of ours is now shattered.” These powerful words were spoken by Sunayana Dumala, the widow of Srinivas Kuchibhotla who recently succumbed to his injuries from the racially motivated attack in a Kansas bar. Beyond serving as a heart breaking reminder of the trying times we live in, Ms. Dumala’s words also hammer the final nail in the coffin of the model minority myth.
To be sure, Indians, along with other Asian Americans, are thriving economically, with higher average incomes than Americans of other racial groups. Most of us do not have to fear for our lives during routine interactions with law enforcement either. This is a privilege we do not deny. However, this simplistic comparison between historically marginalized minorities creates a favorable and false stereotype that prevents members of these groups from seeking help when it is needed. It forces them to underreport harassment or abuse when it occurs and it forges a false hierarchy of oppression, which has no basis in reality.
It is time to put this myth behind us once and for all. The only purpose it serves is to divide minorities and their allies further within the confines of a White supremacist paradigm. As an Indian, I have frequently had to come to terms with the racism within our own communities. I have seen my fellow brothers and sisters co-opt faulty stereotypes of the Black experience in America. I have heard implicit (and occasionally explicit) expressions of gratitude for our place in American society. “At least we’re more accepted than the Blacks.” Taking solace in such a hierarchy tacitly accepts the very presence of such a system in the first place. Our brutal history of colonial oppression should not be forgotten. A common tactic back then was to identify a third party that could distract from organizing and resistance. We faced it in India, and poor, disenfranchised Whites faced it here in America when they were pit against poor Black Americans organizing for their rights. Let us remember that we have far more in common with other oppressed groups than we like to believe. Let us recognize the ways in which we have internalized this model minority myth ourselves.
The brutal hate crimes against three Indians in the past three weeks alone have been a chilling reminder of the vulnerability “safe” and “model” minorities continue to face. If there is any silver lining to the hateful rhetoric and conniving policies plaguing our political climate today however, it is the fertile ground for new relationships between historically oppressed groups that have been structured to clash with one another for decades. Edmund Burke once said that the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing. Power can only be consolidated until the resistance to it is divided and distracted. No more.