April 6, 2017

GUEST ROOM | To be Brown: South Asian Students Taking a Stand

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We are writing this column to give a voice to all of the South Asians and South Asian Americans on campus and elsewhere. South Asians have been living, working, and building families and communities in the US since as early as 1820. As our population swelled, the Immigration Acts of 1917 and 1924 directly targeted Asian communities. The 1923 Supreme Court case of United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind classified Indians as non-white, which led to Indian migrants who had already been naturalized to be retroactively stripped of their citizenship, after prosecutors argued that they had illegally become citizens. We hereby affirm that our legal status and treatment in the U.S. today is linked to the work of Black activists from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Their protests and civil disobedience removed barriers and burdens and led lawmakers to establish the Hart-Celler Act of 1965 which removed quotas, allowing South Asians to come to the United States much more easily.


We wish for our oppressions to be recognized — post-election, we are reminded of how our brownness defines our experiences as Americans. We are affected by hate by the systems, institutions and policies of white supremacy, misogyny, racism, economic inequality, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia. We are expected to speak perfect, unaccented English, even though for many of us it is not our first language. Our cultures and religions are appropriated and disrespected. Our cultures are considered “exotic” and “exciting,” though we fight to preserve them every day. We thereby reject this commodification, objectification and tokenization of our cultures and our bodies.

We are not all doctors, lawyers or engineers: the myth of the model minority hides the reality of our working-class communities holding menial, minimum wage jobs, especially when they are undocumented. It also erases the very real issues of racial discrimination and poverty, with the outcome holding us to a standardized silence. This myth also unfairly and dangerously pits minority against minority. Many of us are encouraged by our own families to be compliant and apathetic, as silence benefits the holistic appearance of our group nationally and generally when applying for employment opportunities. Our communities are very divided — people come from many different backgrounds and heritages that influence whether or not they speak out. Furthermore, a large population of South Asians are also Muslims, constantly targeted both personally and by the media. Because of the color of our skin and the racialization and criminalization of the Muslim identity, non-Muslim South Asians, such as Sikhs, Jains, Christians and Hindus, are victims of Islamophobia as well.


With a recently revised travel ban, citizens of Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria and Libya will still face a 90-day suspension of visa processing, and it remains explicitly tied to previous comments that relate Muslims to threats of terrorism. In this vein, we would like to express our deepest sympathies to the families of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, Deep Rai and Harnish Patel. These South Asian men were all murdered, with Srinivas and Deep’s murders being explicitly the results of xenophobia and racism, and the cause of Harnish’s still under investigation.


One of the most unfortunate struggles that we face is how we are often viewed in POC spaces. We are held to unsubstantiated assumptions that unfairly ascribe to us a misattributed apathy, and so our struggles are minimized. This is not, however, to invalidate the very real presence of members of our community who embrace and internalize the model minority myth and other toxic beliefs such as anti-blackness and white supremacy. There are also many who choose to remain neutral, and as a result oppress POCs who are struggling and fighting for their visibility, rights and equal treatment. We hope to improve upon solidarity within our communities, which are divided across religious and national origin lines, contribute to dialogues and educate ourselves about actions and stances we can take to effectively support each other and other POC groups. Conclusively, we are not demanding free labor from other POCs on our behalf, but rather highlighting our frustrations within activism and coalition-building spaces, and instead are hoping to improve upon the relationships and bridges amongst us.

This article was written as a call to action to address the silence that we face. To our South Asian friends, please do not be afraid to speak out when you face discrimination or see others being discriminated against. If we are not loud and vocal, especially given our current political climate, the struggles that we face will never be addressed. It is time to mobilize, organize, and to stand up & fight back, regardless of faith, national origin, or ethnicity. We cannot be divided, especially as we navigate a period in which we are in danger because of how we are perceived, and not because of the identities we may truly hold. We must irrevocably stand up for one another.


In addition, do not be afraid to enter POC spaces and advocate for their causes as well. Many of us are privileged in our assets and cultural and social resources, and must remember how we can use these privileges to engage in transformational solidarity, in which we actively go beyond sympathy, and move towards asking how we can be of help. Fighting for POC rights means fighting for our rights as well, and this includes fighting for issues that we never have and never will face.

However, this call to action is not only to the South Asian community, but to others as well. We ask that other POC leaders on campus begin to view us as members of a community that seeks to be a part of your coalitions. Please do not overlook us or treat us as if we have no empathy for the issues that you face.

The South Asian Council exists to advocate for South Asians specifically, but also to be in solidarity with all communities on campus. Simply put: We are here, we are present and we are ready.

Samir is an Electrical and Computer Engineer and he is the Vice President of the South Asian Council and the President of Hindu Student Council. Shivani is a sophomore Development Sociology major, and she is the undergraduate representative on the CALS Faculty Senate’s Diversity and Inclusiveness Committee, an undergraduate representative on the Student Diversity Development Initiatives’ funding board, an intern at the Asian and Asian-American Center, and a member of Asian Pacific Americans for Action. Both also serve on the Student Assembly Committee on Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives.

  • Fabulously Gay Cornell Alum 99

    Economic inequality?

    Like how Asians earn more than whites in America?

    You privileged brown crybabies. You come from rich families and you still run your mouths about the evil white people.

    • A. Pinochet

      But but but muh brown skin.

  • Fabulously Gay Cornell Alumnus 99

    The only supremacy I see is brown supremacy.

    Yellow, brown, and black people running their mouths about how they’re proud to be yellow, brown, or black and about how evil and oppressive whites are.

    All I see is Gay Supremacy with militant queers demanding that their lifestyles be not only tolerated but celebrated. I see more queers holding hands on campus than heterosexual couples.

    I see nothing but organizations for yellow, brown, black, and gay people and nothing for whites or straights. Every email is filled with social events and mixers for gays and people of color. Nothing for straights. Nothing for white people.

    All I see are power-hungry gays and coloreds demanding more power for themselves.

  • Fabulously Gay Cornell Alumnus 06

    Interesting how Samir and Shivani only express their deepest sympathies to fellow Indians.

    Why no sympathies for the victims of the Berlin or Paris or London islamic attacks???
    Seems like Schlemiel and Schlimazel only care about their own people.

    So if that’s the case, why exactly should I give a hoot about Srinivas et al?

    Until Schlemiel and Schlimazel express their “deepest sympathies” for European victims of islamic terrorism, I just can’t bring myself to give a hoot about srinivas et al

  • Proud Sikh

    Uh oh some south asian guy got killed and it’s a call to arms for all south asians.

    But when whites are killed in islamic terror attacks or murdered by blacks, Schlemiel and Schlimazel have nothing to say.

  • Cute Baby Mongoose

    There is a toxic atmosphere in America:
    One of burning hatred for whites and of resentful and vengeful brown supremacy

    You wanted to get readers to “mobilize, organize, and to stand up & fight back” ???
    Looks like you’re gonna get your wish, Schlemiel and Schlimazel.

    • snowflake

      wtf is brown supremacy

      • Ravi Shankir

        Brown supremacy is having organizations for yellow, brown, and black student only and not allowing explicitly white organizations.

        Brown supremacy is allowing hispanic and black students to choose to live among themselves but slamming white students who want to live together as “Racist.”

        Brown supremacy is having rich hedge fund manager parents and still crying that some poor white kid in Kentucky has more power and influence than you.

        Brown supremacy is having all the power and accusing those who have no power of your own transgressions.

        • Concerned South Asian Student

          1. When so many of the organizations on campus are predominantly white, when Greek culture in the top fraternities are predominantly white, in a school that is predominantly white, there isn’t a need for explicitly white organizations. Organizations for yellow, brown, and black students give them a way to experience their cultures that are often taken away from them by society.

          2. This just doesn’t happen. But hispanic and black students are often judged and called out for living with each other.

          3. Don’t assume that you know anything about the authors or their backgrounds. Not every (not even close) South Asian parent is a “rich hedge fund manager”.

          4. Having all the power? How about having literally no power? It took until now to have a South Asian person in upper administration. And until now in government to have South Asian leaders that did not try to assimilate to white American culture.

          This is just the typical attempt to silence POC voices as if they face no struggles.

          • Pinky and the Brain

            You are wrong.

            Asians are hardly invisible on campus. Between the Asian-Americans and the international students, Asians constitute 1/3 of the student body at Cornell.

            At UC schools, Asians are the majority and whites are the minority. And yet, there still are a myriad of Asian organizations and not a single explicitly White or White Culture club or organization. Not one.

            The problem is European immigrants adapted to American culture. They shed their identify and anglicized their Slavic and Italian names. And now we have waves of Asians, Hispanics, and Arabs who thumb their nose of doing like wise and instead cling to absurd shards and clippings of “culture.”

            Kimchi is not culture. Rice cakes are not culture. Chopsticks are not culture. Shakespeare is culture. Wittgenstein is culture. Jonathan Swift is culture. See the difference?

          • Joe

            How about acknowledging the rampant (and well documented) cheating on the SAT and essay writing that allows so many Asians to get admitted to elite colleges.

  • Alum

    Not surprised that most of the comments here prove the authors’ point… whataboutism and deflection abound, as usual. Pathetic.

    • Ravi Shankir

      Or maybe readers notice a trend of brown people not caring one bit about white victims of brown violence.

      How about the recent brutal torture and murder of 17 year old white Raymond Wood by members of MS-13 gang members in Virginia? Not a peep from Cornell’s Indian community about that but when one of there’s gets attacked, they sure do circle the wagons. Until Americans see similar compassion expressed about white victims, many of us aren’t going to shed any tears for your people.

      IF you want compassion, first show compassion.

      • NeoNazi Repellant

        Don’t conflate the definition of brownness; I hardly think anyone would give a damn about Indian students commenting on MS-13 gang members in Virginia, perhaps because MS-13 is a LATINX POPULATED GANG. Furthermore, for Cornell’s Indian community to even make such a statement as this is ground-breaking itself.

      • NeoNazi Repellant

        You can’t assume that Cornell Indian students, and Indian students more broadly, don’t care bout white victims of brown violence just because they did not submit an editorial about it. MS-13 is populated by a different group and type of “brown people,” and so regardless, Indian students’ response would be irrelevant. And this is the first time that I’ve ever seen Indian students at Cornell make a statement about anything, so this is a step in the right direction to me.

        Your brand of “compassion” is not needed in a time where everyone should be caring about one another unconditionally.

  • Jason

    Cornell is a basket case of racial discourse.

    Doesn’t seem to be working out for anyone frankly. Everyone is always bitching about their culture not being respected. : /

  • Will

    It is a sad state of affairs when Asians get praised for their achievements ( i.e., model minority), but would prefer to be perceived as oppressed. How fucked up is that? “So what if we are a majority of the students at UCLA? We think we should be 90%!!! And we would be if discrimination by the white slave masters was not so pervasive.”

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