South Asian Convicted in Murder of Black Daughter-in-Law: White Racism?

ABC News has a disturbing and tragic story about a South Asian American father
convicted in Atlanta of setting up the murder of his daughter-in-law reportedly because she was Black:

Atlanta jurors have found an India-born businessman guilty of masterminding the murder of his black daughter-in-law because he feared the mixed marriage would smear the caste-conscious family’s name. Chiman Rai, 68, was convicted on seven charges, including felony murder and burglary. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty. According to Associated Press reports, two women arrived at the apartment of Rai’s son Ricky and his new wife, pretending to deliver a package. A 300-pound hit man then choked Sparkle Reid Rai with a vacuum cleaner cord and stabbed her a dozen times within earshot of her 6-month-old daughter.

Indeed, a tragic murder story involving a South Asian father and his family, and great loss for a Black woman and her family. Then the reporter puts the usual media “race relations” spin on the story, one that is basically white-framed:

This case, which turned from a simple murder investigation into an alleged hate crime across two communities of color, highlights the complexity of race relations in a country that has often framed its prejudice in black and white. But racial intolerance, sometimes in the form of violence, is increasingly more inclusive. Experts say that such bias is nothing new, although the national immigration debate has fueled that hate, giving bigots of all complexions more excuses to act on their ignorance.

Yes, the immigration debate has fueled racial hatred and more in this country, but it does that by reinforcing and resurfacing an old white-racist framing of Latinos. Indeed, that seems to be a deflection strand in the report, which is pursued for much of the article. A long section on immigration and hate crimes deflects the reader from the more central issue of white racism, which is not mentioned in the reporter’s analysis.

In the Atlanta case, the central issue is likely the stereotyped framing of a Black woman, a negative framing now 400 years old and part of the enduring white-racist frame. The usual language in this ABC report of “racial tolerance” and “hate crimes” and “prejudice,” as well as the notion in the headline for the story that “Racism [is] Not Always Black and White,” are weak tools for getting at these realities of a country whose foundation is white-on-black oppression. The South Asian father was reportedly concerned about the status of his family being hurt (India has a caste system), and was probably thinking to some degree out of the white frame–with its negative view of African Americans and interracial marriages–which he had picked up from being here a long time – like almost everybody here does over time.

So, this murder story was in fact about “black and white” racism. (Aside: Why is “black” so often first in this type of paring? Self-named “whites” invented U.S. racism, including the words white and black in their racist meanings. Why not then, “white-on-black racism”? )

This point about foundational white-on-black oppression should be obvious to reporters (and their editors) if they looked just a bit more into our racialized history, but somehow reporters, editors, and owners regularly put out the misleading notions that “everybody is prejudiced” and “all people are racist” and “all ‘ethnic’ groups are in conflict” as ways of taking white Americans off the hook for creating and maintaining a society actually founded on racial oppression (think: slavery for 246 years, plus legal segregation for another 100 or so years, nearly 90 percent of our history).

Interestingly, right at the end of the story the reporter adds quotes from a South Asian civil rights leader that should have clued her and her editors into deeper analysis:

American-born Amardeep Singh, director of the national Sikh Coalition, which defends the civil and legal rights of Sikhs, admits that his own ethnic group is capable of bigotry. “You don’t come to American to learn to be a bigot,” Singh said. “There is bigotry in India. The caste system is deeply ingrained and South Asians in the U.S. still practice caste exclusion.”… “It’s sad that a minority like the South Asian community has taken on the prejudices of the majority community,” Singh said. “You’d think members could rise above that.”

The “prejudices of the majority” community and their impact on all groups, including Americans of color – that is indeed a better place to start here, and then move onto a much deeper analysis of systemic racism.