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.


  1. mordy

    slightly off topic relative to this post, but here goes anyway. On the Friday June 28 CBS Evening News, during their “Assignment America” series, they presented a story on Cute Babies. More specifically that every parent believes their baby is cute. It was a relentlessly insipid piece of ‘news’, but that is not the point. They begin by interviewing parents in the streets of NYC each of whom is too eager to tell how cute their baby is. As the piece progresses they tell us that they received 2000 pictures of babies from parents all of whom believed their baby was cute. This is followed by a cascade of baby pictures which begins to fill up the entire screen. Every single picture displayed was that of a little white face. Of the few babies and parents interviewed on camera, all white. The piece continues in a slightly different direction at this point, but the central thesis (the physical appearance of the baby) continues to feature only white faces. This on CBS Evening News. Shameful. Attached is the link

  2. Seattle in Texas

    The main post is very sad. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it. But Mordy, thank you for sharing. It reinforces the racist idea that “beauty” and perhaps “innocence” exists only in white infants/people. It is sad because all babies are born tabula rasa (the mind begins as a blank slate–at least I believe), yet this society inevitably socializes all to be “racial beings” and brainwashes children from early on in various ways that whites are special and still today anybody who has even a drop of “non-white” blood is some how inferior. Shows such as these, failing to include babies from families of all ancestries, send very negative messages to those who are not included and reinforce essentially the foundation of white supremacy in this nation as I see it.

  3. adia

    Seattle: Ann Arnett Ferguson has an absolutely brilliant book entitled “Bad Boys: Public Schools & the Making of Black Masculinity,” where she describes how black elementary school boys are immediately “adultified” and denied childlike motivations & behaviors ascribed to other children. In other words, when white boys act up, they’re just boys being boys. When black boys act up, teachers refuse to see them as children who fidget or want to play outside, but ascribe sinister adult motivations to their actions and believe that they consequently need adult punishments to straighten them out. Your comment about the discrepancy b/w how children are born & how they are socialized made me think of it. You might find it interesting.

  4. Joe Author

    Adia’s comment reminds me that Earl Warren, then chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, reported that Eisenhower told him at a 1954 dinner that white southerners opposed to school desegregation were “not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big overgrown Negroes.” White stereotyping of black boys and men often exaggerates their size or other physical characteristics. Eisenhower did not mention the painful, often severe impact of the violent white opposition to school desegregation on the lives of little black boys and girls.

  5. Seattle in Texas

    Hello Adia, the book sounds most excellent and will definitely put it on my list. Thank you very much, and hmmm, and about desegregation…white flight, etc…. I don’t know…. An ugly history, as well as contemporary times this nations has…that’s all I can say….

  6. What this reminded me of was the Costas Now discussion on race during the round table discussion on sports and media. During the discussion on race, which featured Bob Costas, Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock and Washington Post columnist Micheal Wilbon, Costas made an interesting point about racism and media. The point was basically that white journalist tend to only talk about race and racism in the context of “white oppression,” and that white journalist usually will only frame a story about race in that way. I personally think that the media tends to frame these types of stories in this way: “other races can be racist too.”

  7. admin

    Interesting comparison. I do not quite understand what Costas did. Did he argue that only whites can be oppressors, or more in line with this story’s line?

  8. The context of this comment is (I am paraphrasing to the best of my memory because this two months ago) during a discussion with Wilbon and Whitlock and about sports writers responsibility to writer about race in sports. Costas shared his opinion that white sports writers only writer about race in a certain framework. Costas did not argue that only whites can be oppressors, but that outside of that frame work white sports writers will not write about race. (For example: white sports writers will write more easily about Jackie Robinson and race than Barry Bonds and race) Whitlock, a black sports writer for the Kansas City Star, made the point that white sports writers can and need to write about race in other frameworks, but you have to have a body of work to be judge from, to add a greater context.
    I think that the point I am trying to make, and how I think this ties in together is that white journalist seem to report about race and racism in only a certain framework and in simplistic terms. However, I think that has as much to do with the audience that is watching as it does with the journalists that are reporting.
    I am not sure if that answers the question…
    I have found this rather hard to communicate in terms of why I connected what I connected.

  9. Joe Author

    thanks, that makes it clearer. Sports is so central to this society that the way commentators deal, or do not deal, with ‘race’ says a lot about what the society is–deeply, systemically, foundationally racist.

  10. Mr Love

    Certain Hispanics/Filipinos/etc immigrants may simply just follow white racism but India has its own obsession: caste. Caste culture calls for the ranking of birth lines; with the best & cleanest placed on the top and the worst & dirtiest placed on the bottom. Those seen as born dirty & polluted –low caste & out caste people– are the target of not a little oppression & even hatred. Caste hatred has lead to many tens of thousands of incidents –some quite murderous– in India in the last 20 years. And, there is much outrage and little mercy for the low born person who dares to place his (or her) dirty paws on a high born person as a mate.

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