The Anti-Blackness Myth in Assimilation

The Problem with Vivek (and Bobby and Nikki)

Priti Nemani @pritinotpretty
Published in
16 min readAug 28


Image of a close-up of the face of the Statue of Liberty
Photo by Fabian Fauth on Unsplash

“Immigration without assimilation is an invasion.” [1] Former Louisiana Governor and 2016 candidate for the GOP presidential nomination Bobby Jindal, formerly known as Piyush Jindal at the GOP primary debate on August 6, 2015.

“We should use those same [American] resources to prevent across the invasion of our own southern border here in the United States of America.”[2] 2024 GOP candidate Vivek Ramaswamy at the GOP primary debate on August 23, 2023.

Much has been written about the disturbing employment of the word “invasion” in reference to humans migrating to the United States. Here, I seek to explore the way in which the concept of assimilation — problematic at its inception — now refers to a process of submitting to the culture of white supremacy.


I often recall visiting Ellis Island with my father and brother as a younger 14-year-old in 2003. A placard under a painting of a cornucopia told me that, in America, the contents inside remained intact like the depicted harvest and together made a plentiful offering and that America was more akin to a cornucopia than a “melting pot” where individual identities were lost. Having grown up in a small town in rural southern Illinois, safe spaces had been marketed to me and other children of color as “melting pots,” where no one would notice the color of my skin. I wrote poems about a day when the color of my skin melted into the skin of others around me.

I did not realize how urgently the white communities around me wanted me to unconditionally assimilate into whiteness until I attended a very white, very conservative private boarding school for high school. (No, my family was not rich, but we were well-off, and my parents spent every dime on my education, a gift and a privilege afforded to me that I will spend my life passing forward. My parents wanted me to get an education with opportunities for advancement that our rural hometown’s high school lacked, like honors and advanced placement courses, and that meant sending me away for high school.)

At my new school, located in a rural town in Indiana in the heart of the Midwest, I was one of three other South Asian students, one of a dozen Asian students, and one of a few dozen BIPOC students on the whole. We were a small group, often both simultaneously exploited and invisibilized for our racial and ethnic identities. For me, finding a home in this very white space was within the Black Student Union, a group of Black students from all over the world who let me into their safe space with open arms. To this day, it will be a debt I can never fully repay.

By my sophomore year, I felt lost. While other students enjoyed connections to their religious practices, students of the “other” religions spent an hour on Sunday afternoons in mandatory “religious observance” hour, where most would bring school books and catch up on Monday’s homework assignments that were left untended over the weekend. Growing up in a tiny but close-knit Indian community in my hometown and in a big immediate family with three siblings and hovering parents, my identity felt negligible in this space. The piece of me that grounded me for my life before high school suddenly seemed like something to ignore, to wash over, to hide behind the curtain.

My parents and I, after a series of discussions, decided a physical affirmation of my cultural heritage would help me remember my roots when away at school. In the spring of 2003, with my mother on one side my father on the other, my parents held my trembling hands as I got my nose pierced, joining generations of women on both sides of my family. We made a decision that, yes, I would continue to wear my school uniform and go to religious observance on Sundays. Yes, I would continue to do everything I was doing to fit in and assimilate to the environment that did not wish to accommodate my individual person. Yes, I would start eating chicken so I would not be left hungry, departing from my childhood as a vegetarian. And, yes, I would wear my nose piercing and be proud of who I was as an Indian American girl.

A fight with the school ensued, and I was informed that my nose piercing clearly violated school policy. At the time, my grades were pristine, and my reputation untainted; I worried about what would happen if I fought back. It is here I should probably note that this particular high school had something called a “citizenship” grade, a discretionary score given to all students on the basis of their contributions to the community as determined by the school’s administrators (not faculty). Until this point, I was deemed a “good girl,” who didn’t make waves and smiled a lot, with an A- in citizenship, docked because of my shyness. One of the darlings of my class referred to me as “a girl who could never be serious,” even though I studied hard and thought deeply, particularly as we were all living in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. My parents, recognizing the risk too, would not let me back down, nor would a brave group of faculty who stood up to support my right to adorn my cultural apparel in school.

What I realize now, something that was kept from me at the time, was the real fight that people who looked like my family and I were under real danger in the whirlwind of attacks against South Asian Americans as a result of the 9/11 attacks that had occurred just a year before.

Finally, after months of fighting, our group won. I won the right to keep my nose piercing. Not a retainer — my nose piercing. I remember feeling less success and more fear. The fight had been too hard to be a settled matter in the aftermath.

I was right.

My first report card after the administration revoked its decision to force me to remove my nose piercing reflected the first B minus score of my life — citizenship. My citizenship had dropped by more than a full grade from an A minus. The explanation was that I had broken the rules. After my sophomore scandal of fighting to preserve my cultural identity in a space that sought to erase me, I spent the next two years dodging disciplinary action for random acts of nothingness, only to be resigned to the role of the “diversity” student while my peers found high levels of success within student leadership.

Because I only assimilated in part and not in full and pathetic submission, I paid the price of my willful deficiency.


Many Asian Americans, much as I did as a young teenager in the rural Midwest, struggle to balance preservation of our individual cultural identities with the push for assimilation from the dominant majority. In The Loneliest Americans, Jay Caspian Kang captures the self-defeating proposition of assimilation:

“When I say Asians are the loneliest Americans…I am talking about the loneliness that comes from attempts to assimilate, whether by melting into the white middle class or by creating an elaborate, yet ultimately derivative, racial ‘identity’…from the realization that nobody, whether white or Black, really cares if we succeed in creating any of these identities. At best, our white suburban neighbors regard us with conditional tolerance. Our fellow minorities look upon our race work with a mixture of bemusement and suspicion. It’s hard to blame anyone for not caring enough about Asian Americans, because nobody — most of all Asian Americans — really believes that Asian America really exists. There are no shared struggles between, say, the wealthy child of Indian doctors and Tou Thao, the Hmong Minneapolis policeman who stood by as his partner Derek Chauvin, killed George Floyd.” [3]

Kang suggests that we take one of two routes to assimilate: (1) a “melting into the white middle class,” or (2) by creating an elaborative, yet derivative, racial ‘identity.’”[4] What Kang describes here can be described as the two roads of assimilation, both of which require a forfeiture of one’s authentic cultural and ethnic identity with extreme unconditionality. One route rests on the silencing of one’s self, and the other requires the self to adopt an untrue self-view trumped up by adherence to the opinions of the racial majority.

We know what melting requires. It means to abandon that which can be abandoned from your original cultural identity in favor of whiteness. For some, this looks like choosing to change your name from “Piyush” to “Bobby,” as was the case with the former Louisiana Governor. [5] For others, this looks like denying future families the right to enjoy the same benefits of immigration that let your own family come to America. For most who would seek to melt into whiteness, this means melting into the notion of white supremacy and upholding it with (at least) double the enthusiasm of your bigoted neighbor.

As to the “attempt to create a derivative racial identity,” Kang says it serves as

“…an explanation to white people: This is who we are, and here are the ways in which we are both different and the same as you.” Second, this attempt “allows for the illusion of solidarity. By mimicking the language of the Black struggle in America, we hope to become legible as a comrade, a fellow traveler, or a ‘person of color’. There’s an implicit apology in this sort of pleading: We know we don’t have it as bad as you, but we also aren’t white and need a way to talk about it.” [6]

Millionaire Vivek Ramaswamy, by maintaining his Hindu religion and proudly saying that he, nearly identically to President Obama’s opening to the 2008 Democratic National Convention, is a “skinny guy with a funny last name,”[7] is not seeking to assimilate by driving down the first road described by Kang where one seeks to “melt into the white middle class.”[8] Does he fit into the other vehicle of assimilation wherein one creates an “elaborate, yet ultimately derivative, racial identity”[9]?

Instead of living out a true authentic identity, some find themselves living in an artificial, self-created image that actively preserves white supremacy to the detriment of all. For those current South Asian Americans aligning themselves with the violent forces of white nationalism and the lying rhetoric of immigrant invasions and conspiracy and replacement theories, the cornerstone of their false identity centers on anti-Blackness. Too often, we discuss racism when we mean anti-Blackness, but we cannot begin to dismantle anti-Blackness as espoused by certain Asian Americans unless we fully understand what it means to be “anti-Black,” because, as Layla Saad tells us in White Supremacy and Me, “it is necessary to name it for what it is, for without naming it and confronting it face-to-face, all this work remains an exercise in intellectualizing and theorizing.”[10]

Scholars at The Center for Anti-Racist Research at Boston University, founded by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, define anti-Blackness:

“Anti-Blackness is defined as the beliefs, attitudes, actions, practices, and behaviors of individuals and institutions that devalue, minimize, and marginalize the full participation of Black people — visibly (or perceived to be) of African descent. It is the systematic denial of Black humanity and dignity, which makes Black people effectively ineligible for full citizenship. The Anti-Blackness paradigm positions Blackness as inherently problematic, rather than recognizing the long, rich, and diverse history of Black people throughout the African diaspora, and acknowledging that Black communities across the United States (and the world) have been severely disadvantaged as a result of historical and contemporary systemic racism.” [11]

In The Karma of Brown Folk, Vijay Prashad writes, “White supremacy judges certain people greater than others, and some are frequently denied the capacity to be great at all.”[12] Prashad further describes the function of white supremacy and how “it denies Black[s people] any greatness, past, present, or future.”[13]

Above and the force mandating anti-Blackness is the American racial hierarchy, or the American caste system as described by Isabel Wilkerson in her revolutionary work Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents:

“Caste is the infrastructure of our divisions. It is the architecture of human hierarchy, the subconscious code of instructions for maintaining in our case, a four-hundred-year-old social order…A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system often uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.” [14]

Every person in the US is trapped within the American two-tiered caste system, a system where whiteness reigns supreme and Blackness is trapped as the lower caste, and many of us in the middle have a choice: align with white supremacy, stay in uselessness and limbo, or love Blackness.[15] For some, like Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, and others of their ilk, they are desperately entrenched in what Wilkerson calls “the race to get under the white tent.”[16] While whiteness historically created a series of, at times seemingly impossible, obstacles to keep Asian Americans out, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924, which, taken together, kept almost all Asian Americans from immigrating to the United States, the Asian Americans who made it to the United States in the 1800s and those here are subject to the implicit requisite to achieve the American dream.

“By extending the dream of dominion over the land and all others in it to anyone who could meet the definition of white, the American caste system became an all-or-nothing gambit for the top rung…Those permitted under the white tent could reap the rewards of full citizenship, rise to positions of high status, or as far as their talents could take them, get access to the best the country had to offer; or, at the very least, be accorded resect in everyday interactions from subordinate groups who risked assualt for any misstep.” [17]

Have you ever heard the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”? I have. At a time when minorities have yet to achieve full equality when it comes to compensation and leadership in the workplace to a fair consideration of their home values or protection from the police, it seems like the offer of “If you assimilate, you will enjoy the benefits of whiteness” risks falling short, and quickly.

I’ve previously written[18] about the racial bribe theory as set forth by Professors Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres in The Miner’s Canary,[19] first introduced to me in Deepa Iyer’s We Too Sing America,[20] and the racial bribe offers the framework in which assimilation is introduced to immigrants of the “middle castes”[21] seeking to find a place within American Society.

Recall that Professors Guinier and Torres describe, “The racial bribe is a strategy that invites racial or ethnic groups to advance within the existing Black-white racial hierarchy by becoming ‘white’.”[22] Understanding the racial bribe is essential to identifying those who are tacitly urging immigrant communities to be conduits of white supremacy. We of the white-black racial divide hold the power to fight white supremacy or embolden the flames that seek to keep all those outside the white racial group in positions of oppression in the long term, regardless of the short-term benefits.

For Ramaswamy to unconditionally accept the racial bribe and sustain within the space of white nationalism, as he has, he has agreed to shelve his authentic identity and uphold an artificial image that whiteness demands of him, a false, hollow self-image he seems more than happy to offer; yet, it seems that he cannot overcome an incurable void in his image. “Without a theory of structural racism and without an appreciation for the history of US Blacks, whose struggles produced the limited freedoms we, as migrants, enjoy in the United States, there is every indication that the migrant tunes in to a benign form of racism: an adoption of stereotypes rather than a compassionate look at the enduring forms of racism,” writes Prashad in reflecting on the bigotry of conservative commentator and conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza, also of South Asian descent, a criticism too seamlessly applicable for Ramaswamy.[27]

A blinding example of less than benign racism in this form comes from the interview between Ramaswamy and CNN anchor Don Lemon, which led to Don Lemon’s ouster from the network despite the anti-Black behavior and commentary of Ramaswamy. Ramaswamy says to Don Lemon, a journalist who speaks often and openly about his experience as a Black man in America: “Black people did not get to enjoy the other freedoms until their Second Amendment rights were secured. And I think that that’s one of the lessons that we learned.” [28] When Lemon pushes back on Ramaswamy’s misinformation regarding the nature of the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans, a claim that conveniently ignores the horrifically violent and harsh years that followed the Reconstruction era in the form of Black codes and Jim Crow laws, Ramaswamy leans on his own ethnicity as his right to dictate the reality of the Black experience: “Whatever ethnicity I am. I’ll tell you what I am, I’m an Indian American. I’m proud of it. But I think we should have this debate, Black, white, it doesn’t matter.” [29]

By claiming for himself the right to opine on the Black experience simply because he is a person of color, by silencing a Black person to make this claim, and by attempting to tell lies about the reality of Black oppression and liberation in American history, Ramaswamy executes the white supremacist agenda in spectacular fashion. A quote from Toni Morrison’s essay published in Time Magazine in 1993, quoted by Prashad, which, in some ways, foretells the candidacies of individuals like Vivek, Bobby, and Nikki:

“The immigrant must participate freely in this most enduring and efficient rite of passage into American culture: negative appraisals of the native-born Black population. Only when the lesson of racial estrangement is learned is assimilation complete. Whatever the lived experience of immigrants with African Americans — pleasant, beneficial, or bruising — the rhetorical experience renders Blacks as noncitizens, already discredited outlaws. In race talk, the move into mainstream America always means buying into the notion of American Blacks as the real aliens.”

Morrison wrote these words three decades ago, yet the meaning remains true still. Immigrants, their descendants, and their communities continue to be faced with an implicit threat, which too is a false choice: align with white supremacy and against Blackness or fail to achieve the American dream. Embedded in the option of choosing white supremacy is the requirement of self-hatred. Cathy Park Hong writes in her book Minor Feelings:

“Racial self-hatred is seeing yourself the way the whites see you, which turns you into your own worst enemy. Your only defense is to be hard on yourself, which becomes compulsive, and therefore, a comfort, to peck yourself to death. You don’t like how you look, how you sound. You think your Asian features are undefined, like God started pinching out your features and then abandoned you. You hate that there are so many Asians in the room. Who let in all the Asians? You rant in your head. Instead of solidarity, you feel that you are less than around other other Asians, the boundaries of yourself no longer distinct but congealed into a horde.”

I often wonder where, precisely, in the dredges of self-hatred does one find comfort in the decision to lift up the individual at the cost of the community. I will continue to try to understand why certain members of marginalized communities seek to rise at the cost of their own.

Perhaps. It is the fact that too few perceive cross-racial and cross-cultural solidarity as an exercise of community service, of charity, as some sort of wayward favor, and not as a life-preserving connection when, in fact, connections across communities of color are the only and best means to preserving each communities’ continued existence authentically and without the attack of assimilation.

The best and most tried and true way to fight anti-Blackness is with love, in community, with education, and with persistence, and until we can love Blackness and decenter whiteness, our own identities as non-Black immigrant communities will forever remain transient in American society. To my fellow Americans, have the conversations. Call out anti-Blackness, and if your safety is not in danger, call in the offender to learn and grow into an anti-racist. We all have work to do, and we all have to do the work.

This article is the first of a series exploring anti-Blackness in Asian American communities and offering ideas and suggestions for how we dismantle the forces of white supremacy.

[1] Tuttle, Ian. “Liberals Pounce on Bobby Jindal’s Immigration Line in Debate, but He’s Right.” National Review, August 10, 2015,

[2] Roll Call, “Transcript: GOP Presidential Hopefuls Debate in Milwaukee.” August 24, 2023.

[3] Kang, Jay Caspian. The Loneliest Americans, pp. 14–15. Crown Publishing Group, 2021. Print.

[4] Id.

[5] The Washington Post, “From Piyush to Bobby: How Does Jindal Feel about His Family’s Past?” WP Company, April 10, 2023.

[6] Kang, at pp. 14–15.

[7] Roll Call, “Transcript: GOP Presidential Hopefuls Debate in Milwaukee.” August 24, 2023.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Saad, Layla F. Me and White Supremacy, p. 85. London: Quercus, 2022. Print.

[11] Comrie, Janvieve Williams, Landor, Dr. Antoinette M., Riley, Kwyn Townsend, Williamson, Jason D. Anti-Blackness and Colorism. Boston University — Center for Anti-Racist Research. 2022.

[12] Prashad, Vijay. The Karma of Brown Folk, p. 158. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print.


[14] Wilkerson, Isabel. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, p.17. Penguin, 2023. Print.

[15] Id. at p. 125.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Nemani, Priti. “Multiracial solidarity v. white supremacy. Medium. 5b6714112c61?gi=dcb3ba1d15ba&source=user_profile — — — — -18 — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

[19] Guinier, Lani, and Gerald Torres. The Miner’s Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy. Harvard University Press, 2003, Ch. 7. Kindle E-Book, Location 1596–1597.

[20] Iyer, Deepa. We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future. The New Press, New York, 2017, pp. 34.

[21] Wilkerson, at p. 125.

[22] Guinier and Torres, Id.

[23] Guinier and Torres, Id.

[24] Guinier and Torres, Id.

[25] Guinier and Torres, Id.

[26] Guinier and Torres, Id.

[27] Prashad, at p. 164.

[28] CNN, Cable News Network,–04–19/segment/05. Accessed 27 Aug. 2023.

[29] Id.

[30] Prashad, at 163, quoting Morrison, Toni, “On the Backs of Blacks.” Time, Time Inc., 2 Dec. 1993,,33009,979736,00.html.

[31] Hong, Cathy Park. Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, pp. 9–10. Profile Books Ltd, 2021. Print.



Priti Nemani @pritinotpretty

I write about law, social justice, dismantling oppressive systems, empowering racialized individuals, legal ed, representation, and mental health.