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Wednesday, October 14, 2009
India Is Racist, And Happy About It.
It's a darn shame!
I don't remember the name of the President several years ago, who specified that he did not want African American waiters or Bell captains to serve him at the Hotel in New York where he stayed as President of India.
Thank God, I have been able to show my outrage to stop the Desis from calling the African Americans with a K word, equal to the N word.
I am glad the man wrote about this, and I hope at least we will speak out against these attitudes.
'India Is Racist, And Happy About It'
A Black American's first-hand experience of footpath India: no one even wants to change
In spite of friendship and love in private spaces, the Delhi public literally stops and stares. It is harrowing to constantly have children and adults tease, taunt, pick, poke and peer at you from the corner of their eyes, denying their own humanity as well as mine. Their aggressive, crude curiosity threatens to dominate unless disarmed by kindness, or met with equal aggression. Once I stood gazing at the giraffes at the Lucknow Zoo only to turn and see 50-odd families gawking at me rather than the exhibit.
On a visit to the Lucknow zoo, people gawked more at me than at the exhibits.
Parents abruptly withdrew infants that inquisitively wandered towards me. I felt like an exotic African creature-cum-spectacle, stirring fear and awe. Even my attempts to beguile the public through simple greetings or smiles are often not reciprocated. Instead, the look of wonder swells as if this were all part of the act and we were all playing our parts. Racism is never a personal experience. Racism in India is systematic and independent of the presence of foreigners of any hue. This climate permits and promotes this lawlessness and disdain for dark skin. Most Indian pop icons have light-damn-near-white skin. Several stars even promote skin-bleaching creams that promise to improve one’s popularity and career success. Matrimonial ads boast of fair, v. fair and v. very fair skin alongside foreign visas and advanced university degrees. Moreover, each time I visit one of Delhi’s clubhouses, I notice that I am the darkest person not wearing a work uniform. It’s unfair and ugly.
Discrimination in Delhi surpasses the denial of courtesy. I have been denied visas, apartments, entrance to discos, attentiveness, kindness and the benefit of doubt. Further, the lack of neighbourliness exceeds what locals describe as normal for a capital already known for its coldness.
My partner is white and I am black, facts of which the Indian public reminds us daily. Bank associates have denied me chai, while falling over to please my white friend. Mall shop attendants have denied me attentiveness, while mobbing my partner. Who knows what else is more quietly denied?
"An African has come," a guard announced over the intercom as I showed up. Whites are afforded the luxury of their own names, but this careful attention to my presence was not new. ATM guards stand and salute my white friend, while one guard actually asked me why I had come to the bank machine as if I might have said that I was taking over his shift.
It is shocking that people wear liberalism as a sign of modernity, yet revert to ultraconservatism when actually faced with difference. Cyberbullies have threatened my life on my YouTube videos that capture local gawking and eve-teasing. I was even fired from an international school for talking about homosociality in Africa on YouTube, and addressing a class about homophobia against kids after a student called me a ‘fag’.
Outside of specific anchors of discourse such as Reservations, there is no consensus that discrimination is a redeemable social ill. This is the real issue with discrimination in India: her own citizens suffer and we are only encouraged to ignore situations that make us all feel powerless. Be it the mute-witnesses seeing racial difference for the first time, kids learning racism from their folks, or the blacks and northeasterners who feel victimised by the public, few operate from a position that believes in change.
Living in India was a childhood dream that deepened with my growing understanding of India and America’s unique, shared history of non-violent revolution. Yet, in most nations, the path of ending gender, race and class discrimination is unpaved. In India, this path is still rural and rocky as if this nation has not decided the road even worthy. It is a footpath that we are left to tread individually.
(The writer is a Black American
PhD student at the Delhi School of Economics.)
Brownian Notions - NRI Prejudices
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"Our women don't drive BMWs," the Gujarati mum told me some time back. Meaning they're supposed not to go for men who may be "Black, Muslim or White". And of the few who do slip? She thought that would be a family calamity of varying shades. Going out with a black man would bring shame, but with a white chap also some embarrassment. We like fairness in our species, not the whiteness of the other; there's such a world of difference between the two, a whole other language of being. Whiteness works best for an Indian when it informs a lighter shade of your own kind.
In home after home, the Indian in London loves to show off white friends, but never quite a white spouse. "Boab," the Patel will say, meaning Bob, who is of course white. There's nothing an Indian loves more than showing off an ease with white Brits, particularly in the presence of a visiting Indian from India. But he'd want for a daughter-in-law a fair Patel, not a white Brit. White in marriage is not quite a derailment, but it is off the approved track, which for a woman is to remain virgin until at 22 she marries her own sort of Indian with property, prospects and a BMW of the motoring kind.
For the Indian male, for an overwhelming most at any rate, white is for friendship—and sex. For the Indian male, to sleep with a white woman—do it to a white woman rather, speaking of the feel of it—is a mandatory conquest without which the migration experience is never complete. This is desire that carries a political thrust. A way of coming to terms with the richer, ruling world that has looked down on us, that we think still does; the sexual act feels like a happy and relatively quick correction of that imbalance. White sex legitimises the male in the world he has feared or held in awe; it's the invisible stamp on our inner passport.
Indians in the UK can be entirely unembarrassed or even unselfconscious in using racist language. "Dhoriyos" is what Gujaratis call white people. That doesn't exactly translate to 'white nigger', but it is only a lesser expression of contempt along the same lines. And blacks for the Gujaratis are 'kaaliyao', without the comparative neutrality of the word 'black' in English. The Punjabis who migrated over from East Africa call them 'nherey' (darkness). And still, there is no connection between accusing white people of racism towards Indians, and our own racism towards others.
Towards blacks especially. And from none more than the Indians who came to Britain from East Africa. Visiting Uganda, I was far from sorry to see Kampala Road in the heart of the capital reclaimed by local people, who became coolies to Indians the way the early Indian migrants came as coolies in Britain. Except that Britain made space for Indians to move on, and they did; the East African Indians wouldn't give black people space in their own land. Had Idi Amin not been so evidently insane, he might just be a sympathetic figure.
A reason to soften anger with fellow Indians over this can only be that black people are just as racist towards Indians. It's just that everyone says this sort of thing freely only among their own. I've never been racially abused in any upfront sort of way in Britain, but this is not to say that minds all around have been cleansed of colour, and views that fasten on to colour. But an Indian probably has less to fear by way of an attack from a white racist as from forms of exclusion from their own because the colour might not be light enough.
It's crude, bizarre even, to speak of people as bearers of some skin colour. It passes because all around so much of political and personal living is coloured by it. It has been a matter of some relief to me these years in England that I've never had to be a dark Indian woman looking for a husband. I suspect darkness would not stand between me and either a black man or a white man. With an Indian it would; she might never get as far as meeting the fellow. This is short of a statistical disaster yet because most Punjabis and Gujaratis, who between them are most Indians in Britain, sit around the middle shades of the "wheatish" complexion that the police in India use to describe every missing person. In Britain, miss those shades, and you might miss out on an Indian sort of life. Better then with someone less racist than Indian, which might mean almost everyone else.
(The writer is Outlook's London correspondent and has written Brideless in Wembley, a collection of non-fiction Indian stories set in Britain.)