Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Racial Bias – A constructed narrative or an ugly reality?

The recent attacks on Indian students in Australia have refocused attention of world media and politics to the complex issue of shrinking geographic boundaries and coerced intermingling of cultures and ‘races’.

We are still debating whether the attacks in the Land of the Kangaroos are racial in nature or not. Yes, most seem more opportunistic than planned combat against an entire people, but the obvious racial overtones cannot be undermined. Having said that, we also need to factor in that what we see is through the eyes of media, that is not always unbiased. The pattern in which facts are strung together make a story. Indians were attacked – Indian students who were soft targets were attacked. Indian corporate honchos and business tycoons were not.

These so called racial attacks actually pose a much larger problem for the Australian government than mere intolerance for our gold ol’ desis – it is a problem of accelerated crime rate that needs to be checked sooner than later for its own good.

Here, I wish to zoom out from the pressing current to a more panoramic view that cuts across history and continents. Before I get lost in the maze of my warped mind, trying to write as fast as I think and change opinions (:)), just one clarification – whatever I write is within the basic premise that I abhor any kind of bias – be it on the basis of race, color, origin or gender and I strongly feel that such behavior should be dealt with in the firmest manner possible with the most stringent of punishments given to ensure nobody ever dares to repeat the act.

History is replete with narratives of hatred within people – Let’s face it, we, human beings, homo homo sapiens, are a biased lot with umpteen prejudices. Caste, creed, religion, country, economic background – we are a divided people. There cannot be a more ironic phrase than Unity in Diversity. We are constantly in the Us versus Other comparison mode.
The Other is the Australian aboriginal whose existence was systematically wiped out from his motherland, the Other is the Red Indian who was pushed to the periphery of his own American continent, the Other is the Jew who got caught in the Nazi era, the Other is the African who was forced to subservience thanks to the theory of the white man’s burden.

To observe how racial stereotyping works in a fanatical society, we needn’t go very far. India, the singular form is so deceptive, the many Indias, we inhabit is a glaring example of a xenophobic social order.
We cry hoarse when frustrated mobs in Australia beat up our students, when overwhelmed with the financial downturn in Europe, the government sends permanent residents packing back home and when a distraught American economy explores ways to cut down on Indian immigrants.
But, we forget that in our own country when we fight over the superiority of the Aryans over the Dravidians, when we label the north eastern student in our University campus in Delhi a ‘chinky’, when we beat up a dalit for drinking water from the landlord’s well, when we equate Islam with terrorism, and in our post colonial obsession with ‘all that is white is right’, post ads for a gori (fair) girl in the matrimonial sections of the newspaper, we are being racist. This kind of racial slur is even more dangerous because it goes unnoticed most of the times.

I have always wondered what could be the reason for such extreme abhorrence between two people who have never known each other. Before I get into that, I want to answer the question I set out with. Is racial bias a constructed narrative or an ugly reality? Racial bias IS an ugly reality. There cannot be a second opinion to that. However, it is a much larger issue than media folk-lore. Media constructs narratives that sell to its advantage. That paradigm limits our understanding of issues of race and culture in the context of rapid globalization and the resulting mélange.

So what makes an ordinary person like you and me detest another human being who we have never met.
  • The Economics of it – With economies world over crashing and the dismal scene at the job market, it irks me if I, being a native citizen of the country, am sacked while an immigrant with the same skill set and half the age of my total experience is hired for the much talked about “cost advantage’. Yes, I am talking about “outsourcing”. I forget that the decision has not been made by the actual guy who has taken over my position but both of us are victims of the larger game, involving disgusting amount of money, played by citizens of my own country. Someone in my country is making a lot of by having a worker from a different country work here or back home at almost half the wages if not lower. It is still ‘yes to Bangalore and no to Buffalo’. And thus, I make a Frankenstein of this guy who is the epicenter of all my anger.
  • Cultural Differences – And I don’t just mean Cricket vs. Football, Brad Pit vs. SRK. There are subtle differences between different cultures and we need to be sensitive to these. People argue that there is a conflict between asserting your individual identity vs. becoming one of them. Well, to me it is a choice between ghettoization and cultural integration. There are positives in each culture and if you have had the opportunity of closely interacting with another ethnicity, I see no harm is assimilating the best of both the worlds.
  • Stereotyping – Just because your Indian neighbor creates a ruckus every night post 9 PM, every Indian is not like that. Similarly, if the lady at Walmart cannot calculate the change you must get for the 100 dollar bill you paid for groceries worth $87 without using a calculator, not all Americans suck at math!
  • Inherent Superiority and Inferiority complexes – All that is white is not always right. Like my gender does not make me a good or a bad driver, my color should not be a basis for my acceptability in any society.
  • Black sheep on both sides – And finally, there are the occasional buggers in all cultures, races, countries. You need to take in your stride the desis who embarrass you by blaring the dard-e-disco number on their car stereo at the crossing and shouting loudly at each other in their native tongue in the elevators, just like you need to ignore the firang who knits his brows together at the mere sight of you.

To conclude on a lighter note, here's one of my favorite quotes that aptly summarizes my stance:

“A group of white South Africans recently killed a black lawyer because he was black. That was wrong. They should have killed him because he was a lawyer.”
- A. Whitney Brown

1 comment:

  1. By write so bloody good...i cud almost envisage u as a distinguished orator holding the spectators spellbound with ur words truly a "juggernaut.." who can whirl up quite a storm with ur write-ups....dis one was an absolute knock-out!! just one will take me a while b4 i refer the dictionary for all those scary words im oblivious 2 ..which induced awe n a dropped jaw!!;)


I appreciate you taking out the time to share your valuable opinions! They mean a lot!


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