October 18, 2007

Racism - a sociological problem

By H Natarajan

It was at the instigation of a white man that Gandhiji was indiscriminately thrown out a first class compartment while traveling by train to Pretoria in South Africa. That incident triggered Gandhi’s determination to challenge the injustice and oppression of racial discrimination.

Indians, since, have always aligned themselves against the forces of racial discriminators. Even generations later, Indians strongly identify with the likes of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela who championed the cause of oppressed and discriminated Blacks.

But, paradoxically, there are segments in our own society that are racial in its own ways. We understand “racial discrimination” as unfair segregation by skin pigmentation. And as a predominantly nation of brown skinned, we identify with fellow-browns and dark colored people in fighting forces that believe in white supremacy.

The Oxford dictionary defines racial as “having to do with race”. A wider appreciation of racial discrimination would mean prejudice that goes beyond race to include caste hierarchy, social standing, financial status etc.

While there is a widespread uproar over the racial taunts inflicted on Andrew Symonds, it comes as no surprise to me that the Aussies had to undergo what he did in India. Indian crowds are notorious for deriving for cheap thrills by making personal remarks against players – especially those fielding in the proximity of the fence. Such remarks are essentially to raise laughter among like-minded folks around than for any feeling of superiority. I have seen Vinod Kambli – ebony-hued like Symonds – suffer in his own country in a manner similar to the Australian.

The subject if Indians are racial has been debated many times among friends and the more honest ones among them agree that we are racists in our own ways. In the day bygone, our forefathers did not allow people of lower caste to draw water from the same well that they used. Human Right activists believe that 60 years after Independence, India has still not shed such inhuman practices and that several million ‘Untouchables’ continue to suffer from barbaric discrimination and violence because they were ‘tainted by birth’ into a lower caste.

How many among us so-called educated, enlightened and right-minded people treat our domestic help with compassion and fairness? Do we give them their weekly and yearly leave willingly and without cutting their pay? Are we remunerating them in an equitable manner? Do we speak with them in a manner we expect our employer speak with us? If we have to get an honest answer, most of us would be guilty of being racism – many of us without even realizing. It’s a sociological problem.

I guess it has also to do with the kind of education that we have received. We have been taught that anything black has a negative connotation. So we have words like Black market, Black sheep, Black spot, Black list, Black magic…and many more. So what’s ingrained in the subconscious mind is that black is something evil.

If black supposedly represents evil then white is all about everything pure and virtuous. At least the society would like us to believe. So we have whitening cream to make the dark skinned lighter and more acceptable in front of the society. The matrimony pages are littered with ads that clamor for fair girls.

How many black models you get to see in any ramp walk? Take a look at the cosmetic section of any big shopping mall and find out how much – if any – they have to offer dark complexioned women. They may have much stuff to ‘enhance’ their colour with lighter tones but next to nothing by way of complementing their natural, dark skin. And we are a talking of a nation that is predominantly brown!

The “monkey” taunts against Symonds cannot be condoned, but the Aussies cannot behave like paragons of virtue. Roshan Mahanama wrote in his autobiography that Glenn McGrath called Sanath Jayasuriya a "black monkey” in 1996. Four years back, Australia batsman Darren Lehmann was banned for five ODIs following his racist outburst. In the 2005-06 international series Australian crowds targeted visiting teams with racist comments. During the Perth Test in December 2005, some South African players were referred to as ‘kaffirs’ while some Sri Lankan players were called ‘ black c**ts’ during the Adelaide ODI.

It’s important that players are seen a good role models. The Australians, in that respect, are masters in the art of sledging and even abusing fellow players. And with the media making a bigger impact than ever before, live pictures of deplorable acts and copious discussion in the print media of the incidents have left a lasting impact on impressionable minds.

Just a few days back, four expat fans of Pakistan origin were arrested at Gaddafi Stadium for making racial remarks against the South African players. The racial virus is bound to grow into epidemic proportions and a global scale unless clamped down by deterrent laws. It’s time to come down heavily on the offenders – be they on the field or in the stands.


At 2:34 am, Blogger Soulberry said...

Fine article. Absolutely agree with you on this.


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