In black and white!

SKIN DEEP

In black and white!

Remembering : Racial attacks on Indian students in Australia had created a storm in recent times.

A similar fate befell the Victorian Police after they were caught circulating a racist e-mail. Not lagging behind was the South African swimmer Roland Schoeman who used the ‘monkey’ word. Racial remarks against Indians are nothing new but these ones, in the last couple of weeks, did open a Pandora’s Box. Brouhaha erupted, not surprisingly.

“Racial slurs have always been a part of life in foreign countries. It’s more in the limelight now because the media is taking an interest in it,” says Anupam Kulkarni, who runs his own business.The world may be a melting pot of culture but discrimination does raise its ugly head every now and then. A burden every society bears. Daksha Barai, retired professor, Bangalore University, says, “Cases of racial slurs have always existed. Maybe in subtler forms.”

Anupam, who did his MBA in Melbourne, says during his education in Australia, he had found that it was usually the “rowdies or junkies who indulged in racial abuse. The educated people hardly ever involved themselves in racial slurs. In fact, they were very welcoming. Every foreign country goes through this cycle of racial slurs. Few decades ago, it was in the US, then UK, and now Australia. I guess it has a lot to do with the increasing number of Indians in their respective countries which tends to make them
insecure,” he informs.

The origin of slurs could also be traced to wrong beliefs. And in rare cases, they are used as a term of endearment among friends. However, ethnic heritage is certainly no matter of joke. “One cannot guise racial slurs in the garb of free speech or humour,” says Daksha. “Racial expressions should not be used, not even in a lighter vein. And you can’t get away doing that,” she adds.

History points out how discrimination was used as a tool to promote fear and hatred especially during wars. Racial stereotypes continue to live through cartoons and movieselsewhere in the world. Vijayashri Ravi, Professor of Psychology, Bishop Cotton Women’s Christian College, describes ‘racism’ as the inferiority-superiority equation.

“The point is who defines the equation. There has been politicisation of racial
incidents, hence they have gone beyond being sociological and psychological issues,” she says.Closer home, there is no turning a blind eye towards the general disdain for dark skin. Is this covert racism? Daksha avers that caste is dominant in India and colour of the skin is some sort of yardstick.

“It’s inherent in our culture, we do have a fascination for one with the white skin, no matter what sort of person that is. Look at the fairness creams for instance in the market!” Vijayashri points out how there is differentiation here as anywhere else.

“We call it ‘social ethnocentrism’, there is hierarchy in every community,” she informs.
The fire may take time to die down, but what fuels these racist remarks is not quite clear.
It had existed through the centuries. It may continue for a long time. However, it’s only poignant to recollect what Harper Lee says in To Kill a Mockingbird: “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”   

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