By Shantanu Tungare:
This Indian hypocrisy struck me when I was in the USA.
Before I begin, I need to explain my understanding of the Indian society to the reader. The Indian racial and economic differentiation is divided in 3 layers. The economic layer includes the rich, the middle class and then the lower class. The racial (or the color) differentiation is of 3 layers of brown (as per international stereotypical color of South Asians) – Light brown, brown and dark brown. I am not at-all touching the Indian caste discrimination, as it is one topic which will need a book not an article to explain.
Our typical Indian narrow mind tells us that fair skin and rich people are better.
The above has been deeply engraved in our minds to an extent which I figured out when I came to the USA to visit my mom’s twin and her daughters, who I am really close to.
Hailing from a middle class family, to be honest, we look down upon economically deprived people in India. A taxiwala, a rikshawala and almost all blue collared professionals are looked down upon and more so if the blue collared professionals have dark skin, they are considered unclean and to be honest, unapproachable (which is a hypocritical word for untouchables).
My aunt and uncle came to the USA in the late 80s and had 2 daughters in the USA. My cousins have been born and brought up in the USA. Their skin color is dark brown. This is probably the only Indian thing about them. Being culturally American, it was natural that both of my cousins have American Boyfriends. It is perhaps because these girls feel culturally similar to the Americans, than the Indians who have come to America, famously called fresh off the Boats (FOBs) with exceptions to American born Indian guys who have American girlfriends. To be honest, this burned down my Indian misconception that ‘fair is beautiful.’
My cousins gave me weird looks when I tried to ask them questions like, “Don’t American boys want white chicks for themselves?” Understanding where my questions were heading, one of my cousins cleared my doubt by shutting my mouth saying, “Skin color is not an issue here unlike India and brown and darker skin is considered hot by Americans.”
As per their parents, who were brought up in an orthodox Hindu family in India, they share the same dogma as regular middle aged and old Indians, these girls are not allowed to date BMWs (meaning, Blacks, Muslims and Women). So, they had passed these conditions and were happy.
But me. I am a young modern city boy, why will I have these conceptions, or at least I thought as much. And its not that I have not travelled.
I fell flat on my face!
I realized my mental block when I went on a camping trip to a music festival in Nelson ledges, a remote place in the state of Ohio with my sister’s boyfriend, Tim. This was the most uncomfortable and enlightening situation of my life. A situation which shattered my conceptions, about myself.
All I could see in this place were white people of all economic backgrounds, some of them uneducated junkies, whom my sister’s boyfriend referred to as white trash.
Being the only brown boy, and that to directly from India, I went in a self-conscious shell, which I had never imagined I had. I had an inferiority complex. The feeling that I don’t look as good as the whites do, my Indian accent is funny and I am a racially different person, pushed me down like a nail in the wood. Although no one did anything to me, apart from the stares, I ended up staying in the tent, not even getting out in the night to attend the Pink Floyd tribute band special, fearing white supremacy, constantly cursing myself for what I had got myself into.
Although our neighborhood RV had people who were welcoming but I felt totally lost. I was so conscious. I felt so inferior. It was then that I realized how deep was this racial and cultural discrimination within me. I had put my guards up to such a level that when a middle-aged lady from the neighboring family asked me my name, talking really slow, I felt offended and yelled at her saying “I know English”. Tim later told me that she was on drugs and that’s why she was slow. I was embarrassed. Not because I had nothing to get high, but because my insecurities made me overpower my so-called ‘Indian values’ of not yelling at elders.
It then hit me, my insecurity was not only because I was weak but also because of my society and the way I was brought up. The culture, which we boast about, led me to this? Was this the great Indian culture? I started to think how we treat people from our own country differently. A guy from Mumbai hates a guy from Bihar for no reason. We discriminate against people from the North eastern parts of India. They are made fun of because of their East Asian looks.
Do we, as Indians, really have the right to complain about racism when in America if a black guy is rude to us, the first thing that pops in our head is “You are rude, because you are black”?Â Indians take into consideration that people abroad do not understand our language, which I guess motivated an Indian man on a greyhound bus terminal to say “woh dekh, kya kala hai na woh?” (look at him, he is so black, lol?)
Why do we act as victims when we use our alien tongue to the fullest to be our racist selves abroad? A few times when I had faced problems in the USA while travelling, I was motivated to be racist to someone who had a darker skin than me. I have faced problems in India and yes I was racist even then.
My cousin and I were taking a walk when the topic of Nina Davuluri winning Miss America 2014 popped up. She asked me a question which I was embarrassed to answer. She asked me, “What’s with Indian people saying that how could she win, she is so dark, here in the USA people love her because of her skin! Why are Indians so obsessed with the skin color?” My cousins always referred to Indians as “you Indians” as she does not feel that affinity to the Indian culture. Why would she? A generation after her will be totally overlooking the fact that they have Indian origins. The question is, have we as Indians given NRIs any reason to consider and accept their race as Indians?
It was a slap on my face, “Its not only the color, there are other things too which even I am not proud of.” I replied.
My sister’s questionÂ helped me recover from the mental trauma of Nelson ledges. The trauma that no one cared about my skin color the day I went camping. They were just looking at me because I looked different. I was more than welcomed by the people besides our tent but I was full of inferiority complex, stopped from socializing and making friends with them. Indian society gave me a complex and that’s what I dealt with. The complex which says whites and foreigners are always right. That Indians are famous for ‘Jugaad’ and ‘Chalta hai boss’.
We as Indians try so hard to change the western world’s perceptions about India that we don’t just charm snakes anymore, that we do not have only poor people. But why don’t we look into ourselves and realize that the west will change perception only when we change our perceptions about us? No one is perfect, not even the west.
The West celebrating Diwali or Holi should not make us proud Indians. It makes us freaks and entertainers. Its high time we are known for our values and cultures than our festivals. I will return to India soon and will be a changed man. However, I have understood this one thing, India is not great, It needs to be great by being welcoming not only to others, but to their own people.
I had the resources to travel and understand about my complex but many students and Indians living in foreign countries face this racism not from foreigners, but their own people. Next time you see a poor or a dark skinned foreigner, think Â before commenting. Who knows you might be the racist I am talking about.
I am going to travel more, might end up in the hands of Ku Klux Klan, who knows what will happen then? Probably I would just smile and take all the racist comments, you know why? Because I feel no different from them.
I love my country but at the end of this trip a couple of questions that I will ask myself areÂ “Am I really proud to be an Indian?” or “Are Indians worthy of my pride?”
Its up to you to answer.