Everyone becomes a racist at least once in their lifetime, knowingly and at times unintentionally. Racism is a global, social and human problem. I do not want to sound regressive but perhaps racism runs deep amongst South Asian people.
“Are you from India? Are you Indian? Are you Iranian? Are you Turkish?” That’s what I have heard from people I have met in Canada, but I don’t blame them because I used to act like them. Many years ago I was waiting for my train at the Secunderabad railway station in Hyderabad and I saw a man next to me. Without thinking anything I asked if he was Nepali and then he got angry and replied in English that he was from North East India and not Nepal. I must say my concept of race had been debunked long back but I was only adamant to not accept the fact that it is sensible to ask someone about their identity rather than making quick fallacious assumptions and judgements. I am not saying our guesses can go wrong all the time but it is wiser to ask than guess based on our wavering imagination.
The sudden urge to dislike someone different than one’s group is not a new phenomenon. It comes naturally – we fit easily in our group, but struggle to mingle with a different one. Perhaps it is psychological or natural, I do not know, but I strongly feel that human beings are generally hostile to the outer groups. There are exceptions, however.
Last week while talking with a friend about how people here mistake you as a part of another group I coined a new phrase: ‘mismatched racism’. She lived in Norway and England prior to emigrating here with her parents who have roots in Iran. I bring this up because she said people ask her if she’s from Pakistan or Saudi Arabia rather than asking where she is from. If you listen to her speak, one cannot assume she’s from that region. Not all Asians are Chinese. Not all Europeans are British. Not all westerners are Americans. Not all Africans are Nigerians or South Africans.
My argument here is that there are hundreds of people in Canada who have moved from one country to another (only the First Nations are the natives and can claim legitimately that they were first and have every right to say about it and not others), have different accents and certainly do not belong to a visible majority group like Indians, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and others. So, why are there people here, even international students, who bluntly ask, “Are you from India?” I understand that most people do it unintentionally but again the majority of the people make a false assumption.
The first problem with ‘mismatched racism’ is when someone asks a person if they are from a particular group instead of trying to acknowledge their real origin. That person can turn hostile, exasperated and knackered. When that happens there’s a possibility that they try to reinforce their own identity through various means – forming groups or associations and staying away from the majority group. This enfeebles the integration process and even complicates the progression of multiculturalism. In Europe, it is already failing.
The second problem is that such events instil hostile feelings in the person against the groups that they are matched with. But being a human being, and originating from the land of the Mt. Everest, . Such assumptions do in fact abate the possibility of making new relationships with others. Immediately, I assume that people who ask such questions are not broad-minded and hence do not require my friendship. I’m working on this and the next time if anyone asks me like that I’m going to fire back and ask them if they are from another country and observe their reaction. I’m jesting.
The third problem is that since I’m new here, it is difficult for me to give up my origin and past. If I settle here only the second or third generation will be able to integrate completely, which means, I have to deal with this issue for life. Next time you should start a conversation in a proper logical manner by asking, “Where were you born?”