Indians often like to sit and call out the United States for being a racist country, but don’t forget that Indians are just as racist. Our typical Indian narrow-mindedness tells us that fair skinned, rich people are better than everyone else. Maybe 200 years of oppressive colonial rule had made us believe so.
Being born in a privileged middle-class family, I was made to believe that people doing menial jobs are least respected and are looked down upon. I had earlier written an article on the same. We don’t dine with our domestic help, we force them to enter our houses from behind, and we keep different vessels for them.
Growing up, I remember seeing a particular Fair & Lovely ad on TV (along with several movies and feature films) enforcing the idea that a dark-skinned girl can’t find a groom, while a fair-skinned one will, and easily. To be honest, it was deeply engraved in our belief system that ‘fair is beautiful’.
When people see an Indian woman with a man of a different race, they assume both are just hanging out with each other for sex. When the same woman is seriously involved with a white man, they will offer unsolicited advice, saying “Be careful. You never know how these firangs (foreigners) are.”
These ideas bring out the worst in Indian men, and maybe it hurts their ego too. Nobody knows why. Some men will often make comments saying “Hum mein kya kami thi joh iss gore ke saath chali gayi (What do we lack that you chose this white guy)?”
For Indians, mixed-race alliances are completely alien. People often stereotype men from the West as being interested in women mainly for sexual gratification. The same goes for any Indian man hanging out with a blonde woman. Either he is a guide, or is with her for sexual gratification. Of course it can’t be anything other than these!
We can still argue that there is no racism in India, but news of attacks on Nigerian students in Delhi and Bangalore prove otherwise. The attack on African nationals is probably due to a racial stereotype from 19th-century European colonisers that they practice cannibalism. It has been engraved in our minds as well, thanks to our country’s association with Europe. Similarly, the persistent idea of a man of colour misbehaving with a white woman is due to stereotyping from Hollywood movies and porn.
Among the conservative section of the society, there is a deeply entrenched idea that women who sleep with multiple partners are ‘loose’.
The truth is that every foreigner who is not white is treated badly. People assume that they are only here for the drug trade and prostitution. Indians themselves want to live in other countries, but will look down at and stereotype everyone from the African continent, seeing them as “tribals” who came here for illegal trade. The bias is that a foreigner who is white is always right.
I have seen whenever a Nigerian person is out in a public place, people and shopkeepers stare, point, laugh and make fun of them in their own regional languages (which, of course, a Nigerian person cannot understand). Let’s not forget that the skin colour of the original natives of ancient India was black, and that the fair-skinned population was added when different invaders came to our shores and settled.
Racism doesn’t end with Europeans and Africans. We discriminate against people from our own country. The people from North Eastern states face severe racism and discrimination. They often called “chinky”, “momo”, “chowmein”, and are regarded as South Koreans, Chinese or Japanese. The moment you are seen as a person from North-East India, with a tattoo or any hairstyle different from the norm, you are labeled as a drug addict. Women from the same region are automatically labeled ‘cheap’. If they wear shorts or half-sleeves, then the stereotype only gets amplified.
In Delhi, Tamilians or Andhrities automatically become “Madrasis”, an outdated, monolithic term that also carries the power to humiliate.
When we are often at the forefront of raising our voices against the racist attacks on Indians in the US, Europe, or Australia, are we ready to look at what happens in our own backyard?
Indians even carry their racist bias abroad. They will sit with groups of other Indians who speak their language, looking at African-Americans, and say “Woh dekh, kya kala hai na woh (Look at him, he is so black)!”
I was scrolling through several comments containing abuses and racist slurs against Nina Davuluri for winning Miss America in 2014. I saw Indians saying “How can she win the contest? She is so black!”
For me, a young, modern guy who moved out to a metro city, I too was full of racist bias. But my interaction with people of different races, online and offline, helped me change my perspective a lot. I could see my mental block during my initial degree-college days. I will use this phrase, not to justify this article, but because Indians need to be told that “Black is beautiful“.
We often rail against people in the West for their bias against India— to them, a country of snake charmers, sadhus, and software engineers—but we fail to correct ourselves. The West has started being inclusive, embracing Indian values and celebrating our festivals. But we are not ready to get rid of our bias. The next time you are about to stereotype a North Eastern person, or a dark-skinned foreigner, think before doing you do. You might be racist.