Do I really know what Racism is?

By | March 16, 2021
Do I really know what Racism is?

Last Updated on by Admin LB

What exactly is Racism – I am yet to find an answer to it. When I do the google search, the first definition which pops up is “the belief that some races of people are better than others; unfair ways of treating people of different races”.

Do I really know what Racism is?

How many of us have grown up with friends with nicknames “Kalu”, “Lambu”, “Nittu”, “Chinks” and so on so forth? If my “Dus ka Dum” assessment is correct, I would guess it’s between 90% and 100%. Let me take it a step further –  when a baby is born, after asking three formal questions:- (i) boy or girl; (ii) C-Section or normal; and (iii) Both baby and mother are doing ok, what is the next question which was asked in the previous generation? Yes, you guessed it right, it was – bachche ka colour kispe hai?” especially when one of the parents is of lighter skin colour.

This is how a baby is (or at least was) brought into this world. A world which welcomes you with racist remarks, the moment one is born. Months later, depending on the features of the baby, the baby is nicknamed, “Kaalu”, “Mallu”, “Korean”, “Goplu”, “Motu” “Firangi”, “Taklu” or such other names based on the physical appearance of the baby.

Candidly speaking, I am not trying to make a point against the family members who give names to a baby out of sheer love and affection. In fact, I am not trying to make any point here. I am only trying to understand whether this new age definition of “racism” was imbibed in our social system and we were never offended by it. Now, when I look back at my childhood, with an eye on my nine-month-old daughter, the difference in ideology is nothing but stark.

The difference is not only in the way we, (“we” meaning the urban class, the more educated ones, the ones who drive the society) who are well travelled and the ones who know everything, who have all the information in the world at our finger-tips, courtesy – the smart-phone, (Note: I am not trying to be sarcastic here) deal with this word “racism”, the difference is in almost everything we do.

The childhood of the ’90s was substantially different from the millennial childhood. To cite a few examples;

  1. Teachers, especially P.E.Teacher, used to punish kids back then with bamboo sticks, and now they can’t even think of slapping a child;
  2. Close family members would find it funny to pull knickers of a baby back then, now kids are taught about “good-touch, bad touch” and “sexual harassment” at a young age; and
  3. In days back then, parents won’t panic even if it was 8 P.M. and the child was not back home after having back to back cycle rides with Dadu/Chachu or attending kirtan with Dadi/Bua or Chachi, but now we have access to our children through location-detecting-sensors or CCTV feeds on mobile almost 24X7.

Just pause here for a moment – Just go back down the memory lane and think of the changes which have come in the upbringing of a child. Good or bad – Neither do I know, nor do I intend to address that in this Article. The only thing which has not changed substantially is – racism imbibed in our social system.

The other day my wife and I were watching glimpses of the famous Oprah Winfrey show, hosting Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, where she accuses some of the royal family members of being racist as they were worried about the skin colour of the couples’ first child.

My instant thought was – with this analogy, do I know anyone who is not at all bothered by the skin colour – and I concluded, “a big NO”. Then, over a long drive with my wife, one conversation led to the other and we started discussing the “racism fuss” these days.

She made a very fair (not the racist fair) point in the conversation,  the point being, “I don’t think the famous Amitabh Bachchan song ‘jiski biwi lambi, uska bhi bada naam hai… jiski biwi kaali… jiski biwi moti… jiski biwi gori’ would get Censor Approval in today’s world, and if it does there will be protests by the anti-racist NGOs”. After absorbing that point, the lawyer in me wanted to do a counter and I said, “May be you are right, but if that being the case, why are there no protests against products like ‘fair and lovely’, or ‘fair and handsome’?” We both were quiet for a few seconds and then we moved to another topic.

So what exactly is Racism – I am yet to find an answer to it. When I do the google search, the first definition which pops up is “the belief that some races of people are better than others; unfair ways of treating people of different races”.

May I request you to please read the definition once again and now think of the following keeping this definition in mind: –

  1. Why do we laugh out loud, when a famous comedian makes fun of dark skin at prime time on National Television?
  2. When we look at a couple with substantially varied skin tone, why do we say that the fairer must have done the compromise due to better financial or social status of the darker?
  3. Why do we look at a darker baby with a sense of disappointment and a fairer one with a sense of accomplishment?
  4. Why do we promote kids to put fairness creams, oils or face packs?
  5. When we go out to travel, especially abroad, why do we feel unsafe if we are driven by or find ourselves amongst African origin people in an elevator?
  6. Why Bollywood movies have very few dark-skinned heroes and barely any dark-skinned heroines?

Why, for god’s sake, there is a battle in our subconscious mind to look fairer?

We won’t take a sun-bath in winters for long (even if it battles with our vitamin D deficiencies), we will do face therapies’ after a vacation in goa or any other beach, our bio-data’s will have a row of skin colour and more often than not, we will write a remark more inclined towards a fairer interpretation.

As I pen my thoughts here, the breaking news on the television is blaring ‘External affairs minister S Jaishankar said in Parliament that India can never turn eyes away from racism and will champion the fight against it, reacting to the issue of Rashmi Samant, the Indian student who resigned as the president of the Oxford University’s students’ union last month after controversy over an alleged racist social media post’.

The objective of this article was not to discourage funny banters and healthy humour on appearances. The objective of this article is to provoke some thoughts on this very relevant aspect of “racism”. Probably, these points may also apply on “sexism”, “casteism”, “regionalism” and other man-made differences.  We all deal with it (almost) daily and we need to change our mindsets sooner than later, to see the beauty in every skin colour and to see divine in every smile.

I am pretty sure that this article will not make a sea of difference in the world, but I am hopeful that it will shake the conscience of the reader on any racist behaviour, at least for few days if not months. As a wise man said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognise, accept, and celebrate those differences”.

The objective of doing something over a period of time is to get better at it. Consider joining a creative writing course to improve your prose.

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Author: Jasmeet Singh

Advocate on Record, Supreme Court of India Managing Partner of Chambers of Joshi and Singh

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