Human Rights being a close topic to my heart, my cousin Rajvir gave me a DVD of “AMERICAN HISTORY X” which I just saw. This was based on our discussion a while back on one of my friends being mugged in the South Africa by some localites and the recent racist attacks in Australia. One of us commented on the blacks as the spoilers with a past family incident of a group of blacks looting my cousin brother’s departmental shop in the US some years back. This movie was a touching one, clarifying the actual situation in the US and the fundamentals of racism to an extent that triggered me to write this piece.
Before we get into Racism, a summary of this 1998 American film directed by Tony Kaye – The film tells the story of two brothers, Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) and Daniel "Danny" Vinyard (Edward Furlong) of Venice Beach, Los Angeles, California. Both are extremely bright and charismatic students, and Derek is drawn into the neo-Nazi movement after their father, a firefighter, is murdered by a black drug dealer while trying to put out a fire in a South Central neighborhood. There is one Doctor who promotes anti-black activities and entices young whites to join. The gang commits acts of intimidation, such as damaging a store owned by a Korean and challenging basketball games against groups of black players, in order to win the basketball court as turf. One night while Derek is with his girlfriend, he kills two black gang members trying to steal his truck, and is sentenced to three years in prison for voluntary manslaughter.
In prison Derek joins the Aryan Brotherhood – the White prisoners lobby, but has differences over the group's friendly dealings with a Mexican gang. When he voices these opinions, he is quickly shut down by the other white supremacists, so Derek chooses to not associate with them any more and is beaten and raped in the showers. It is while working in the prison laundry room that Derek gradually becomes friends with a black inmate named Lamont (Guy Torry).
The story shows how Danny is influenced by his older brother's actions and ideology and how Derek, now radically changed by his experience in confinement, tries to prevent his brother from going down the same path. The movie is a hard one and also violent at some points, but leaves one with a one liner well said in the movie – “Life is too short to get pissed.”
WHAT IS RACISM ?
Although the term Racism usually denotes race-based prejudice, violence, discrimination, or oppression, the term can also have varying and hotly contested definitions. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, racism is a belief or ideology that all members of each racial group possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially to distinguish it as being either superior or inferior to another racial group or racial groups. The Merriam-Webster's Dictionary defines racism as a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular racial group, and that it is also the prejudice based on such a belief. The Macquarie Dictionary defines racism as: "the belief that human races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others." One can find a good content around the fundamentals of racism on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism but if I were to define Racism, here it would go – An activity or action or a reaction for the benefit of an individual, community or a group by demeaning any other individual, community or a group is Racism. Racism is an action as well a reaction to an action. What our Indian colleagues are facing in India might be a reaction of something wrong done with them, maybe a threat of loosing out to our people in terms of success in jobs and life. Many brand Muslims as Terrorists which is absolutely wrong and racist thought, but that might be a reaction of 9/11 or 11/26 any multiple such incidents creating top of the mind recall as we marketing strategists would call.
Its not just the US ten years back, but also India since centuries witnessing Racism and doing absolutely negligible to curb it. Below is some analysis on the same and certain actionables which can help the society at large. Racism is like chicken and egg story in a little different perspective. You can not kill and egg because there are chickens around to lay more eggs and you can not kill a chicken as there are enough eggs to create these chickens. What one can do is reduce the eggs and chickens – on a lighter note somebody rightly said – Go vegetarian !!
RACISM IN INDIA
India perhaps is not the victim of Racism but to an extent mother of racism too, there are many mothers though. Its hypocrisy to crib about our Indian students being victims to the recent Racist attacks in Australia or Shilpa Shetty being a victim of racism in the UK’s Big Brother Show by Jade Goody or the latest being SRK being detained at the US Airport recently or Imran Hashmi being denied a flat in Mumbai because of being a Muslim. There are enough evidences on the first one, but there is a huge chance the rest three examples might be real cases or also publicity stunts or overhyped claims – Its hypocrisy to crib about the same when we ourselves call our North East brother and sisters as “Chinki’s” or “Nepali”- even the Mizoram Chief Minister recently shared the same feelings in an International conference in July 2009- damn it – they are equal Indians….and we are the ones who is building another Al-Qaida or an LTTE within India by such negligence, soon we would see a Kashmir like situation where our brothers would feel more comfortable of becoming Chinese.
Its is ridiculous when most of Indians even today classify any fellow Indian living below the Tropic of Cancer as “Madrasi” – Its just illiteracy or rather failure of the education system in India which taught me some illogical subject called “Trigonometry” in school which I have never used or will use in life, instead of teaching “Ethincity” which could have defined our fellow brothers below the Tropic of Cancer as “Malayali”, “Tamil”, “Kanadiga” and so on…. Instead of calling them “Madrasi”. Living in Mumbai for more than 10 years, I still don’t understand why Non-Marathis in their local lingo or slang call every Maharashtrian a “Ghati” !!! This is racism or a seed to it and this is purely a failure on part of the Education system in India.
Well, its not today, but since the time of Kings ruling India that we had Un-touchable as a species in India and they even exist today. We flush in a lot of money after so many causes right from Health, Education etc but when it comes to Equality, we do not hear much – sometimes it feels atleast Mayawati is doing some good for Dalits even if people say she has a personal agenda – who does not have these days!
If one reads the recent newspaper (Times of India –September 2, 2009, Pg1 and Pg13), it shows the shameless side of India wherein the Government in the state of Rajasthan has instructed the Bureaucrats – the highest strata of India Civil Citizens – Indian Administrative Services Officers to stand up when an MP or an MLA (Public elected representative) comes. This ridicules the whole system and the essence of Racism at the highest order.
RACIST VIEWS ABOUT OUR MUSLIM BROTHERS IN INDIA- COMPARISON WITH TERRORISTS
Ofcourse as a Marketing Strategist, I would agree that if you keep on hearing every day that praying to this deity results in this or drinking water empty stomach is good, you start believing in the same – its nothing but “belief” which comes from repeated triggers, data points and repeated trends – the “belief” becomes “belief” – how weak or strong is a factor of “personal feeling multiplied by number of triggers touched”. The same has happened for our Muslim fellow citizen – 9/11 in the US, 1993 Bombay Bomb Blasts, The Black Tuesday Train blasts, 11/26 Gate of India attack added with reports on the D-Gang and perception of Pakistan, Kashmir etc has created a wrong image of every Muslim being a terrorist. Here, some one would hold Media and Politicians responsible, politicians to an extent of our Independence fighters with basic disconnect of letting India divide on Religion, which itself is a debatable topic. But, net net, such repeated events create a perception which overshadows and outnumbers one of Hindu Terrorist attacks and who can change this – the Media, Politicians and us. Some one rightly quoted – that “All Terrorists are not Muslims- the assassinator of Mahatma Gandi was a Maharastrian, the killer of Indira Gandhi was a Sikh and the killer of Rajiv Gandhi were LTTE – so one can not brand Muslims as terrors, but data has to change to change the perception and it is a collective process. Imagine, to top on it, our own ministers claiming that India knew about the 11/26 Terror Attacks in Mumbai shows how things could be hand-in-glows, but such important statements are buried and what remains are such perceptions which are racist and harmful to the society as a whole.
RACISM IN MUMBAI
Mumbai, the financial capital of India, has been in headlines offlate for racist attacks on North Indians. This was not the first type of such a racist attack in Mumbai. South Indians and Gujarati community has been on the point long back. The reason for the North Indian attacks by Raj Thackerey’s MNS Party has been analysed by analyst as a political move. The reason is somewhat reasonable from Mr. Thackerey’s perspective where everyday 10000 people from UP & Bihar come into Mumbai. But naturally, they use the infrastructure and make a living also at times chipping into the livings of the local maharashtrians. There are job quotas already for localites and the jobs the so called “North Indians” do would never be doable as per the dignity of a Maharashtrian. Asked commonly, a maharashtrian would refuse to milk cows, drive a cab, launder the clothes. These jobs are largely done by the North Indians in Mumbai. Similarly, most waiters and cooks in Mumbai are from East India- Bengali and Oriyas. Well, it’s a matter of an eco system – who fits in fits in and who doesn’t doesn’t. But, any political party, especially a new one, would need an agenda and it was a successful agenda, but the same resulted in disharmony and racism at the ground levels. The strategy at the top is different and the repercussions on the grounds are different, which is a known fact and that creates the gap here. I always think of why no one thinks of the Illegal Bangladeshis immigrants in Mumbai who could cause terror too or the illegal local urban poor increasing the slums and encroaching lands in Mumbai – guess this segment might be sensitive from a votebank perspective versus the former which has its own niche.
RACISM ON INDIANS IN OTHER COUNTRIES
When there is so much of Racism within India, how much do we speak of the same outside. But the fact remains, the same is a huge concern with more than 14 attacks in a period of 30 days on Indian students in Australia.
We would have heard of racism against our fellow Indians in the US, Middle East, UK etc, but this time, the frequent series of racist attacks and the role of Media has somewhat helped us notice and feel the heat more.
Just guaranteeing the victims of racism in Australia some seats in colleges in India or the foreign minister wasting the tax payers money to go to Australia does not solve the purpose. Though there have been political acknowledgements and regrets on both sides – the same is not justified. Ofcourse, various students groups and associations have come out and protested and that is the way out to begin with. The Indian High commissioner should have been thrown out long back, but guess no one dares to or no one is really concerned.
It is not just Indians who are victims here. It’s the worldwide phenomenon where people are classified as BLACKS (Primarily from Africa), BROWNS (Asians), YELLOWS (Chinese) who are seen as lower strata as compared to the WHITES (British, Americans). My work has helped me visit many countries and have friends from various ethnicities and castes. They on a personal note have spoken about their insecurities from Asians, who are perceived to be aggressive, go-getters and smarter lots with cheaper cost, who can snatch their breads. Infact, racism is something, which exist almost everywhere – not just amongst foreigners but within their own people too – for eg. One of my friend had diverse views on Jews. Similarly, there were huge differences in the Christians – Roman Catholics and Protestants.
We need to agree that universally, the Eco system is something which can not be changed entirely or overnight (there always would be a higher and lower strata in the society), but definitely things can be better for all. Somehow, Australian attacks have given us a clue to look at racism in a different view
(1) by coming out in unity, without any political backdrop, but as citizen like in Australia.
(2) by creating more awareness on ethnicity and culture right at the ground levels. Here, media would play a big role.
(3) To remind the relevant authorities as citizens about their duties on Racism control and Human rights. Also working along with agencies and organizations (NGOs) by sparing some of our time and energy towards this cause.
(4) Treat a lower strata person with equal respect and dignity (servant, cab driver, beggar, urchins, call centre cold callers etc)
(5) The movie “American History X” left me with a single line learning which I would repeat – Life is too short to get pissed !