Wednesday, January 16, 2008

racism

i am currently working on a project for a foreign client. my team has mostly brown people, with a sprinkling of a few white people as well. most are very nice, but one specimen quite often makes me feel murderous.

for the ignorant white person who comes to india
(aka: why i'm wary of white criticism, aka: how you give other white people a bad name):

scenario 1:
you come here on work. you work with your brown colleagues and genuinely have a very nice time. you think quite a few of them are very intelligent and very professional. but you see nothing wrong with doing this:

you've all gone to a coffee shop together. you have to wait for your order longer than you like. so you start whining after the first 5 minutes, and your script is : "man... that's so inndia. you would *never* find something like this happening in *WonderfulWhiteCountry*!"

yeah. that so totally india. didn't you know it's how all indians are? slowness and inefficiency are hardcoded into our DNA. you say you don't mean us by that? i see. we look like what to you? fried sausage? we're part of inndia too.

scenario 2:
you perceptively ride down the obvious manifestations of colony mentality we still have and express withering contempt for the people here who suffer from it. then you dont wonder for one minute why people put up with your constant bitching about the country, climate, water, food, government, place, work and other subjects in the universe without questioning how you get away with assuming the prerogative to be ill-mannered, loud-mouthed, proudly and insistently insensitive and ignorant and always complaining.

people put up with that because you're white. because brown people have heard this crap for a long time from white people. the next time it bothers you so much that the place around you is immersed in colony culture.... remember to also be profoundly grateful that it is, because otherwise, people may even pull you up or take you apart when you deserve it.

scenario 3:
you're opening up to your brown colleague about the huge row you had with your boss and how he was acting like a sexist and judgemental shit over your social life. said brown colleague explains that we are still a patriarchal society (i'm beginning to lose belief that there is any society left on the planet that isn't). said b.c. explains that the guy is an arse that way, but you may find him professionally fair to you however personally unfair. you yammer on and say man... this would never happen in *WonderfulWhiteCountry*. you don't get judged for this shit. it is all so lousy only in india.

cough. yeah. in there's no sexism, no patriarchy in *WonderfulWhiteCountry*. and to top it, it's "indianness" not "patriarchy" that just bit you in the ass. your brown colleague happens to be a brown feminist. she happens to also identify herself with that indianness and that culture. you just wiped her clean out of the picture. because in your books, patriarchy isn't something that is also there and that seeped into brown culture, no.

indianness = patriarchy. it's so lovely to have your existence erased.

scenario 4:
you're wailing about the way you just saw people at work behave with their superiors. you label that so inndian and of course, that that isn't the way things work in *WonderfulWhiteCountry*. guess what, if you bothered opening your eyes, you may notice that there are quite of your colleagues who don't behave that way. that your own team, is remarkably bureaucracy-free. that your brown boss happens to be a singularly neat character who doesnt expect, want or demand that fawning of you or other brown colleagues.

scenarios ad nauseam:
you crib about corruption here, and how everything only gets done if you pay a bribe...and then you ask all your brown friends if they will write your thesis for you - and you're willing to pay well.

you call your "friend" home, and all the way to your house, you keep insisting that you're not rich. you're just a poor white student. before she has even stepped into your house, you hurry into explanations of why the rent you're paying isn't half as high as it would normally be, and how poor you are. what were you expecting? to get mugged by the envious, coloured savage?

all these gems of from someone who can be quite nice otherwise. it's really sad to see someone casually smack a culture, a whole people down without a second thought. wake up. there's simply no excuse for ignorant racism.

and it's not the burden of the coloured person to have to educate white people out of their racism.

the third world isn't your toilet.

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Raji said...

Hugs Hugs Hugs!! excited to know that there are people as murderous as I am in such "normal" situations and gives me relief that I am not the only oh-you-think-too-much-about-such-trivial-things.

Been there.When tried explaining to show how ignorant/racist/conditioned-about-India one i.w.p is, I got a response "oh I obviously didn't mean you"!!. Thats the heights and I closed the conversation.

what did you do?

-Raji

p.s. This behaviour of i.w.p can be extrapolated to few sections of our i(ntelligent).brownistans too towards other brownistans. This I guess calls for an entirely different thread of posts.

8:16 pm  
Blogger m. said...

Raji: trying to pull a "oh but you are more like one of Us" is a massive blunder... that only serves to highlight the person's bias. what makes the person think i would like to walk away from my people and be clubbed with the person's group? its a superbly arrogant degree of presumption.

no.. i wouldn't be able to keep quiet if someone pulled that number! :)

and yes, bias isn't white people's alone. sadly, colonial conditioning can affect a brown person also and make them desperately identify with a colonial culture.

7:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great last line in your post!
All the scenarios you wrote about were so aggravating, I can never believe some of the ignorant things I hear from the mouths of often well-educated white folk. Of course what makes me crazy, being here in the U.S., is the appropriation of Indian culture - it seems to have made hoards of white folk think they are experts on all of Indian just because they can use the word "karma" in a sentence.

Anyway, looking forward to reading more.

-obw

9:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your coworker sounds absolutely awful, and I admire your patience in dealing with her.
I do question how well your scenario #1 fits with the rest, though. If "Indians are slow and inefficient" was meant, of course she was being racist.
BUT there are real cultural differences between countries, including attitudes towards time. I live in a country where people take a lot of time in social interactions and we don't mind spending a few extra minutes in line at the grocery store, etc. Life isn't fast-paced here, as a general rule. When someone from a fast-paced culture, *WonderfulWhiteCountry* or no, compares processes here to their home country, it can be an example of self-absorbed rudeness, but I'm not sure how it's racist. Perhaps you could explain your thoughts a little more?

1:54 pm  
Blogger m. said...

Anon: if she were trying to make an intelligent cultural observation, the first reasonable to do, would be to refrain from making sweeping generalisations like "that's so india".

when you blame your having to wait longer than you would like to on the place you're in, you're also saying your observation is objective when it's not. it's subjective as well. but, faking that false distance allows you to claim you're just observing, not stating a personal bias or preference.

when you go on to make that "cultural observation" only when things are not up to the mark you set, and never question your role in things but attribute a farcical agency to other factors so that you can maintain your bias, that, in this context, is racist.

you never have to wait for anything in a *WWC*? oh, there it's circumstance, crowd or a system that's overworked as opposed to its here being just the characterising quality of india?

riiiiiight.

6:31 pm  
Blogger Y? said...

I am subjected to the simplistic analysis of our culture but continous cribbing of white people ALL the time.
Obviously one cannot generalize but there are a FEW out there who think they have the right to put us down!
Nice post!

1:09 am  
Anonymous Raluk said...

I hate racist people. We are not God and we have no right to judge people, especially from their skin's color.

12:03 pm  
Anonymous Rani said...

You have dumbos everywhere. if you want academic arguments, besides Mohanty I suggest you read 'The Location of Culture' by Homi Bhabha, available on the net as well. Go on to Scribd, you have much stuff uploaded there.

6:40 am  
Anonymous Begum said...

The western media portrays only the misery sitautions in India. The Mother Theresa episode highlighted it. The Indian woman is depicted as a slave to customs in a patriarchal society, subject to arranged (which for westerners means forced)marriages, with no choices in her life.

I suggest you comment on articles in the foreign press when you see these write ups. For many westerners, a woman living alone, idependeant is a happy woman.

2:53 am  

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