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Not so Black & White at all

?Forget all the liberal veneer. Fundamentally all these guys are racists.? In a single quote Ruchir Joshi (March 25, Neither fair nor lovely) manages to firmly stereotype an entire group of people, namely Whites, as incorrigible racists.

india Updated: Mar 31, 2006 04:10 IST

‘Forget all the liberal veneer. Fundamentally all these guys are racists.’ In a single quote Ruchir Joshi (March 25, Neither fair nor lovely) manages to firmly stereotype an entire group of people, namely Whites, as incorrigible racists. Since the validity of a hypothesis can only be confirmed when it stands true in converse as well, I will propose the following: all non-Whites are non-racists and non-discriminating as a rule.

The position held by Joshi has two advantages: one, the source of systemic or personal discrimination is found located far away from one’s own racial group; and two, it makes unnecessary any discomforting debate on the issue of different forms of discrimination one comes across globally. The ‘racism’ label has become a far too easy route to shut out any meaningful debate on how modes of discrimination work in various societies including our own Indian society.

A good example of such simple self-congratulatory thinking is the 2001 Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. Dalit activists from India struggled to put caste discrimination on the UN agenda. The then Indian government was curiously doing its best to keep caste out of this agenda as this was an ‘internal Indian matter’ that the outside world had little understanding of. Moreover, we were told, caste discrimination could not be equated with race, or colour-based discrimination. It was almost as if one form of discrimination was ‘better’ than another.

The fact that caste is based on two components, one of which is varna, or colour, was ignored by those who opposed the Dalit groups. The simple message was that let’s not complicate the matters of racial discrimination that are essentially about Black and White people. Any possibility that ‘Browns’ could have a share in dishing out discrimination historically and practically was, hence, completely ruled out in this two-bit square reasoning. Going by Joshi’s argument, all Indians can be stereotyped as casteists because caste discrimination is played out on an everyday basis in India.

This uncluttered black and white logic seems to be gaining wide currency and acceptance. This was made apparent in the recent cartoon affair in Denmark that sparked off global protests. The publication of the cartoons was frequently described as an act of European racist arrogance that overrode all revered traditions of ‘others’. The ‘others’ in this case could variously be described as Muslims, migrants, minorities or non-Whites depending on the necessity of a given argument.

The complex history of contemporary Europe; the waves of post-World War II migration from Asia, Africa and West Asia into Europe; the conflict over integration models between migrants and the various European states; the high tax driven socio-economic structure — the welfare State model — that disables most West European states from emulating the high risk American melting pot ideal of migration; and the tensions between overtly displayed religious traditions and the always-under-the-lid Lutheran practice of religion is often forgotten in such simplifications. Why spoil the clear picture frame with considerations that demand one's attention longer than a split second?

The black and white logic seems hazy and misleading to me in a very personal way as well. Some seven years ago I gave birth to a White, blue- eyed boy who had genetically decided to follow his White, blue eyed father. A brown body had produced a White body against all genetic prophecies. The racial divides, biases and stereotypes were rendered meaningless to me in that moment. It also produced complications. Could I ‘naturally’ claim sides anymore as I was accustomed to both academically and politically  as a ‘marginalised’ woman from an ‘oft persecuted’ religious minority group in a ‘developing’ country? Or had my son simply made me leap from one side to another and back so that together we could stride comfortably on both sides?

When I look at my Punjabi-Danish speaking little boy who often sings songs from Bunty aur Babli and whose greatest desire is to meet Abhishek Bachchan, I doubt what Ruchir Joshi and his friends have to say about all White people. Life is slightly more complicated than what they make it out to be. Not all White people are racists. And not all non-White people are free of racial prejudices.

The writer is a Research Fellow at Roskilde University, Denmark