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Training to be white-washed

india Updated: Jan 13, 2008 01:19 IST
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When I was making the film, I asked one telemarketer why he changed his name from Harbajan to Harry. He said this was his boss’ way of protecting him from “racism”. But, isn’t there something inherently racist in even making that request of Mr Harbajan?

Why is it that telemarketers have to change their names to ‘white’, ‘anglicised’ ones? Call centre managers say because Americans, Australians and Britishers can pronounce these names easily. Granted, but why is it that most call centre employees have typical white names? How about Latino names like Julio or African American names like Shaniqua? Clearly these people also exist in American society — as do Indians.

In our willingness to take on these ‘white’ personas without questioning the implications, we too are perpetuating racism without even realising it.

During culture training, call centre employees learn about Easter and Christmas (again white middle America), but hardly any of them learn about Kwanzaa or Hanukkah. What kind of America are Indians learning about? Based on what I’ve witnessed at these culture training sessions, it’s a pretty standardised whitewashed America.

If we truly want to protest racism, we Indians should look beyond the cricket field and also tell all call centre employees to stand up and say, “We no longer will take on white personas. We are Indians and brown-skinned. We work hard and want to be called by our Indian names”.

(The writer is the director of Nalini by Day, Nancy by Night, a film on the life of call centre workers)