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Race and rancor

The racial abuse against Shilpa Shetty on a TV Reality show definitely incite a reaction from even the most placid of us, writes Shalini Kathuria Narang.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2007 07:18 IST

Some happenings incite a reaction from even the most placid of us. The racial abuse against Shilpa Shetty on a TV Reality show is definitely one such incident.

I do not know if it is the immigrant factor or the argumentative Indian trait, but racism as a topic of deliberation and discussion is definitely big in desi conversation circuit these days.

As expected, at a recent gathering with friends, the topic cropped up and amongst mouthfuls of dal makhani and matar paneer, everyone wanted to express their two cents.

"Thank god we are on the west coast in US," quipped one friend. "We Indians are respected for our enterprise. We definitely have made a niche for ourselves and there is no apparent racial discrimination here." He continued.

Unable to hold her two cents, a vociferous friend jumped in and said, "I agree. So many other places in the world are so prejudiced and not right to raise families. A colleague of mine the other day told about his experience of growing up in London and said that Paki was a common term used by the local youth to address or point out Indian, Pakistani or other south Asians."

I sat thinking about global identities in the flat world. Is it only in minds, books and a utopia?

While there are no simple answers to these loaded questions of belongingness, identities and nationalities, yet before pointing fingers, let us look inside. I will start with myself and narrate some of my actions that reveal unconscious discrimination at its worst and seeking security in similarity at its best

I remember looking at the list of children's names at the start of my young one's school year and unconsciously scanning the Indian ones. My daughter made me aware of my unconscious prejudice when I told my husband over the dinner table: "there are three more Indian children in Niyati's class this year." She corrected me by innocently commenting that it did not matter, especially in the light that her best friend has gone to another class.

I wonder when we become more aware of the color of our skins than the thoughts in our hearts and the knowledge in our minds. Skeptics may disagree and quote the famous line: "East is east and west is west and the twain shall never meet." While not wanting to discount the cultural side of things, I feel that beyond color and nationalities, we can find enough similarities and ample differences in spite of common nationalities. I do not need to give examples of past and present to reiterate my point.

In absence of a trait of mutual tolerance, a human can end up liking no one except a mirror image. A single color in even the best texture is boring but a mosaic of hues is a harbinger of endless possibilities.

If we fear racism and shy away from integration, then the powers of division will prevail and win. In our own small ways, we can do tiny things to promote and teach racial tolerance and inter religious respect. I remember my mother taking my brother and me to visit mosques and churches besides the temples.

After many years, once again I learnt a lesson in assimilation from my daughter the other day. I hope I am able to imbibe it in practice. One is very tempted in a remote land to preach and propagate about the culture, heritage and history of the land of one's origin to anyone who might listen, yet, equally important is to learn about the place and the people that one has decided to call or make home or a new home.

First Published: Jan 25, 2007 07:18 IST