(I’m not here to defame Indians, I’m here to open a discussion about racism in India, as it’s largely ignored)
I see a lot of discussions on Twitter and outside of it, where Indians are very pro-black activism (including myself), without talking about the anti-black racism we grew up with inside our culture. Being a non-black POC, we can’t seriously align ourselves with them without looking at our own misdoings.
I first noticed the problem growing up and hearing my family and close relatives use derogatory terms when referring to black people. This is seen in many facets: from very obvious racism, to the rhetoric that being dark-skinned is frowned upon, and using skin bleaching creams such as Fair & Lovely.
This goes on today as we’ve seen articles of black students attacked for simply being. There are thousands of African students studying in India, who are regularly attacked, abused and mistreated. Yet Indians around me and around the world want to talk about everything else.
Here’s our very own Shah Rukh Khan, promoting the ‘male’ version of Fair & Lovely – Fair & Handsome.
Racism is rife in India’s media, not only with obsessing over light skinned models/actors, but also using white women in Bollywood films, as attractions. In passing, a Bollywood actress (Rimi Sen) has said:
‘Rohit Shetty is amazing as a director. He can make even a black African look pretty.’
Indians may very well be marginalised people, but we did not help when it came to showing solidarity towards black people. In fact, we made it worse.
Lest we forget, Gandhi’s abhorrent racism:
India believe in a caste system, that predetermines someone’s life/career/opportunities based on where they were born, their family and so on. This outstanding sense of entitlement that comes with being a certain class can give you a false sense of power.
All Indians know the joke:
‘Yes beta, you can marry who you want. As long as they’re not black, white, muslim…etc’.
The joke being that getting married is a sign of status, if you marry someone in your religion and certain religious cultural caste, you are seen as good and clean. If you marry outside of it, it’s frowned upon. People have been disowned, hurt, threatened, all because they don’t pressure themselves with prejudices against people outside of their race. When you have a system in India that refuses to acknowledge a person because of their caste, you begin to get a feel of their prejudices.
Within the country itself, from north to south, there is a very strong stigma. South India inhabits predominately darker skinned people, whereas the North tend to be lighter skinned. There have been many times (I have witnessed), where someone from North India will hurl abusive remarks about a South Indian’s darker skin. No one blinks an eye, it’s considered ‘light hearted jovial fun’ or ‘something they deserve’. There’s an obsession with light skin and the Brits were the forefront of the issue. Forever wanting to seek validation from the white gaze, we abuse who they dislike, hoping they notice.
My relatives would say ‘you’re so light skinned wow, you’ll get married so quickly!’, a) as if it was an accomplishment to get married, and b) i was of a privilege. I was taught that being light skinned was great and to acknowledge that darker skin was not attractive. I would nod my head, not aware of what I was agreeing to or having the knowledge to know better. My family, with the prejudices they held, were ill equipped to teach me any different.
My experience of racism from Indians in my generation was little but prevalent. In my parent’s generation it was rife and my grandparents, expected. No one talks about it, it’s humiliating to some and ‘not worth a discussion’ to others.
We need to own up to our culture’s racism & prejudices, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.