Let’s bust some myths today.
Racism doesn’t only equate to discrimination based on colour. It includes any kind of discrimination based on the false association of superficial physical differences—skin colour, the shape of our eyes, shade of hair, etc.—with moral and intellectual qualities. Similar to other socially defined terms, racism is defined within a set of social borders depending on the community’s beliefs, culture, and practices.
Majorly based on skin colour, the American logic behind racism is less in style in India. Discrimination based on colour on the professional front is a little tough to practice in a country where we have more meanings of beauty than even beauty brands can keep up with. However, the colour problem does exist, but for better or worse, it is only alive majorly inside the privacy of our homes when we’re looking for fair-skinned brides and not for completing daily quotas behind an office desk, but that doesn’t stop us from harbouring a mammoth amount of innate prejudice against African, black British, or African-American communities. The amount of disregard and misinformation about global minority groups matched with an obsession for everything white makes for the most dangerous trigger groups. Such groups don’t know that they are racist and are ready to go to great lengths to prove the same.
But whether we like to admit it or not, the hard truth is that India condones racism, the same as any of the first world countries we like to judge from behind our anti-glare screens. No amount of passive-aggressive denial, angry monologues on the country’s historical integrity, or a blatant disregard of the seriousness of the issue is going to help.
The country is suffering from a severe case of not being able to accept that we have yet another social paradigm to battle against. Having a completely different demographic and political environment, the biggest democracy in the world pales in comparison to other world powers that have more well-defined brackets for racism, seen rampant in social, personal, and professional fronts. The form of racism most predominant in India is Structural Racism. It is the power used by the dominant group to provide its members with advantages over the non-dominant group. Not only does the dominant group use structural racism to obtain economic resources, but also to limit the non-dominant group’s access to these resources, essentially cutting off their air supply.
Despite large-scale, moral arguments on racism being a sub-par issue in India, secondary to the free flow of other major social issues, the problem exists waiting to be acknowledged. It lurks in dark corners and is brought out for a dust-off and showcased during any elections in which the northeastern, Dalit, Hispanic, transgender, female population, etc. make up a major voter group. The first point of contact in which legs are forced to buckle is by depriving them of equal working and educational opportunities, eventually taking away the bread and butter of these communities. We continue not to observe and refuse to account for the ways in which racism is employed in both educational and workplaces.
We’re talking about the Assamese girl whom the office HR manager does not trust because of what looks like a Nepali face and Chinese eyes to him, a result of the trust issues instilled in his childhood. And so, she can now have a choice. Trudge her way alone through the big city as a migrant worker, looking for menial jobs to score a meal and imagine her family starve or make the journey back home and starve with her family. The northeastern states have the highest unemployment rates in India, going as high as up to 7.4%. They also bag a close third place in poverty levels and the fourth place in illiteracy.
We’re also talking about the transgender man who will be laughed out of the office he applies to while possessing the same degree and an infinite more amount of patience and life skills than any ‘normal’ applicant can hope to have, only because he chose to defy the gender assigned to him at birth. While the west rages on about gay rights, India still frowns at, openly discriminates against and refuses to employ 96% of our transgender population, and outright denies education to the fortunate 60% who can dare to ask for it.
Haunted by a history of economic depression, these communities and social groups have been slowly stripped off their right to education. They have been pushed into socially accepted menial roles which makes literacy, all white-collar jobs, and most blue-collar jobs a mile out of their reach. Allowing for and understanding the unemployment rates due to racial discrimination in a country in which the general unemployment rate is abysmally high, close to 7.8%, is something akin to fixing a dam with a haystack.
For the people hailing from communities in which problems range from daily hunger pangs to child marriages, the solution is not and can never be to slap a “we’re hiring” sticker on top. They can’t get the job, even if the specially assigned quotas set out for these communities are used justly, because they do not have the means to grab the opportunity. The only way to fix the problem is to go back and work up from the bottom. Introducing practical vocational training and night schools, in addition to grassroots level awareness camps about opportunities, medical camps and focused government attention is a plan we need to follow and keep up with.
Any system—no matter how sophisticated—will fail before the persisting crowd mindset, if we fail to change ourselves and those around us.
Start small. Don’t scroll away the next time you come across a poster for a Dalit charity. Spend 60 seconds and read it. They are not stories you read in your 10th standard social science book. Racial discrimination exists and sometimes, in more horrific ways than your school books bothered to tell you.
The next time you post a gay rights hashtag, take a minute to remind yourself to not frown at the transgender group, dancing in the local metro for spare change. Take a step and see if you can’t change the tilt axis of the world around you by a positive degree today. Just remember what matters—don’t give in to hate.
Written by Shriti Chandra for MTTN
Edited by Radhika Taneja for MTTN
Sources: The Economic Times, The World Bank, The American Bar Association
Featured Image by Chirag Bansal and Arvin Das for MTTN