Friday, November 7, 2008

Obama, the race issue, and Indians

Obama's Presidential victory has quite correctly served to highlight the history of racial discrimination in the USA. For people not well acquainted with this history, the Wikipedia page on Martin Luther King is a good place to start. It links to dozens of other pages on the shocking atrocities against blacks in the US over the years, and the civil rights movement that brought about major change.

I was wondering how Indians (I mean Indians from India, not Native Americans) are reacting to the Obama story. One would imagine we would all be ecstatic that "a black person like ourselves" is soon to be President of the USA. This has indeed been my dominant emotion and I was very powerfully moved by the Obama family photo on the front page of Hindustan Times yesterday. But I would be surprised if this feeling is universal in India, or among Indians in the USA.

It is an open secret that a lot of Indian Americans look down on African Americans, and even use a derogatory Hindi word for them which I am not going to quote here. So it's quite possible that many of them are right now, in their suburban New Jersey homes, making faces at the thought of being ruled by one of "those people". In the days of apartheid too, not every Indian in South Africa cared to be a Gandhi and many of them jockeyed hard to place themselves in a subtle racial position, inferior to whites but superior to blacks.

The situation in India today is not so different. Dark skin is looked down upon here, very blatantly in many cases, particularly when it comes to choosing a bride. Advertisements in India inevitably contain fair people (except in the South these days, as I note with some pleasure). Many Indians believe the skin hierarchy is perfectly acceptable and - like their South African relatives of old - they would like to occupy an intermediate position in this hierarchy.

Which is why the following article in The Earth Times Online made me quite happy. It says that tribal people in the Eastern Indian state of Jharkhand have celebrated Obama's victory. According to the article "Their leaders still complain of racial discrimination." From other Indians, presumably. With touching simplicity and optimism, a tribal leader, Bahura Ekka, is quoted as saying: "Black people have always faced challenges in the world. We believe that racial discrimination will end after Obama's election as US president."

If only!

1 comment:

Rahul Basu said...

Here is a set of pictures of the next President of the United States.