Friday, September 4, 2009

Bad areas and bad boys

Two stray conversations in recent times made me reflect yet again on the relentless and illogical nature of prejudice.

One of these conversations was about swine flu, which - a few weeks ago - was causing panic in my institute, as everywhere else in Bombay. When the topic of avoiding crowded areas came up, a senior administrator observed that this was particularly important in a certain "bad area" of town. His words "bad area" were code for "working-class area". I felt constrained to point out that swine flu had come to India through upper-class people returning from the US, and had begun to spread here through elite schools. So from the point of view of this particular epidemic, a "bad area" might be Malabar Hill rather than the rundown suburb to which he was referring.

The other conversation was with an acquaintance who had recently moved to the US. On my asking what life was like in the city where he lived, he said "there are some unsafe areas", then wrinkled his nose and added "black people", as if this barely needed saying.

Then today on the Guardian website I read this particularly stomach-turning story of how two brothers aged 12 and 10 sadistically tortured a pair of boys of a similar age nearly to death, in South Yorkshire, England. The identities of the torturers are being concealed by law, but I strongly suspect they were white (when it's otherwise, some "hint" is usually provided).

I also couldn't help but notice a link on that Guardian page to an article which starts "A Nazi sympathiser and paedophile who made nail bombs to attack black, Asian and Jewish people was jailed today for 16 years." and another to the murder of two-year-old James Bulger. In each case the criminals are white as can be.

My point is of course not to say that white people are generically evil or violent. I just wonder how incidents like the above make no dent on their spotless reputation, while the violent nature of black people is treated almost as a theorem. Just as swine flu gets blamed on Wadala rather than Malabar Hill.

1 comment:

jatkesha said...

Interesting point Prof. Mukhi.

I have a different take on it. I completely agree with what you say but you can perhaps view it from another perspective. In the case of Mumbai, it is the people of Wadala who get affected by various diseases because of the environment they stay in. It is a pity that nothing is being done to alleviate them from that situation but, that is another different story altogether. However, when many of them go to the general hospital, all that people who do not stay at Wadala notice is that Wadalans have a lot of diseases. So, in general it is the statistics here which makes people say this!

Similar is the case with African Americans. A significant portion of crimes in the US of A are perpetrated by Afro-Americans. Not that whites do not commit crimes. It is just that the statistics of crimes point towards the Afro-Americans.

So is the case with Islamic terrorism and many other things that you can see in today's newspapers.

It is a pity that the authorities do not do anything to improve the situation.