Just back from a lecture tour of American universities, there is so much to write about. But what I wanted to share this time is something about which I have had strong feelings quite a few times in the past, but never as strong as I have now! Crisscrossing the US of A twice from the West Coast to the East Coast, I met one after the other Indians and their families over lunches, dinners and other meetings. And I do feel sad to say that perhaps the only thing that I found common between most of them was their hidden bias against the Blacks in America.
A number of times in the past, I had heard my friends from the US speak derogatorily about the African-American population, often even pejoratively referring to them as Negroes and saying that they wanted to stay in a locality which had no Blacks.
I couldn’t really accept this sentiment as a normal phenomenon, and rather used to wonder whether it was mere coincidence that I had so many friends with such an unabashed bias. But after this American journey, I am sure it was never a coincidence.
Friends, relatives, consultants and professors... anyone I got talking to for more than a while almost invariably explained to me at one point of time or the other why the locality they lived in was especially good since it didn’t have Black people! Or for that matter why a particular city was better because of the lesser number of Blacks! Of course, I didn’t pick up fights. But it made me feel sad about the education, schooling and upbringing we are giving to our children.
How could educated people, after coming to America, still discriminate on the basis of the colour of the skin? That too coming from a land where they themselves are mostly brown and a land where gods and mythological characters like Krishna and Draupadi are described as being uniquely attractive due to their dark complexion!
Not that Americans are not biased. A breakdown of the human development index criteria shows that if only White America were to be considered, they would invariably rank #1 in human development. Similarly, if only Black America were considered, they would rank between the ranks of 60 to 70. And yet, Americans finally did choose Barack Obama as their president, showing that although as a nation they have not yet been able to provide equal justice to Blacks, at an individual level they are educated enough to discriminate far lesser.
So am I trying to say that Indians are more colour-biased than the Americans? Well, that’s what a Harvard research seems to say too. Harvard University’s Project Implicit website has compiled data on the implicit biases of millions of Americans on a range of issues, such as age, race, skin tone, disability, gender, sexual orientation, etc. And it’s unbelievable but true that Asians demonstrated the highest levels of bias on race and skin tone when compared to people of any other region in the world; Asian-Americans were second only to Whites in their biases in the racially and ethnically sensitive categories. Asians and Asian Americans in fact reported the highest level of explicit prejudice on issues of race and skin tone – higher than even Whites.
The fact gets more authenticated with one look at our matrimonial ads. Everyone wants a fair bride and about 98% of Indians consider themselves between fair to very fair – even in southern India, where the colour of the skin is decisively darker. Stepping up, a fairer girl requires lesser dowry while a darker girl requires more dowry. Our scriptures tried to hint that the corollary of being fair was that one was an upper-class member, while darker complexions were deemed to be characteristics of the lower-class – and having sex with the fair skinned became almost a matter of pride (so much so that the Indian high-end prostitution markets have now been completely taken over by fair-skinned foreigners from Eastern Europe). Add to this the national menace called Fair and Lovely, the fairness cream that is so heavily advertised without any government counter education programme. I can confidently say that advertisements of fairness creams are unfortunately a huge reason behind the creation of a complexed class of educated kids who nurture a shameful skin tone bias resulting into a kind of unspoken social apartheid. To make matters worse, even superstars like Shahrukh Khan are being roped in to endorse similar such brands.
All I can say is that the Indian obsession – which starts with Fair and Lovely at a younger age, then to get a fair partner for marriage as they grow up – is keeping us so backward and shameful in our thinking that even after spending tens of years in the most progressive land called America, those are Indians who display more biases against African Americans than Americans themselves. Sadly, iconic books like Roots and Uncle Tom’s Cabin aren’t a compulsory part of our education process, subsequently resulting into a case of missing sensitivities of a majority of Indians towards darker skin tones in general, leading to deep-rooted prejudices for the fair skin – unlike other communities in the world. A long time back, Martin Luther King Jr said that he dreamt of a country where man would be judged not by the colour of his skin but by the content of his character. Somewhere in our parenting and schooling system, this one line of education must be drilled inside the brains of each child. But before that, in the brains of every teacher and parent.
The author is a Management Guru and Honorary Director of IIPM Think Tank.