Friday, December 23, 2016

Misnomer of a colourblind

Ever heard an Indian (preferably northerner) calling a fellowperson (preferably northerner) racist for making a joke on another Indian (preferably southerner)? The joke could have been about anything ranging from unsavoury colour to weird accent to body hair. Even if you change the geographic belonging of the three characters, still the common factor would be the use of the R-word. Is it really racist of a northerner (or a southerner) to make fun of a southerner (or a northerner) with an insensitive remark? How can we determine the difference in race on the basis of the states one comes from? Especially when it’s obvious that the racial distinction in this case is based on appearance? For some inexplicable reason, darker skin tone is associated with the southern states while lighter tone is granted to the northern ones. Moreover, is it fair to say that the dark-looking Punjabis are racially distinct from their pinker neighbours? Similarly, aren’t there are fair people in south India? (No, it’s not just about the Aishwarya Rais and the Hema Malinis of the world.) Isn’t race a much deeper anthropological subject? There are too many questions here and a lot many more equations to handle. Our misguided sense of distinction, if i’m not mistaken, comes from the Britishers who ruled us. They saw us as blacks and we tamely accepted the term, overlooking the fact that many of us were wheat-ish. There was no scope for brown or grey in the colonial era; only black and white please. After our colonisers left, we turned on each other for amusement. Arts played a key role in bringing us together as countrypeople, true. It also gave birth to unchecked misrepresentation. For instance, post-independence, Bollywood kept on stereotyping the so-called Madrasis in their movies. (Calling the whole of south India Madrasis was similar to calling the whole of north India Kashmiris.) This gross caricature went on for decades to such an extent that nobody bothered to correct the powers-to-be in the Hindi film industry. There’s a very popular interview of Mehmood by Shekhar Suman where the former calls south Indian women black. Nothing wrong with that if it’s factual. Colour doesn’t determine the character of a person but the problem is in his tone: the degradation in his voice to crack wannabe jokes on the “blackness” of south Indians makes you want to call him racist. But then, there’s another problem here: his disdain for a particular skin tone doesn’t really make him a racist in India. He’s a colourist who happens to be an ignorant fool.