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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The "R" word

This post is about a very sensitive subject - racism. In general, people stay away from this subject. But I have no qualms discussing it. A case of "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread" ?

I am sure I will be raising plenty of eyebrows with this post. If people think I am racist because of some of the things I say here - then, frankly, I don't give a damn. I know what I am and I do not need others to tell me whether I am racist or not.

We have just seen an Indian cricketer being hauled up for racist comment. At the same time, we have seen cheating on a cricket ground, or at the very least, the game not being played in the true spirit of sport. As expected, everybody the world over will go "OMG" about the racist comment. The cheating will be accepted as another of those "what's the game coming to nowadays ?" and people will move on.

Harbhajan Singh will have to live the rest of his life with the stigma of having been banned from a few cricket matches because of his "racist" comment. This is no small matter - being called a racist in today's world. Which is why I am writing this piece.

Let me start by making one thing clear. Racism has no place in any sport. Not in sport, not in life. But before making this United Nations-like diplomatic declaration of condemnation of racism, we need to get it clearly defined.

Because according to me, sadly, there is no universal definition of racism. Maybe there is something in textbooks and in law, but there is no universal definition of racism available to the common man on the street in every country.

And therein lies a huge problem when one tries to apply racism-related laws and rules across cultures which do not necessarily share the same definition of the term.

Why run away from the subject ? Let's face it. It is a fact that there are many races in this world. And each race has its identity and origin. Each person belongs to a particular race. Whether we bring the race into our discussion or not (I know in the West, it is a studiously avoided subject), it just cannot be denied. So why not accept it and deal with it in a mature fashion ?

In my opinion, where racism is clearly an issue is when it is divisive or discriminatory. For example, when opportunities are based on race, and not on merit. Or, when a "colored" MK Gandhi was thrown out of a "whites only" train in Pietermaritzburg, that was about as clear a case of racism as one can get. This sort of discrimination / deprivation based on race is what Martin Luther King fought for, all his life. The apartheid regime in South Africa had racism written blatantly all over it.

I could not agree more with the evils of racism, if THIS is its definition.

But no - what we as a global society have managed to do is to complicate day-to-day life by making anything and everything a "racist" issue. To the extent that people of different races feel uncomfortable talking to each other about something that is pretty basic and undeniable. And why ? Because if you say something to another of a different race, you could be hauled up for being a racist.

Utterly silly. It is time we took off our blinkered glasses, got off our high pedestals and mustered the courage to talk about this from a purely human and not political perspective. Let me give you my own experience. I work in an environment where I have blacks (or should that be African Americans, to be politically correct ?), Caucasian race whites, Chinese and Indians. We need to spend several hours together every day - so we do realise that we better get along with each other. Fortunately, inspite of all our racial differences, we do. In fact, our racial differences are part of the reason we actually get along - we have an opportunity to have a dig at one another or pull each other's leg with, yes, what the whole world would perceive as "racist" comments. Frankly, we could not care less.

Why do we do this ? Because we recognise that each race has its uniqueness - and that is perhaps what makes it charming too. Why pretend otherwise ?

For example, one of the black Americans who works with me was once told by one of my "white" friends - "come on, you don't have a problem if you lose your job - you can always go on the streets and become a rapper. Worst case, you can always play basketball". The Afro-American had a huge laugh about it - and got back with his own "racist" comment.

This is how different races can behave with each other - if they are allowed to behave in this way. But no, we immediately start drawing lines of communication around us and make sure "boundaries are not crossed". This way, we force everybody to become uncomfortable.

I can expect somebody to say "yes, but that is different from calling Symonds a monkey". It may well be but the point is that Symonds has been so indoctrinated into thinking that his being of African-American origin is going to result in him being abused, that he can think of nothing but complaining about this as being the biggest crime ever committed on earth.

Instead, if somebody had just told Symonds long back "Listen Andy, you know what ? thanks or no thanks to your origins, you do resemble a monkey to some extent. People may have a dig at you from time to time about this. It is not your fault - in any case, just forget it, it is no big deal. You are a good guy from the inside - and that is what matters. And even if your face does look like a monkey's, you are good-looking in your own way. So don't worry about these sort of things", things might have been different.

I guess nobody had this chat with Symonds. So he has grown up all along being defensive about his origins. While he has absolutely nothing to be ashamed about, or worried about. Now, as a professional cricketer who has huge talent and can go very far in his career, he is worried about what people comment about his looks ?

The point I am making - and I know I am making it in a very laboured fashion - is that racism is in your mind. Since its definition is anyway not universally consistent, you will have problems of perception more than reality. Yes, if you have been deprived opportunity on the count of race alone, by all means, scream. Use the racist card. But if somebody in another culture has called you a monkey, frankly, if you are mature - you should not give a monkey's. You know what and who you are and no names that anybody else calls you should matter. Not if you are a thorough professional who concentrates on the job at hand.

If we are talking just racist remarks that hurt a person, I don't see it very different from sledging. Sledging is also intended to hurt or disturb the sledgee. In the final analysis, it is the hurt you cause to another that should be the measure of the crime - not whether it was a "racist" comment or not. You can sledge really cheap and dirty (like the disgusting McGrath-Sarwan incident) but not call somebody who looks like a monkey a monkey because, ooooh, that is a "racist" comment ? Come on. If this comment hurt, so did that comment of McGrath to Sarwan. Where do you draw the line ?

Now, my final point - I am tiring a bit. Cheating. Now, there can be no two views about that one. Here the rules can be set much more clearly because this is universal. There is one game (it is not like one person is playing cricket and the other football). There are rules of the game, there is a spirit of the game. Every person who enters the sport is educated on this from day one - so anybody who breaks this is cheating. As simple as that.

Since cheating is done with the primary objective of obtaining an unfair advantage over the other party, there is no doubt about whether there is hurt caused by it or not. There is - and the party cheating has to realise that he has been out of line. He needs to be brought to book. With cheating, there is no scope for misinterpretation.

Cheating in sport, in life whatever. I don't see it as being any less a crime than what I would like to label "pseudo-racism" (as distinct from genuine racism as I have defined above). In fact it is worse.

In my book, Symonds' case is one of pseudo-racism. Very much in fashion. But pseudo-racism, nonetheless.

One day in the future, I hope Symonds looks at himself - and feels proud of his immense abilities. Some of this may even actually be race-related. Instead of feeling defensive about his race, he may even be able to joke about it.

Maybe even joke about it with Harbajan ? It may be a dream but it is worth dreaming. For this, more than anything else, will make a difference to the perception of racism around the world. The more you cry "racist", the more racists you create. As simple as that.

2 comments:

pnoasnidtiinvie said...

I just read this post and it is really poignant. In case of Harbhajan, I think it is worthwhile considering that he is from our very own India. In India, I think caste-ism is more prevalent than Racism. I dont think I need to elaborate on the discrimination that goes on based on caste in our country. In western countries, however, the discrimination is primarily based on race. African Americans, native Americans, Aborigines, Asian, Caucasians so on and so forth. I think that India is not very "racially" diverse (although the color of the skin is often associated with caste !), whereas western countries, especially in this day and age of globalization are more "racially" diverse. So Bhajji's comments may have stemmed from not being exposed to different "races" and therefore, thei sensibilities associated with different races. He is from a small town (Jallandhar) in India....not even a metro (which are still not very "racially" diverse).
In India, I think calling people by animal's name is more than often not meant to "hurt" someone emotionally or genuinely....its usually fun....after all, one the most commonly used abusive word in Hindi movies means "dog" ! And there is rarely a Hindi speaking person who hasnt used that word or hasnt thought of using that word.

Basically, the cure for all this is time. We'll have to wait until more and more people travel abroad to and from India so that more information is exchanged between various countries across the world.

But yeah, in the meantime, I agree to a good extent that by being more "cautious" about racism, we are actually creating more racists than eradicating.

The way you've put it, I couldnt have said it any better !

AMIT said...

Racism is very bad.Your writings is very good.

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