There’s a famous Chris Rock (one of my favorite comedians) question: ‘Who’s more racist, Black people or White people? BLACK PEOPLE! Why? Cuz they hate black people too! Anything white people don’t like about a nigger, black people REALLLYY don’t like about a nigger!’
You’ve often heard of the word racism – and its automatic connection with the whites and the Asians/Africans/Blacks/Pakistanis. On too many occasions, we see people bleating about how our nation is a victim of racism from the outside world, specially the West. Too many times, you see people frothing spit in anger at how we are looked down at, treated with disdain.
I’ve been observing this for a fair bit of time and I can’t help being disgusted by the hypocrisy of it all. When was the last time we did not think about the racial background of a person while dealing with them? Punjabi, Bengali, Pakhtun, Sindhi, isn’t this how we categorise each other? Shia, Sunni, Bohri, Parsi isn’t that how we are divided? Isn’t it just absolute fun to snigger at a peculiar accent? We might get away with claiming all of that to be in good fun, but in reality, every mockery is borne from some background of prejudice. Why is the term Bengali such a gaali now? Why is the Pushto community the brunt of all jokes? The prejudice and scorn has reached an unprecedented level of sickness.
Let’s face it; we all are racists of the highest degree. In our minds, racism only exists between the West and us! It doesn’t occur to us that when we laugh at the way someone talks or cringe at someone’s looks or their skin colour, we ARE being racists. We have a tendency to listen with open ears to a person who’s speaking good English. There’s a general unconscious assumption that speaking fluent English automatically grants you a 160 + I.Q! We tend to be intimidated and over-awed when confronting a local who’s jabbering away in rapid English. Our accents, our dialect: changes. Turning our faces into dismissive walnuts, we suddenly start waving hands to look more impressive.
Now let’s look at the role the media plays. We wake and sleep with ideas that our media feeds us. If you’re a girl, you BETTER be Snow White if you wanna get married. If you’re a guy, having a clean shave would give you the best chicks. The resultant is the metrosexual craze among men, adopting standards set by showbiz and media. White and ONLY White is the acceptable colour. Does it occur to us how racist a nation we are? We ridicule our own people, our own colour, our own clothes, and our own ethnicity – in short a nation overwhelmed by an acute inferiority complex; a nation desperately trying to act, sound and live like the West!
The accent issue is something which concerns the youth the most. I’ve never understood why it is embarrassing or funny if someone speaks in a different accent. The day we realise that an accent is not a fault, but a representation of a part of our country, a symbol of the diversity of our culture and simply….natural, we would stop being condescending towards them. There’s nothing cool about me if I can communicate in good English. Sure it helps me in my career, but how does that make me superior? What’s the big deal if my accent sounds acceptable when I blurt out some English words? Why shouldn’t a person having a Punjabi, Sindhi or let’s say a Memon accent be respected for the idea they have? The problem: we have grown far too ignorant and intolerant to think seriously about these issues. A large reason of these prejudices and mockeries should be credited to the grand schemes of politicians that need this hatred to drive their vote bank and to keep the communities away; for distrust leads to insecurity which leads to fear that leads to clutching at straws of hope. For the masses, those straws of hope are the politicians that claim to represent their ethnic identity!
Each one of us takes pride in the community we represent. We want to belong. Somewhere or the other, we just want to be part of a club. There was ample evidence of that in the last elections. We are more patriotic about our preferred parties than about Pakistan. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen Pakistani flags adorned with the same passion that I saw people adorning their respective party flags, shouting Siraiki, Muhajir, Sindhi and Pushto slogans. Outrageous slogans telling our own people that OUR SPECIFIC community is different and SO MUCH BETTER than yours. Isn’t this racism?
I have walked around my campus; I move in different circles. And … I see naked revulsion and contempt in the eyes of students, for people who are either dark or greasy, or lack the Tom Cruise/Kournikova looks, or are simply un-cool by their standards. The term maila is what they use for anyone they do not think belongs to their class. Accept it or not, inside every one of us knows that even if to a minor extent, shades of racism exist in our own self. The media of the sub-continent is rife with open and un-censured mockery of fat and black people. Fat and Black looks so offensive the way I blurted the words out, doesn’t it? Isn’t it sad that it doesn’t look a bit offensive when films are shown where these people are openly ridiculed to make other people laugh? There’s a fine line between humour and humiliation, and we do not seem to know the difference between the two.
We judge people by a criterion that should be the most irrelevant. THIS is racism. Our battle for supremacy over each other has drifted us apart and I fear, if not resolved sooner … we’ll be diving headfirst into a deep abyss. I think it’s high time we learn to differentiate between what’s natural and what’s fake. What is ‘us’ and what is ‘them’. What we ill ‘ALWAYS’ be and what we can ‘NEVER’ be. Most of all, we must embrace our culture and respect what we are. Only then, can we rise as a proud nation. Only THEN, do we hold the right to complain against racism from the west, only then.
This is also something that I wrote around 2 – 3 years back, but it still applies …. our resigned acceptance of class difference : )
It was a hot afternoon and I was in the market looking for a cold Coke ( which is not easy to find cuz of the blessed KESC ).
I finally found one that kept Coca Cola and had it chilled too. That is when I heard a crash to the left, towards the main road. A guy was standing with his thela upturned on the road and all his possessions were lying scattered across the road. It looked hilarious from a distance; however when I was crossing the road I saw him calling out to other thela men to help him pick up his things. It was a pretty big mess and dint look like two weak guys could have handled it easily in that heat.
This is when I felt ashamed of 2 things, one after the other. There were cars all around, horns blaring, people shouting obscenities at the guys for blocking up the road. It pissed me off cuz everybody could see they were having trouble managing it by themselves. I offered to help them and asked what things needed to be picked and set on their thela again. Here is when I felt hesitancy for the first time. What was I doing stopping on the street in the middle of a crowded market to help some poor guys with their thela equipment? Though it was only a slight hesitancy, I felt shame at myself for even hesitating for a second.
I joined in their help and bent down to help them pick up the heavy stuff that had fallen off. The guys did not let me help them. They both stood their ground looking embarassed, ‘ saahab, app chordo, hum karlain gay’ (Translation : Sir you leave it, we will do it). I asked em why not ? It would clear up the road quicker and it looked like those two could use some help. He says, ” App chordo, appkay kapray kharab hojaayeingay …. hum hayn na ye kaam karnay k liye, app ganda mat karo apnay appko” (Translation: You leave it, your clothes will get dirty. We are here to do this work, it is our job, you don’t dirty yourself) .
It was one of those rare occasions where you feel ashamed and embarrassed of being slightly more privileged than the average guy in your country. I certainly felt very uncomfortable wearing a clean shirt and jeans at that time. But what worried and saddened me more is that people seem to have accepted their roles defined by the unruly governance that governs this part of the world. What I saw in his eyes was surprise, then disbelief and then a resignation of one’s position in a society that treats you like vermin once you are under them.
People seem to have accepted that everyone has a prescribed class of job to do here. One cannot stoop below a certain level and one cannot rise above a prescribed glass canopy. This approach has led us to stagnation in social and moral development of people in Pakistan. People have resigned themselves to the fact that they will not get the same equal rights and recognition as a person sitting on a fluffy chair in a stuffy setup.
Every single one of us has this responsibility to make people like these feel as equal as everybody else. Pakistanis are accepting the tradition of the rich man being in control. Although this has been true for decades, acceptance of it is when the system is brought to its knees. And I suspect it is already saying it’s last rites in this case. If we hope to revive society, to instill justice …. we must interact with the commoners; people who struggle for survival when inflation rises by a mere percentage points.
It is upto every one of us to ensure that when the next thela overturns, we do not have ignorant pigs shouting at the poor man, and to ensure that thelay walay call out to people boldly to help’em. You can start by helping someone yourself. It does not have to be an overturned thela necessarily.