Monday, August 04, 2008
Are Indians & Pakistanis Racist Towards African-Americans?
I'd like to make a cultural observation that's frankly left me puzzled. There's rarely much analysis written about it in the mainstream media but there's often a palpable tension or almost imperceptible negative energy directed towards black Americans that seems to emanate from some Pakistanis and Indians who live here in the United States.
Not just in the States either. Back in January, 2008 I blogged about the Indian cricket player Harbhajan Singh (pictured left) who faced charges for repeated racial epithets and obnoxious on-field actions against black opponents during cricket matches.
I've experienced it many times while riding in or trying to hail Yellow Cabs here in New York City (that's a blog site unto itself). I've felt and experienced it in bodegas and delis as well. Most recently I experienced it last Sunday, August 3rd in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey while visiting my mother's house.
She lives in a nice subdivision of interconnected town houses that sits off a two lane semi-rural road about two miles from the crowded Route One corridor in South Brunswick. The local area is comprised of a mixture of dwindling farmland and sprawling neighborhoods of recently- built Toll Brothers homes that look too large to be sitting next to each other on the heavily-taxed 3/4 acre lots they sit on.
Many areas of central New Jersey have seen huge increases in the population of well-educated Asian professionals and families settling into the suburban communities for the school systems and access to both New York and Philadelphia as well as the large corporate presence in and around Princeton.
Many have moved into the sub-division where my mother lives and often times, they stare at us. Now I know the difference between a cursory glance at someone you see in a neighborhood and a lingering stare and it's the latter.
Almost a disassociated observation with little concern for tact. If it sounds a rather un-definitive and abstract notion, it is.
Subtle, not in your face but you can feel it in looks and cars that seem to slow down for the occupants to look at you. My brother was driving me back to my apartment on Sunday afternoon and as we drove towards the exit of the sub-division he hopped out of my mom's 2007 Honda SUV to see if his glasses were in the trunk. A woman in a sari driving a grey four-door Japanese sedan drove by and slowed as she passed.
My brother spends a lot more time out there than I do and he noticed her watching him right off, it annoys him. Bugs me too. My mom has owned the townhouse she's lived in ever since my father died of cancer in 1996 and we sold the house we'd built in West Windsor, New Jersey.
We were both raised in middle-upper class neighborhoods; our parents were both professionals with college degrees - my brother has an undergraduate degree from Rutgers, a degree from the Princeton Theological Seminary and is about to start his dissertation at Columbia. My older sister was Merit Scholar who went to Brown. I graduated from Penn State, played football there and was also an NFL player. We trace our family tree back to a slave brought to the United States in the 1700's - but all the woman who drove by us saw was our skin color.
Bear in mind I harbor no resentment towards Indians and Pakistanis. There's no anti-Hindu or Muslim feeling behind this post. I'm just sharing something I know exists that I never see US media cover - and I am far from the only African-American or person for that matter to notice this.
Check out this 1998 article about Pakistani racism written by Saad Shafqat - a Pakistani. It's entitled, "The Overlooked Problem of Pakistani Racism"
Is it scorn? Is it resentment? Or perhaps the product of cultures that have long-held and deeply ingrained simplistic assumptions about skin color and a mind-set forged from a rigid caste-system mentality that survives in various forms in India to this day.
As my mother has often told me, we all bring baggage to the door when we date someone; it seems there are people bringing cultural baggage with them to the doors of the United States.
Strange that certain members of these cultures direct such feelings towards African-Americans when racism is still directed towards both Indians and Pakistanis in places like England; as in the recent case of Indian actress Shilpa Shetty.