Friday, December 23, 2005

To be black is not pretty

Permission to reprint or copy this article has to be obtained from The Hindustan Times

Africans complain of discrimination and social ostracism
Shevlin Sebastian\Mumbai

Charles Lawrence of Nigeria has a look of surprise on his face when I stop him in Colaba and say, “Can I speak to you for a few moments?” After introducing myself, this six-footer shakes his head and says, “You know, in my fourteen months here, nobody has ever approached me like a normal human being. Of course, I have been approached by shopkeepers and pimps, but never by an ordinary Indian, just to have a conversation.” When I tell him about how two South Africans were denied entry into a nightclub in Bandra, he says, “I am not surprised at all. Racism in India is too much. In Africa, we allow Indians to do what they want. But here, they do not allow us to do what we want.” Says John Baraza, a Kenyan student, whom I meet later, “Racism is there all over the world but in India it is quite disturbing. When I walk on the street, people shout kaala at me. Perhaps, it is the caste system, which encourages a discriminatory attitude.”
Social psychiatrist Harish Shetty says there is a stereotype association of blacks with drug peddling. This, he says, is manifesting itself in different ways, like denying entry to blacks in nightclubs. Charles, who plays club football, says there is also a social ostracism. “Indians will not allow us to communicate with their girls,” he says. “They just cut us off.”
When I tell this to Anita Gupta, (30), a BPO professional, she says it is difficult to get friendly with a black stranger who approaches her. “They could be drug runners and since they come from Africa, I am scared because it is the continent of AIDS. Also, from childhood, we have been taught to be wary of strangers and it is difficult to come out of that mind-set.” Adds Megha Kanakia, a marketing executive, “I don’t trust blacks. There are far too many negative connotations regarding them. Some of my friends have had bad experiences with them.”
It seems blacks are not helping their cause by their behaviour. Portly Emoy Emu, a trader from Nigeria, wearing a yellow T-shirt and Bermuda shorts, has come to Mumbai to see if he can drum up business. But he discovers an antagonism against Nigerians because several countrymen have cheated the local traders. “I have heard that they have behaved badly and because of that, nobody wants to do business with me.”
However, not all are pessimistic. Thomas Cronje, the consul in the South African consulate, has found a way out. “In India it is difficult to get into a social group if you are single. But if you know somebody and he then introduces you to the group, there is a complete acceptance.” But Cronje has one distinct advantage: he is a white South African. Meanwhile, Indians have a different take on the incident at the Bandra nightclub. Says Nikhil Banga, a student of Sophia College: “Indians are not racist. The nightclub might have had a bad experience with blacks earlier and hence they refused entry. But I don’t side with them: they should be punished in some way.” Shyam Tekwani, an executive in the hotel industry, classifies it as a once in a lifetime incident. “Remember, India helped black South Africans in their fight against apartheid,” he says. “But with the boom in tourism, we cannot afford to have incidents like this.”

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