Many of my posts are polite attempts to provide insights into civilisational perspective. I do not tend to write about my life or personal experiences. I will, however, make an exception to express the following, in the context of recent events in America:
Having grown up between two European countries, I have experienced what is commonly referred to as racism, since childhood. This has been both direct and subliminal. The latter is often unwitting, and reflective of deep-seated but perhaps unknowing prejudice. As a Sikh, my turban was knocked off multiple times at school or whilst walking down a street. Four boys would grab my arms and legs, and a fifth would target the head. Our car has been spat on, and my parents have been abused simply whilst sitting in a park. A kid on a bike - barely 2-3 years ago - sped up to my mother at increasing speed, only to swerve away at the last moment shouting the p-word. Beyond these crude incidents was also frequent subliminal obloquy. Daily barbs - probably intended to be harmless - and based on our appearance. Some of my teachers and one of my bosses would also casually condescend our culture, probably without even realising it. Their style was akin to a toned down version of Little Britain’s Marjorie Dawes. Even a debate with close school friends could easily descend to the p-word (or ‘morro’ in Spain). And today (mostly outside cosmopolitan London), one still occasionally hears the odd slur shouted across the road.
It is difficult to appreciate what it is to accumulate these experiences over a lifetime, unless one actually has. In addition to that, our cultural context is that of a nation only just picking itself up again after 800 years of violent Islamist and European supremacist, the postscript of which still afflicts us today. Cultural chauvinism - and the many levels at which it manifests - is therefore something we acutely understand. Despite these experiences, I have and will always reject victimhood, which I view as a pernicious disease. I know that Brits or Americans are as good, beautiful or silly as anywhere else. And they have also stood up for us as much - if not more - than our own community leaders have. Annie Besant. Edmund Burke. Franz Boas. Ruth Benedict. Margaret Mead. Ashley Montague. The list goes on. And whatever people may say about British or American police, the majority of them are heroes. They put their lives on the line for us, every day. Including the five back policemen who have just been killed fighting what are supposedly anti-racism riots.
What we refer to as racism resides predominantly within Western cultural elites; (some) sections of government, media and academia. It is based on centuries of supremacist, rooted to a large extent in a dualistic Christian worldview (heathen vs. believer translating into ‘them’ vs. ‘us’). It is well known that the Holy See and the Church of England (and later American Evangelists) have been *instrumental* in the slave trade, colonisation and segregation / apartheid. Even Archbishop Justin Welby has recently admitted that the CoE, to quote his words, is ‘deeply institutionally racist’. Centuries of this enforced dualism, of which Islam is a newer carbon copy, is today still deeply etched into Western culture. This is despite the fact that Western societies are no longer truly religious.
This inbred superiority complex has trickled down into Western society and institutions over two millennia. It has subsequently manifested as ignorance and (extremely) poor cross-cultural awareness. Western school books are also heavily sanitised, and *still* publish colonial era propaganda. This ecclesiastic tribalism is therefore subliminally programmed into innocent young minds. The result is that, even in a simple conversation about history, many in the West cannot come to terms with the fact that we have been civilised by India, Africa and China - not the other way round. We are highly educated but also highly ill-informed societies, wholly ignorant about our past; and therefore also about our present, and ourselves. This is also key to the low-intensity, casual racialism that still persists in society. A black gentleman driving a nice car may evoke a different reaction to a white lady driving precisely the same marquee. A bearded Muslim or turbaned Sikh cricketer may evince different reactions from English cricket commentators or fans. And when Welsh or even Australian Brits - born and bred in England - abuse the English rugby team, when playing Wales or Australia that is passed off as regular banter. However, a brown or black cricket fan would be subject to the ‘cricket loyalty test’ in their local pub. Even Lewis Hamilton, arguably Britain’s greatest racing champion of all time, is still subject to racism.
Black people are far, far greater than they are made out to be by those who choose to amplify their victim narratives. They are nuclear scientists, CEOs, inventors and heads of state. They are cultural icons, heavyweight champions, gold medalist runners, and some of the gentlest, kindest and most fun people of all
In spite of all of the above, and even as a child, I never took the multiple layers of “racism” we faced personally. I have always known that I am inferior to nobody, nor of course superior. I love Britain, which is my karma bhoomi (the country I was born to and therefore must serve). It’s a great country, and a few racists and a dark history can never take away from that. By all means, let us always explain the reality of history. And let us relentlessly fight the evil of racism. But let us also be balanced and reasonable in doing so. This leads me to the concluding point of this piece; the psychology of justice.
Black Lives Matter and many other anti-racism groups are well-meaning responses to deep injustice, and I honour their intent. However, in my view, they can also be counter-productive. Their narratives enfeeble young minds into the prison of self-pity. And self-pity breeds anger and resentment. That, in turn, is divisive, not unifying. In a defeatist state of mind, one seldom progresses in life, nor lives in harmony with others. Such movements also exclude many other people who are also subject to similar injustice. White youths living in abysmal poverty in trailer parks, and who are also subject to immense police brutality, have no such movements to speak for them. Let us also remember that for every 10,000 white Americans arrested for violent crime, 4 are killed in police custody today. That figure is higher than for African Americans, which is 3.
Black people are far, far greater than they are made out to be by those who choose to amplify their victim narratives. They are nuclear scientists, CEOs, inventors and heads of state. They are cultural icons, heavyweight champions, gold medalist runners, and some of the gentlest, kindest and most fun people of all. If we tell people that they are losers, they will behave like losers. That is human psychology 101. But if you remind them that they can be a Condoleeza Rice, an Anthony Joshua or a Will Smith, they will alter their gaze towards that goal, instead. Oprah Winfrey was so poor that she wore dresses made of potato sacks. Look at her today. She possibly best exemplifies the effect of a positive mindset, no matter what ones circumstance. And surely the Himalayan aspiration of “yes we can” is a more intelligent clarion call than the toe-low ambition of “we also matter”. If I were black, I would ban any of my kids from ever using a BLM moniker. Instead, I would tell them to plaster their walls with photos of Obama (his politics aside), of Oprah, and of Madiba. And I would make them watch the clip of Will Smith inspiring his kid to reach for the skies in ‘The Pursuit of Happiness”. Every morning.
Politicians and media who fan the flames of social, class and racial warfare debase the nobility of the quest for human rights. They are unwise, culturally illiterate and devoid of a healing touch. They don't want African Americans to live with self-worth. And they don't think any lives truly matter. If they did, they would emulate Martin Luther King’s grace, message and methods. King lived in far more oppressive times, but he still dearly loved his country and bred that love in others. He would never allow his country to burn, and would intervene with urgency if it did. Because of that, his effect was to edify and unify, not dumb down and divide. And he produced tangible outcomes as a result.
(The writer is a Columnist and President, The Indian Debating Union)