Sometime in 2016, somewhere in Delhi..
Fortune teller (examining my hand): You like to travel…
Me: Oh wow how did you know?
Also me: No shit, black girl in India??
So India and I are an ongoing love affair. From my introduction to bollywood via my freshman year Pakistani( not Indian) roommate and meeting my one true love, butter chicken on Devon street in Chicago( who I cheat on from time to time with dosa) , through my crashes on brown boys, India and I have been at it for a while. I just came back from Kolkata to see my dear friend Pranay off into married life in what is possibly the most glamorous Indian weddings of all time! This trip reminded me of of all the things I love about India and what being there has taught me about the world, people and navigating blackness.
My interest in India is both intellectual and personal.The intellectual part comes from my ambitions for solving problems in accessing healthcare in developing countries. In the long term, I aspire to apply my talent and skills to my home, sub Saharan Africa and India is our sister part of the world with the similar circumstances and challenges with this issue, and a frequent topic in my classes on healthcare in emerging markets. I embraced this journey all the way to studying abroad at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, which became the first time I was physically in India.This led to cementing my personal interest in the country, culture and its people.
Of all my travels, India was one of the easiest countries for me to integrate into. That is because Indians and Africans are basically the same people, who just happen to hail from opposite sides of the world. The richness and flavors in our food mirror each other, so much that my parents hated all the food I introduced them in America, but Indian food. Our love of dance, the splendor of color in our clothes, the constantly being late to shit ( brown people/African time) and the big overwhelming families are all of us. Last but not least, Indian parents and African parents alike thrive on dictating their kids life and in undergrad I shared the pressure of having perfect grades and becoming a doctor with my Indian friends! Besides our immigrant status, it was quite natural that I gravitated to Indians when I stepped out of my Africanness while navigating America.
The problem though is we hate each other!
A little strong I know, but hear me out.
Let me start with the African perception of Indians.
When I told my family I wanted to study abroad in India, their reaction was one of disgust and a huge why?? I got to learn that my family’s perception of India is that of filth and poverty(apparently worse than ours) and most of all they perceive Indians as people who do not like us! Their latter feelings are not completely unfounded.
Indians have been in Africa for a long time by way of coastal trade across the continent. They are a permanent fixture of Kenyan society, owning a lot of small and medium enterprises and a lot of their culture being integrated into African culture, like chapatis being a staple and Swahili being a language heavily influenced by their presence. In the wake of the last Kenyan election, they successfully petitioned to be their own tribe to protect their political and economic power. Over in South Africa, well, the Guptas practically ran the country.
Most of the Indians you will find in Africa are going to be more affluent than blacks, and this is partially by their own work ethic and also by the way white supremacy divided and conquered non- whites by giving those closer to whiteness more advantages, cue Indians. Mahatma Gandhi famously started his career as a lawyer fighting apartheid in Africa but he is famously known to have held and expressed racist views he held and expressed towards black Africans, as highlighted in the book, The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire , as he wanted Indians to be reclassified as whites above black Africans. There are hostile sentiments between Indians and Africans on the African continent colored by all this history, hence my family’s reaction to my proposed travels.
Cue the Indian perception of Africans.
To be continued… in Black girl in India: Part 2
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