Continuation of black girl in India part 1
Ok so let’s talk about how Indians view Africans.
Now I happen to love and enjoy India every time I am there( 2 times in total) and this is mainly because my travels there are very elite.
I sound American(ish), I travel around with a bunch of of my white friends, my study abroad was at a westernized elite school, and when I am in Bombay I am being taken around by a driver and doing things like going to high end theater to watch Aladdin the musical. Due to this privilege I am fairly insulated from how other people of color experience India, which is mostly hostile and unpleasant experiences.
There is a very captivating account in BBC news of a black woman’s experience in India , where she describes being ostracised and fetishized and it is by far the most common experience for black people in India. Despite my insulation, I still stood out, and was stared at, pointed at and had unsolicited pictures taken of me, like the woman in the article. I however thankfully have not experienced overt hostility, but I am fully aware that the curiosity about me can go to much sinister places, if given the time and different company or circumstances. About the same time I was at ISB a story rocked the news where a Tanzanian girl studying in Bangalore were being attacked by a mob in a racist incident that is actually more common than you think. The perception of Africans as drug dealers and sexual predators(African women as open season sexually) , are rife, not just in India but across Asia and are largely a consequence of racism and negative media portrayals of the African continent amongst other things.
So this is one part of the dynamic.
The second and more entrenched reason is the deep seated racism that Indians have that stems from their own traditional caste system. This system predates white supremacy and and has its home in the Hindu religion and is one of the world’s oldest systems of social stratification that dictated social and status in Indian society for ages. In practice, the caste system bestowed many privileges on the upper castes while sanctioning repression of the lower castes by privileged groups. The relationship between the caste system and skin tone is heavily debated amongst scholars because skin tone does vary widely within the same family. However it is not a coincidence that, the Brahmins or higher caste are largely fairer skinned and the Dalits, the lower caste are largely darker skinned. White supremacy came along and cemented these social differences and also made it a huge commercial opportunity. The business of skin lightening in India is a billion dollar industry . My first bonding experiences with my freshman year roommate was about how we both grew up using fair and lovely, a skin bleaching cream that is hugely popular around the world( I since abandoned it since I got woke lol).
So you find that a black person is not just a representation of another race, but something that they themselves have ingrained and institutionalized prejudice against. My presence in India is therefore defying all sorts of odds!
So here we are, me and India, doing our little dance! Renewing each other’s commitment to butter chicken and dosa! My relationship with it is inspired by one of my favorite travel bloggers, Jessica Nabongo, a fierce Ugandan.American who is on a journey to be the first woman black woman to have travelled to every country in the world. Her quest is about changing the perception of female travelers, of travelers of color and of anyone who doesn’t have the option of passing for a local in a given community. When asked about experiencing racism, her answer was everything to me. She said,
“Racism is a thing. There’s nothing we can do to get around that. History has made it that way. I exist as a black person in this world and I’m not going to let that hinder me from going anywhere I want to go. Namely, everywhere.”
So until next time India!
More reading on this topic