On the roots of racism

Our world has a dark past. There was once a time when groups of people declared themselves superior to others based on the colour of their skin, or the place of their birth, or the religion they followed. They trampled on the rights and lives of those they considered inferior and sub-human.

Much time has passed since then. Such people remain in our midst, but by and large the civilised world scoffs at any sign of discrimination. We are horrified at any sign of discrimination and proceed to stamp it out as soon as we see it.

This is where we go wrong. We are too preoccupied with the signs.

I believe the act of offending and the act of taking offence are both voluntary. I can’t offend people without intending to offend them, just like I can’t be offended if I refuse to be offended.

Discrimination happens when one intends to discriminate. Minus the intent, discrimination doesn’t exist.
My Muslim friends calling me kaafir isn’t discrimination. Russell Peters’ comedy is not racist. Miley Cyrus’ doing the “slant-eye” gesture does not make her racist. These signs don’t mean anything without malicious intent.

What keeps discrimination alive is the victim mentality. Both on the part of the so-called victims and those out to protect them from discrimination.

In 2006, a section of the Jewish community in Mumbai protested the opening of a restaurant called Hitler’s Cross in the city. They said they were insulted by the use of Hitler’s name. Slum-dwellers in Mumbai’s Dharavi protested against the movie Slumdog Millionaire when it came out, saying they found the word “dog” derogatory.

A few days ago, America protested the publishing of a newspaper cartoon it saw as racist and offensive. A section of the Muslims in Kolkata protested an article published in The Statesman making a point about criticising religions.

The Hindi word for ghost is ‘bhoot’. It also means ‘past’. As long as we insist on the ghosts of our past ruling our present, we will never reach a future that is free of it.