The Delusion of the other

David Cameron’s deluded and puerile speech, has seriously undermined the notional value of the ‘other’ person. Now anyone with brownish skin with a beard can be seen to be supporting extremists. The fact that fascist parties like the EDL and BNP have come out in praise of the speech show the sheer lack of intelligence that speech had.

Some might wonder why this riles me so. It is simply because being in a mixed race family we have seen the subtle and ugly sides the racial prejudice takes. And I want to keep naming this delusion so that we don’t create the same hells that Nazi Germany, 90s Rwanda and Bosnia made. It is an uphill battle by the evidence of the comments you see on any article to do with multiculturalism.

An Indian friend of mine once proudly claimed ‘They are scared of us! The British.’ I asked why and he said, ‘because we’ve got more talent.’

‘You’re just a spoilt foreigner’ another subcontinental friend said to my Hisportic-British wife.

Yes Indians are far more open in their racism. The British are making it acceptable again quickly. All in good humour of course. Hahaha how funny. Laugh everybody because we will laugh all the way to gas chambers and the killing fields, after all humour is in short supply, no? Hmmmm. Am getting a bit carried away.

Prejudice is deep and hidden. Even when it’s brought out our habits of thought take time to be broken down. It seems easy to pick up. My very early childhood was in England and when I was four we moved to India. In cultural shock I rebelled against anything brown. I wanted my white people back. I even refused to eat the traditional Kerala brown husked rice and I only wanted white unhusked rice. It could be said that this was a little boy figuring out his sense of belonging. Yet within 2 or 3 years I was convinced that white people were dirty and unhygenic. How did I get to that? A certain number of the white folks who passed through our little town were on search for cheaper and better hashish, marijuana, grass whatever. They looked thoroughly unkempt and they did stink. Well I thought so anyway because I didn’t sidle up close to them. So why did I believe that all white people were stinky poos? Well my immediate surrounding culture thought the same and reinforced this and it didn’t matter there were several Anglo-saxons whom we were in regular contact who were perfectly groomed. In our mind the clean white people were the exceptions.

This is how prejudice works. Due to ignorance about a people or a few cases of interaction with a member of a people group we come to a certain conclusion. Many of us then extend this conclusion upon all the people in that group. And evidence that points against to our conclusion is seen as the exception. This happens very often in science reporting in the main stream media. The other interesting point is that because these folks looked unkempt I thought they stank though I had no evidence of this.

Another illustration of this reasoning was in New Delhi where we had gone for a gig. There were two cars that were chaffeuring the band around. After the gig we were sitting in the car and waiting to be driven to our hotel. The two drivers before setting off shouted at each other gesticulating wildly and shaking their heads. My friend asked one of our hosts, ‘why were they fighting?’ Our host seemed a bit flummoxed. ‘They were just clarifying directions,’ he said.

This used to be a fairly significant distinction between North Indians and South Indians. I’m not sure about now but the point stands. For my friend and I, loud talk in that manner was aggressive bordering on violence. Many South Indians do think of Northerners as aggressive when it is a misunderstanding of cultural practice.

So here we have some of the seeds of prejudice. How do we move out of this? Amartya Sen’s book Identity and Violence is the best book I’ve read on this. His overall thesis as far as I’ve understood is that we should view others as a combination of many different identities. So instead of seeing a brown skinned, largely bearded man as a conservative muslim we have to see him as a conservative muslim who might have a love of fast cars and rock music. (A taxi driver who picked me up from the airport was such a person.) Amartya Sen gives us a stark warning about seeing people through the lens of a single identity. That it ends in violence. He also criticizes both the political left and right for viewing minorities through this singular lens.

To some of us this is obvious and there are many admirable people who behave this way. But to most of us we prefer the comfort of putting people in neat boxes to deport them from our consciousness so that we can live in the myth of the green and pleasant land or the myth of a 5000 year old great civilisation.

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