Hurdles in Today’s Multiracial World

Ever since the term “melting pot” was used by thinkers and intellects to refer to the new Land of Opportunity called America, one realises how a lot of countries are becoming pluralistic. Even India has been a melting pot of cultures and races since time immemorial. Assimilation of numerous faiths, cultures and races has led to the evolution of India into a pluralistic nation. Although, it is wonderful to have diversity in a country, pluralism may lead to racism and dissonance. Conventionally, racism refers to the extent the race to which a person belongs to affects his or her position in society or how much people generalise and hold prejudice against specific races or communities.


Due to their history and past civilisations, the Asian cultures are especially circumspect when a person belonging to an ethnic minority rises to public prominence and power in the society. Asian societies rank well above world average when it comes to Power Distance Index. Power Distance is the measure of how much a culture or society respects hierarchies and inequalities. There is little doubt that most Asian cultures strongly believe in hierarchies and power inequality. From the Samurai-led societal structure in Japan to the caste system in ancient India, high levels of inequality are omnipresent in Asia. Contrary to beliefs, Asians can hold a lot of prejudices against particular groups. In Japan, it’s extremely difficult for a non-Japanese to become a citizen even if born there. In Malaysia, an affirmative-action program gives preference to Malays over the country’s sizable Chinese and Indian populations in everything from university places to government contracts. In Pakistan, Punjabis, the dominant ethnic group, are preferred to others for key powerful positions in the military and civil service. Even Hong Kong, one of the world’s most globalised cities, can be surprisingly parochial. For instance, earlier, it was perfectly legal for a landlord to deny renting an apartment to an otherwise qualified tenant simply because of his or her skin colour.


Asia is certainly racist as is testified by the facts that most national leaders in Asia are from majority groups. Several examples do come to mind that support the author’s claims. Even in a modern and globalised Singapore, when asked if there could be a Prime Minister from an ethnic minority, PM Lee Hsien Loong commented “Can we one day have a non-Chinese, a Malay-Muslim prime minister? It’s possible. Will it happen soon? I don’t think so because finally you have to win votes.” He went on later to state that in Singapore, race based voting system is prevalent and will remain.


However, India is certainly a lot different from the rest of Asia. I think this may be true considering that a lot of public figures in India come from minorities. The present Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh comes from the Sikh community that constitutes a mere 2% of the Indian population. Millions of Indians hero-worship Bollywood superstars like Shah Rukh Khan who is a Muslim, racially a Pathan. Many of our ministers have been from minority groups like George Fernandes. It may seem tenable to argue that often North-Eastern Indians are subject to racial slur but it must not be forgotten that two of the Indian Idol winners have been from the North East. One must also take note that though there was casteism in India, it was not a form of racism since the system was not based on physical attributes. Certainly there will be some groups that are more racist and India’s not an exception. Indians should look to ignore racial differences and work towards a society that is not as racist as that of other Asian nations.


Now, if we take a look at the US, it is definitely not tenable to argue that there is absolutely no racism but it seems to play a much smaller part when it comes to becoming successful. Bobby Jindal, an ethnic Indian is the governor of Louisiana and is being recently slated to run for the next Presidency. Several figures of public prominence in the US are non-whites like Indra Nooyi who is the CEO of PepsiCo and Steven Chu who is the Secretary of Energy. Famous comedian Russell Peters observes that Asians are more racist than their white American counterparts. A striking example is of Anoop Desai, an Indian-American who seems to be popular in the hit reality show, American Idol.


We, Indians must learn to shun our racist biases and work towards harmony in our pluralistic nation. Today, despite the fact that there are nations that uphold the true values of diversity, a lot remains to be done over the globe to create a better and fairer world for one and all, irrespective of race.

Sainyam Gautam

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