Often only a spark is needed to ignite a fire. The British reality show Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 4 did just that. Shilpa Shetty’s ongoing feud with Jade Goody ended with Jade being evicted and Shilpa taking home the booty.
This show has brought into focus the larger issue of racism, one that has been on the minds of many dark skinned Asians and Africans alike. Britain is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual society where one or the other form of racial discrimination has manifested itself from time to time. From times immemorial the ‘whites’ have always considered themselves to be a superior race. Over a period of time Asian and African professionals have excelled in their field both in Britain and the US leading to better perceptions about their communities. But the change in attitudes is more cosmetic than real, Jade Goody is not an exception but a rule and no matter how well Asians and Africans perform they have never been fully integrated into the white mans society.
Racism has its basis in colour prejudice, which can take the form of derogatory remarks against a culture, and race that is alien to one. It can take the form of insulting slurs leading to physical violence and mental abuse.
In the Europe and parts of the US, Asians and Africans at times are forced to work in a racially charged environment due to economic pressures. Many a times it has been seen that the slightest reference to ones race leads to violence, also resulting in deaths. As a result certain communities live in restricted parts of the city to counter rowdy tormentors. Attack against one member is seen to be an attack against the whole community.
Though Indians and Pakistanis in particular work well as doctors and engineers and hold high positions in the local or the national administration, that hasn’t stopped them from being called ‘bloody Indians’ or ‘Paki’, a word that was used for Anita Desai an acclaimed writer and winner of the 2007 Booker Prize. Sikh’s have often been referred to as ‘bloody terrorists’ and have had their hair chopped off. The French ‘headscarf ban’ is just another example of how intolerant the west has become to race and religion more so after 9/11.
In the aftermaths of the Jade goody controversy Tony Blair had issued a statement condemning any form of racial discrimination. However, politicians cannot solve a problem, which is deep rooted in the psyche of the people. It is necessary to go to the grassroots of the problem and understand its origin. A complete social integration of people of all communities is a distant possibility. Jade Goody’s reference to India as a ‘land of slums’ is borne out of ignorance of its vibrant culture and booming economy. Steps therefore should be taken for a better understanding of each other’s country and culture. Exposure to other customs, cuisines, lifestyles, religions, beliefs, practices and books would help in acceptance if not developing a liking towards them. Wishing away or ignoring these remarks as stray occurrences would do more harm than to ease the racial tensions that manifest itself from time to time.