Ta-Nehisi Coates (TNC) has written one of the finest long-form pieces you will ever read: Fear of a Black President.
As a candidate, Barack Obama said we needed to reckon with race and with America’s original sin, slavery. But as our first black president, he has avoided mention of race almost entirely. In having to be “twice as good” and “half as black,” Obama reveals the false promise and double standard of integration.
Please set aside half an hour and read it.
We Indians, both those who live here and those back home, tend to view America from the prism of our compatriots. That view spans only a miniscule portion of a complex nation. For us, America starts in the 70s when our relatives emigrated and brought back American goodies. Today, our friends stay there (and don’t need to bring any goodies because we get everything in India). Most of my Indian friends seldom follow politics unless a bill about visa quotas is at stake. We don’t need to: in our America, there is little difference brought by Democrats or Republicans. Unlike white Americans, Indians in America rarely even have a token black or hispanic friend. We’re not yet there. We do however like our Asian friends.
(These are not meant to be criticisms or surprising facts, so don’t take them as such. I’m generalizing my experiences around Indians my age. As always, I could be wrong.)
I think we’re not very comfortable talking about race itself. Frankly speaking, we’re not very good at it. We fear that our non-racism—which in atleast a few cases is hidden racism—might be perceived as real racism by an excessively politically correct crowd. You should see the discomfort with which some of my Indian friends use the word African American instead of black. Or Mexican for Hispanic. Or Chinese-looking for Koreans, Singaporeans or Tibetans. Of course, I much prefer that to hearing derogatory terms such as kallu, makku, babban, gora or chink.
True story: A friend was convinced that chink/chinki was a term coined in India and known only to Indians so there was no way Chinese people around him would take note of the word. I had to correct him and lend him the word Asian for future use. I couldn’t correct his racism.
I think TNC’s piece ought to be read by all Americans. But more so it is a fine starting point for Indians who want to enter the complex world of race relations. Go read it. You can claim to understand America a bit better.
And I know I’m repeating myself but what a writer, that TNC guy!