Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Personal accounts of racism

In the Hindu, Kermaan Satha Munshi's account of the racism that he experienced first-hand at the hands of the French. Relevant in this time of internal strife that France is witnessing anew:

AS I walked down Boulevard Massena in the 13th district of Paris, on my way to a community get-together, I decided to drop in at a supermarket to buy some vanilla ice cream to complement the chocolate flavour I already had with me as my contribution to the party. I was late. I had barely stepped into the store when I decided to avoid the crowd and distractedly started walking out of the store with the pack of chocolate ice cream bought some days ago from another store. I was instantly, and rather aggressively, hauled up by two security guards.
I was first asked if I was Algerian. Being Indian did not help, as I discovered after they checked my papers. Passport, student card, stay permit, everything was in order. Since I had not kept the bill of the former purchase they were heatedly asking me for, I apologised for my mistake and nervously tried explaining the situation in my correct, though mildly accented, French.
While the ice cream pack was taken for scanning, I was put through the most humiliating interrogation possible. "We know the ways of kleptomaniacs like you," they snarled at me. "Don't act innocent. You may be able to get away with these things in your country; here you are in France. Go back to your country if you can't behave. Here, we are a civilised people." When the ice cream pack was finally deemed innocent of being stolen, I was let off with a warning and no apology.

Contrasts well with Shahid's angst in The Black Album, a book I am currently reading. At the start of this Hanif Kureishi novel, Shahid Hasan's curious dilemma is brought out in a coversation that he has with some of his college mates. Having grown up in Britain and identifying completely with the British life, Shahid feels ashamed of his Pakistani moorings. His reaction are typically extreme. He finds brown skin revolting (this considering he is brown himself) and longs to join the racist British National Front. "I began to turn into one of them," he says. "I was becoming a monster."

Goes to show racism is a state of the mind, and has little to do with colour.

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