A non-pedantic, civil musing on GovindanKutty and racial prejudices...

Saturday, 18 July 2009 21:51 by salim
(This post was written in collaboration with Shobha (http://www.chaaya.com) Last post was meant to be a comment and I was not really looking forward to write a follow up on that. But, it looks like I have to, as GK has posted a reply to it (which in itself could be a post) in the comments of the original post in question. (.(http://chespeak.blogspot.com/2008/12/barak-obama-and-skyscrapers-of.html. The comment is towards the end) As a good blogger, I should have left my reply in the comment section itself, but Blogger comments are very limited and I cannot put any formatting, links or pictures (ohh yes, I have one for this). So, I decided to make it into a post as well. There are several parts in GK's reply that I have objections about. []one, as human hue, white is superior to black. forced to make a choice, we would like to be white, not black. which is not to say that to like to be white is necessarily to hate those who have not been lucky to be white. My friend FT told me that I should not be pedantic and should not show resentment (she had it in all CAPS) when I am having a discussion. So, I will be very civil. So, this time, I will start with two stories. One is a native American legend. (http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TheWell-BakedMan-Pima.html. Here is a more literary retelling of the story http://www.ralphmag.org/CM/cave-god.html). The short version of it is, that the creator made man out of clay and baked it in the fire. But Coyote the trickster fooled creator into baking the first one too little thus having a pale color and the second one too long, with a black color. Creator got very angry, sent the trickster away and made the perfectly baked red skinned man. The second story (I couldn't find a web reference to it), I think was "told" by our own VKN is about the dilemma of European missionaries in explaining the White God and Black Devil to African people. But, we don't have to look far to figure out the connection between the assumption of white as a superior skin color and its relation to social power structure. All we have to remember that some of the prime symbols of female and male beauty in Indian mythology have dark skin. I understand where GK is coming from and acknowledge that in Kerala, and probably in India as a whole, there is a tendency to consider white skinned people as more desirable than dark skinned. But, instead of realizing the social factors behind it, elevating it into a human reality is quite a stretch. I am sure the well known culture critics who have commented in this article could explain it in a more academic way than I could. "fondness for white as a human complexion is a, shall we say, psycho-social reality. if it is a curse for humankind, let us kick the god who made it so. lala har dayal once proposed that a chemical substance be made that can be injected into the skin to turn it white. that would have enlarged the scope of human choice, and solved colour problem in the flick of a finger, but that was not to be." Now, we are going even further to attribute a regional social attitude as a divine reality. (By the way, it is quite possible to bleach one's skin off all melanin and become white.) I don't know if I am reading too much to these two paragraphs, it seems to me that GK is suggesting that the only way for races with dark skin to succeed is by procreating with white skinned people and turning their offspring to white! two, diversity is all very good, we may even delight in diversity, as desmond tutu put it, but it is not good to make everything equal to everything else. I am a bit confused here. Diversity, by definition, is the opposite of making everything equal to everything else. It is the acknowledgement of the exact opposite, realization that everything is NOT equal to everything else. (I have to say, I am quite disappointed that I didn't even make it to the Romantics... It is just pseudo-romantic.) aborigines of nilambur forests, cholanaickens, live in caves and on wild berries and locusts, [...] do we say it is their style, it is their choice, and that their style, their choice, is as good as ours? no. i do not rate those environmentalists [...],as significantly sane. we need to allow ourselves the human right to exercise comparative cultural judgement." No one is questioning making personal judgments on comparative culture. It, as GK writes, is a human right. However, when that judgment goes further into making decisions (often autocratic) about the lives of the "other" culture, it becomes an infringement of human rights. Every societal group assumes their culture to be the right one, better than the "other". This, again, is a right of a people. I have the right to be a Nair and forage for fish and crabs in the streams when not fighting a fierce "war", and the Cholanaickans have their right to forage for wild berries. It brings up yet another example from the not so far in the past. As the new worlds being found by the middle age travelers, there was a huge "concern" about the lack of culture and morality among these newfound worlds. It probably was a very earnest effort from the part of the Missionaries that flocked to these African and South American societies to convert the unbelievers and aborigines to "civilization". But, we now know that, many of these "uncivilized" cultures were, in reality, were technologically and otherwise as much or even more advanced than the European societies at that time. A fine example is the recent researches into El Dorado and the discovery of Dark Earth. (http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Feb06/AAAS.terra.preta.ssl.html, http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2002/eldorado.shtml). One can, of course take the more colorful route of assuming all the achievement of these early civilizations are from visiting Aliens. "[..]do we want to become black and dress our hair like some blacks? like cholanaickens? we mouth a lot of praise for theyyyam but do we like to train our children as theyyam artists?" The question is never whether I want to braid my hair like "some blacks". (I would love a Bob Marley hairdo though. I am slowly getting there.) The question is about being me, and part of my culture is the right thing to do.

(This post was written in collaboration with Shobha (http://www.chaaya.com)

Last post was meant to be a comment and I was not really looking forward to write a follow up on that. But, it looks like I have to, as GK has posted a reply to it (which in itself could be a post) in the comments of the original post in question. (.(http://chespeak.blogspot.com/2008/12/barak-obama-and-skyscrapers-of.html. The comment is towards the end) As a good blogger, I should have left my reply in the comment section itself, but Blogger comments are very limited and I cannot put any formatting, links or pictures (ohh yes, I have one for this). So, I decided to make it into a post as well.

There are several parts in GK's reply that I have objections about.

[]one, as human hue, white is superior to black.
forced to make a choice, we would like to be white, not black.
which is not to say that to like to be white is necessarily to hate
those who have not been lucky to be white.

My friend FT told me that I should not be pedantic and should not show resentment (she had it in all CAPS) when I am having a discussion. So, I will be very civil.

So, this time, I will start with two stories.

One is a native American legend. (http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TheWell-BakedMan-Pima.html. Here is a more literary retelling of the story http://www.ralphmag.org/CM/cave-god.html). The short version of it is, that the creator made man out of clay and baked it in the fire. But Coyote the trickster fooled creator into baking the first one too little thus having a pale color and the second one too long, with a black color. Creator got very angry, sent the trickster away and made the perfectly baked red skinned man.

The second story (I couldn't find a web reference to it), I think was "told" by our own VKN is about the dilemma of European missionaries in explaining the White God and Black Devil to African people.

But, we don't have to look far to figure out the connection between the assumption of white as a superior skin color and its relation to social power structure. All we have to remember that some of the prime symbols of female and male beauty in Indian mythology have dark skin.

I understand where GK is coming from and acknowledge that in Kerala, and probably in India as a whole, there is a tendency to consider white skinned people as more desirable than dark skinned. But, instead of realizing the social factors behind it, elevating it into a human reality is quite a stretch. I am sure the well known culture critics who have commented in this article could explain it in a more academic way than I could.

"fondness for white as a human complexion is a, shall we say,
psycho-social reality. if it is a curse for humankind, let us kick the god who made it so. lala har dayal once proposed that a chemical substance be made that can be injected into the skin to turn it white. that would have enlarged the scope of human choice, and solved colour problem in the flick of a finger, but that was not to be."

Now, we are going even further to attribute a regional social attitude as a divine reality. (By the way, it is quite possible to bleach one's skin off all melanin and become white.) I don't know if I am reading too much to these two paragraphs, it seems to me that GK is suggesting that the only way for races with dark skin to succeed is by procreating with white skinned people and turning their offspring to white!

two, diversity is all very good, we may even delight in diversity,
as desmond tutu put it, but it is not good to make everything equal to everything else.

I am a bit confused here. Diversity, by definition, is the opposite of making everything equal to everything else. It is the acknowledgement of the exact opposite, realization that everything is NOT equal to everything else.

(I have to say, I am quite disappointed that I didn't even make it to the Romantics... It is just pseudo-romantic.)

aborigines of nilambur forests, cholanaickens, live in caves
and on wild berries and locusts, [...] do we say it is their style, it is their choice, and that their style, their choice, is as good as ours? no. i do not rate those environmentalists [...],as significantly sane. we need to allow ourselves the human right to exercise comparative cultural judgement."

No one is questioning making personal judgments on comparative culture. It, as GK writes, is a human right. However, when that judgment goes further into making decisions (often autocratic) about the lives of the "other" culture, it becomes an infringement of human rights. Every societal group assumes their culture to be the right one, better than the "other". This, again, is a right of a people. I have the right to be a Nair and forage for fish and crabs in the streams when not fighting a fierce "war", and the Cholanaickans have their right to forage for wild berries.

It brings up yet another example from the not so far in the past. As the new worlds being found by the middle age travelers, there was a huge "concern" about the lack of culture and morality among these newfound worlds. It probably was a very earnest effort from the part of the Missionaries that flocked to these African and South American societies to convert the unbelievers and aborigines to "civilization". But, we now know that, many of these "uncivilized" cultures were, in reality, were technologically and otherwise as much or even more advanced than the European societies at that time. A fine example is the recent researches into El Dorado and the discovery of Dark Earth. (http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Feb06/AAAS.terra.preta.ssl.html, http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2002/eldorado.shtml). One can, of course take the more colorful route of assuming all the achievement of these early civilizations are from visiting Aliens.

"[..]do we want to become black and dress our hair like some blacks? like cholanaickens? we mouth a lot of praise for theyyyam but do we like to train our children as theyyam artists?"

Image019 The question is never whether I want to braid my hair like "some blacks". (I would love a Bob Marley hairdo though. I am slowly getting there.) The question is about being me, and being part of my culture is the right thing to do.

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