We all are racists

Enlightened Mind

There appears a world-wide condemnation of racism and the recent murder of a black man, George Floyd, in America. It is very unfortunate that almost all of us are racist deep down. Some of us speak of equality and non-racism (and we should), but almost every one of us regularly cracks jokes about black color and bodies.

I am a Pakhtun and living among the Pakhtuns, whereas I have lived in Lahore too. I am dark by complexion; and the Pakhtuns, majority of them, believe that black color is identical with being a Punjabi or with being a Bengali. They have a word of contempt for such people among them e.g. “tooray” and their famous abusive word (gaali) is “za mara daa toor makh de nesalay day” mean that “get lost, you black-faced creature”.

Toorah bala (black monster) is another abusive word (gaali). If a person in some family happens to be not as white as the rest are, children call him “toor uncle”, “toor chacha”, or “toor lala”. There is nothing wrong with the word “toor” but when it becomes a mark of difference and contempt it becomes an abuse. I have been made to feel inferior by my teachers, friends and fellows for my color in my own community, and only those can know it who understand the moral side of it.

I once was sitting with a teacher friend in Islamia College and a few Islamic preachers (tablighis) came to put us on serat-e-mustaqeem (straight path). They started talking to my friend but when they addressed me they started speaking in Urdu. I replied them in Pashtu and their response was; “ta Pakhtun ye? na mara ta khu Punjabay khkaree” mean that “you are a Pashtun? no buddy, you look like a Punjabi” and they laughed heavily on that situation. In Lahore, I often heard people, saying: "bhai, Pathan tu goray hotay hain, aap kalay kiyon ho?” mean that “brother, Pakhtuns are white colored people, why you are black colored?”

I don’t know why we are so obsessed with color? Many people would not see anything bad or strange in what I just narrated because these things are so naturalized and legitimized in our minds that they look normal. Racism has deep roots in us and color has become a touchstone for beauty.

The recent inhuman and brutal murder of George Floyd in America sparked protests and resistance across the US as well as other countries because there are people who do understand that racism eats up the system like termites eat up the wood. Public consciousness isn't something that exists in people's genes. It is the responsibility of incumbent authorities (state) to make public realize that racism of any kind is both morally and legally wrong. Gender equality and non-racism are values without which a society can never become truly democratic.

In short, racism is a structural problem. It is part of our collective consciousness. It requires a great deal of awareness to make the public realize the moral implications of their words and actions. Be it America or Pakistan, it is the system that is to be blamed for the lack of enlightened and fair thinking.

The writer is an academic, poet and critic and has deep interest in literature, philosophy and history.  

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