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Film still from 'Mississippi Masala' (Image Credit: Janus Films)

With Irreverence Towards All – A monthly column on the musings and rants from a Bay Area Indian American about all that ails, affects, or matters to Desis here and across these fine United States. Many will disagree, and sometimes aggressively.

February. It is the month of a Hallmark-promoted holiday. Love is always in the air and should be, but somehow, we are increasingly being conditioned to think about it in February!

Well so did a distant cousin of mine. At least that’s what I thought when a phone conversation began with an older relative. By the time I got off the phone, I wondered if all labors of love find success in February. You see, this old relative of mine was quite disturbed. Her only son wanted to marry someone she completely disapproved of. Okay – that is not exactly an unusual situation. The young lady (let’s call her Rachel) in question is an accomplished attorney, a well-respected leader in the business community, and clearly making an effort to reach out to auntie. However, this auntie could not see all this. She could not see past the fact that Rachel is black.

Rachel’s fatal (and, incidentally the only) shortcoming was the color of her skin because that conveyed to this auntie that all the undesirable stereotypical tropes that are used to demonize Black people must apply to Rachel. This auntie is generally considered to be a very congenial, loving, and understanding person but her son (let’s call him Rahul) had apparently crossed a red (or shall we say very black) line. Love, it has been said, is blind. But knowing Rahul and what I know of Rachel, I actually think this is not the case. They are very aware individuals. They are conscious about who there are and are wonderfully comfortable in their skins. They have not let other considerations cloud how they feel about each other.

This year Valentine’s Day was special for them, as Rahul proposed and Rachel accepted. They just have a huge mood dampener to deal with – auntie’s “Oh-My-God-She-Is-Black” reaction and her very vocal expression of displeasure. Desis, as much as if not more than other communities, suffer from the log kya kahenga (what-will-people-say) syndrome. Auntie’s reaction certainly had an element of that as well. So, what does that say about our people?

February is also Black History Month. And, speaking of history how can we not think of our Vice President, Kamala Harris. I wonder how her maternal relatives felt, and behaved, about her father being a Black man. If they were anything like this auntie of mine, it might have just been torture for her mother. In a society that places a premium on lighter skin color (remember the Fair & Lovely commercials in India?) the bias is clear in popular Desi music and film portrayals. However, one film about Desi characters attempted a very honest look at the matter as far back as 1991. In a beautifully told story, Mira Nair explored the subject in Mississippi Masala with the contribution of very talented actors (including Denzel Washington, Sarita Choudhury, Roshan Seth, and Sharmila Tagore). In this film, the Desi family attempts to justify its opposition to the union between the two star-crossed lovers (a Desi woman and a Black man) based on the “trouble” they had in Uganda! For auntie, however, there isn’t a flimsy cover for her overtly racist behavior.

The disturbing question we must all answer for ourselves is, are we racist too? Was our support for BLM in recent years because we believed in it or was it because we didn’t want to look bad? Are we genuinely committed to fighting racism? Yes, we do complain when a white person gets a job or opportunity that we feel should have been ours. But, do we believe a Black person could conceivably be more deserving than us? Is our behavior truly more compassionate and inclusive than previous generations, or are we merely faking it?

Happy Valentine’s Day and Black History Month.

Irreverently yours,

Darpan


Darpan is a Bay Area artiste with a background in technology and finance. He shares his unfiltered views on a broad range of topics. He agrees to be restrained only by editorial diktat.