No, it’s about time we stood up to it


I’ve never liked reality TV shows. The concept makes me uncomfortable. As if life isn’t real enough, now “reality” is the new escapism? But it’s big business, shows like Big Brother. They cater to the Peeping Tom in us, and our need to see how far one will go for fame and money.

Surely, there is a limit, and judging from over 30,000 protests, Big Brother in the United Kingdom at least bumped up against it when Indian actress Shilpa Shetty moved into the Big Brother house. Accusations of racial abuse began after two British contestants began bullying Shetty, constantly referring to her Indianness. She was even referred to as “the Indian” by one housemate who, perhaps, felt Indians didn’t merit being called by their given names.

The show’s reaction? It hid behind words such as “overt” and “unambiguous.” There had been no overt racial abuse—just a cultural clash between two contestants. Reaction from other quarters ran the gamut—a sponsor pulled out, politicians and literary types weighed in—mostly denouncing the behavior. Some said Shetty was paid loads of money so she should shut up and put up. Astonishingly, there was even the suggestion that the actress invited the abuse as strategy. Others said it’s to be expected—put an Indian among British people and their true (racist) nature will surface.

That is the point of such shows, if they have a point at all, to see what happens to real people when backed into a corner, a British corner occupied by an Indian.

So, how should we react? Do we let it roll off our brown-skinned backs? Do we say it’s just bullying (as if that’s something desirable)? Do we ignore it—it is just a TV show, save the accusations of racism for when it really counts (like during a mid-term election in Virginia)?

I remember the first time someone referred to me using the N-word. I was riding my bike in a small Midwestern town with so few African Americans you could count them on one hand. It was the mid-1960s and this other kid knew the word was supposed to be used for people with dark skin. My response was to laugh at his ignorance, “What do you know? I’m Indian!”

Some attribute the behavior of Shetty’s housemates to ignorance, not racism, and are willing to excuse it. They couldn’t pronounce her name—that’s not racist, just ignorant. Looking back, I’m not sure I should have let that other kid off the hook so easily. Why should we excuse such behavior? Why not call it racism, if it is? Yes, it’s an ugly word. Isn’t that the whole point?

Reeta Sinha wrote this opinion from Las Vegas, Nev.


Yes, accept the obvious and move on


Big Brother is just another third-rate “reality” show, the kind that all those fans of supermarket tabloids watch. These shows are designed to cause maximum fuss to generate ratings, with the most outrageous stunts.

The Arcelor-Mittal fracas was more serious: if a European company invests in India, it’s called Foreign Direct Investment. If an Indian company (or even a Dutch company with an Indian chairman) invests in Europe, it is seen as non-whites taking over lily-white Europe. One would have thought money spoke a universal tongue.

But wait, there is more. Recent reports from the United Kingdom talk about the hardships Indian-origin doctors are being put to. It turns out that there was a bait-and-switch. These people were lured into going to the U.K. with the promise of some High-Skilled Migrant Program whereby once they completed their graduate studies in the U.K. they would be on a fast track to permanent residency.

However, the U.K. government changed its mind mid-stream. After these students spent some £20,000 (about $40,000) on their education, the government manipulated the residency criteria such that white Europeans would get an unfair advantage. About 5,000 Indian doctors are now returning to India, poorer and sadder but presumably wiser.

This is a modern rendition of the old Chinese (and the later “Hindoo” [sic]) Exclusion Acts in the United States some time ago, whereby they imported Chinese men to work on the transcontinental railroads. These men were not allowed to become citizens, marry white women, bring Chinese wives, or own land. Their job was but to toil and die. The same applied to the sturdy Sikh farmers (also labeled “Hindoos”) of the Central Valley in California. They got around the ban by marrying local Hispanic women (hence some Sikh-Catholic households there).

In addition, Americans came up with a law that only Caucasians had the right to citizenship. This was meant to keep out Chinese; enterprising Indians appealed on the grounds that they were Caucasians, and were naturalized. However, soon thereafter, the government narrowed it down to white Caucasians, and the Indians were retroactively stripped of citizenship.

There is also, of course, the sad tale of the Komagata Maru, a shipful of Indian immigrants denied the right to land in Canada, which was then, like India, part of the British Empire. On their return to India, white authorities fired on the ship killing 20 of the migrants.

This is a brief look at white racism against Indians. It is not new, and it isn’t going away. No point moaning about it. Rather, we need economic superpowerdom, which has the curious effect of “whitening” people: as in the strange case of Japanese, who were officially deemed “honorary whites” by apartheid South Africa.

Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Bangalore.