The Color of Culture

Written by Kunal Ganguly

On a scale of one to ten on the skin color scale, one being "dying of AIDS" or "I can see your veins" white and ten being "smile.. I can't see you in the dark" dark I rate a six. I am an Indian, Asian not American and all people from my part of the world have a similar skin tone as me. Does that mean that my people and me are inferior in any way to the lighter skinned people? No, inferiority cannot be gauged on the color of skin. For the people who do, they make their inferences and other incorrect assumptions on ignorance, apathy and misinformation.

I like to tell people that in my country a majority of the people are born with much lighter skin than me, and the harsh sun makes all of us dark. A fact that would be proved if I were to take off my clothes and show people the extreme damage done to my skin on my face and arms - the parts of my body exposed to the sun. That statement confuses most people of lighter skin here in America.

Most white Americans assume that all lesser developed nations have dark skinned people and in more advanced countries, like the United States, people are white. Another discriminatory assumption is that all the colored people living in these developed nations are an offshoot of politics and immigration laws.

Of course, assuming that all Americans think this way would be false too, but unfortunately the majority of the populace of white America seems to be afflicted by this disease of complete and utter ignorance. The more knowledgeable therefore open-minded people of America, a very small group, get badly overshadowed by the former - sometimes even influenced by them.

I sometimes extract malicious fun from my ignorant American friends. I tell them that in my country we don't have electricity, telephones or computers and that we ride elephants to work (the elephants have built in fare meters). Building on that, I tell them that the autocratic government changes many times a year and that I am actually the heir to the throne of my kingdom and had to flee to America because they poisoned my pet purple canary, which signifies that all the members of the my family will soon be jailed, unfairly tried and put to the guillotine.

After 10 minutes of similar nonsense to my new and dumb white American friend, he or she usually figures out that I am being mendacious. But the look on their faces while I say this stuff to them is priceless. The look on their face is akin to the pitiful look on a parent's face when they see a young child (not their own) struggling to get their heads unstuck from some big and dangerous household appliance.

My fellow brown brethren might extract a sense of sad but knowing amusement from this article, but at the same time a realization of what is wrong with white America becomes clear if in any way they had any misconceptions about the amount of knowledge about the rest of the world a typical white American harbors. Indians (from Asia, not the `original Americans') and natives of other countries come to America expecting the American world-view to be open-minded and friendly, but alas, that misconception fades as quickly as the smile on a parent's face when they see their nice all-American white daughter holding hands with a brown-skinned foreigner.

A white girl I became involved with said she would never be able to have me meet with her parents because they would probably be horrified at the very prospect of the brown skin cells from my hands depositing under her fingernails, let alone think of any emotional involvement between the two of us. I stopped seeing her in disgust. It was not her fault - it was what is wrong with white America in general.

Most white people tend to have sympathy for the darker lot, they act as if they understand how hard in must be living in a country where killings are commonplace and watching your sister getting raped by religious terrorists from the next village is a once-every-2-weeks event. I usually don't bother to correct them that these ideas, propagated by the western media, are completely wrong.

That's one of the problems with western media - they tend to show only the negative side of the story. But who can blame them, that's news ethos the world over. People like to read and watch only the bad things that happen in the world and the media complies in earnest. Most of the news reports that come out of Asia are the ones that deal with the worst of human behavior; therefore if one is ignorant about that country then he or she will automatically generalize rest of the people in that country as the same. Everyone likes to think in generalities, the world becomes a lot less complicated. But when these generalities are applied to the different human races, things become quite offensive.

When CNN Headline News guest anchor David Goodnow carried a story of a teenage couple in India being killed in response to religious tension between two tribal communities, an American friend asked me whether all teenagers in India are killed if they have any sort of relationship before marriage. Teenagers in India have all sorts of relationships, and face the same problems like most American teenagers. The exception being that Indian women usually do not pregnant until after marriage.

Offensive stereotyping of `different' a.k.a. foreign people can be seen in popular entertainment too. For years Apu from "The Simpsons" (along with his accent by white actor Hank Azaria) defined America's image of many people from South Asia. British comedians Jasper Carrot and Rowan Atkinson are known for their frequent comic imitations of the way most South Asians talk, their lifestyle and their, albeit sometimes funny, reaction to a western environment. For years, it's been an ongoing joke among South Asian comedians and leaders that no real-life urban emergency room resembles NBC's hit show "E.R.". The sets of the popular show never have a single South Asian medical staff in sight.

A light-hearted statistic conducted by a popular Asian entertainment weekly showed that Asian-Americans could comprehend over 20 percent of the medical terminology and acronyms used on "E.R.", while the average American lauded himself by understanding less than 5 percent. This statistic did not include medical professionals.

After seeing a show on India on the Discovery Channel an American girl told me that she believed all Indian men were warlike and their women wore big headdresses and had their hands painted in weird designs all year round. In my home country, the only Indian men who are warlike are the ones enlisted in the army and the women dress like that only once in their lives - when they get married.

When India conducted its nuclear tests in 1998, all news broadcasts across America carried reports on concerns regarding the physical safety of the nuclear weapons production plants - a concern that exists even with the (supposedly non-functional) nuclear weapons plants in America. While chatting on the Internet, soon after that world-changing event, I was asked by a concerned American female of unknown age (possibly a teenager or early twenties) as to when would India drop the bomb on the damn Iraqis. When I told her I had no idea about the ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile) technology that India has, she causally commented that someone could just drive over to Iraq and detonate the bomb - she thought Iraq was just north of India.

It might be worthwhile to add that although she had no clue what ICBM meant, she did a pretty good job of deducing that it has something to do with launching a weapon across long distances. That gem of knowledge dawned on her after I described in detail what the words `Inter-continental' and `Ballistic' meant. Realizing I was chatting with the future of America here, I pressed her for her opinion on nuclear weapons. She said they were a good idea. After all, the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ("u know, those f**king jap joints") did stop World War I ("the first big f**king war, when those f**king nazis did some stupid sh*t"). I was too amused to correct her. But to her credit, she got some things right.

While enjoying some pizza at Pizza hut, a former army captain, sitting across from me and some of my Indian friends, announced that if it were not for America, we (I assume he includes India, and the rest of Asia) would still be hunting and gathering for a living. I really did not want to waste my time telling him that advanced Indian civilizations can be traced to over five thousand years ago while American culture is only a few centuries old. He said that we were sucking this country dry by taking all the high paying jobs such as doctors and technical staff. Again, I looked at him and decided not to tell him that over ninety percent of South Asian students return to their respective countries to pursue a career related to their major.

Negative media stereotyping of Asian countries and their culture is true in reverse too, most people in my country believe that all Americans do in their spare time is take drugs and have sex with a multitude of partners - male or female. In their working hours, white Americans work respectable jobs at law firms and banks while black people just shoot each other. Shows like COPS, Jerry Springer, and the media frenzy over the Clinton scandal and the Columbine massacre do little to portray America to the outside world for the country that it is. MTV, which is aired to almost half the globe, is also largely responsible for giving a lot of non-Americans (and some Americans) the idea that Americans have very few inhibitions, which may directly translate to morals for some.

When Americans compare their living standard to the rest of the world, it is not very hard to understand why they may feel sympathy and a deep feeling of superiority. The average American's energy use is equivalent to the consumption of two Japanese, six Mexicans, thirteen Chinese, thirty-two Indians, one hundred and forty Bangladeshis, two hundred and eighty four Tanzanians, and three hundred and seventy two Ethiopians.

Americans live well when compared to developing nations. Although Americans comprise only five percent of the world's population, they use 25 percent of the world's resources and produce more trash and pollution than citizens of most other nations.

My Residence Advisor at the dorms last semester used to talk to non-Americans very slowly. He believed that most international students find speaking and understanding English hard, true, but if you are an international student who can speak perfect English the experience can be extremely infuriating. Not knowing English automatically makes you a savage - universal rule of white man. Somehow, that statement makes me want to do something violent - like grabbing the nearest leafy plant, screaming at the sky while waving my hands (the leaves of the plant evenly distributed to both hands and green dribble running down my fingers for shock value), every now and then looking at the nearest person and saying things in a strange alien tongue and spitting after every two or three words. An important part of this fantasy is choking some poor white fellow to near death and then claiming it was part of my ritualistic cultural right to do so.

If you are white and have come to this paragraph without dismissing this article as just another piece of misdirected misanthropic literature, please, the next time you see a dark-skinned foreigner greet him the way you would a fellow human, treat him the way you would a fellow human, share with him the way you would with a fellow human, laugh with him you would with a fellow human. Your opinion of him is yours and yours alone but at least avoid being branded a racist by careful people just like you by keeping any racial slurs you might have learnt from your peers to yourself. We are just like you - the same anatomical specifications that makes humans human, just a different shell.

Lastly, if you are a single attractive white female looking for a man who is committed, faithful, non-beer-guzzling, not a couch potato, no major psychological problems, does not think his car is most likely faster than the next one and therefore needs to be tested immediately: regardless of the fact that it is a school zone, has not practiced promiscuity (i.e. not slept with more women than fingers - hands and legs), does not have any venereal diseases, and most importantly - firmly believes that women are not objects and capable of infinite orgasms, I am available.