Saturday, June 1, 2013

Stereotypes of Desi and Western People

I briefly mentioned stereotypes in my last post about the caste system. I've also mentioned many times how I don't agree with major white privilege activists (those who write books/articles/etc.) on the idea that only white people make all these negative stereotypes of other races or how only white people are racist in ways they can't identify or recognize. It's not that I think privilege doesn't exist. I just think white people are unfairly being targeted as the only race with a problem and I don't believe that to be true.

I've lived in 6 different US states and 2 countries and I've spent a considerable amount of my adult life traveling to/in more than 170 cities in 4 countries. That's a lot more than most people in the world. I have not seen and lived the things they (some white privilege supporters) all insist I have. I have a much different perspective having been a part of the lower class/working poor as well as the middle class in the US. While I'm not specifically addressing white privilege in this post, you may feel the undertone that privilege is not just designated to those who are white.

I've decided to tackle some common Indian stereotypes throughout the month of June. I will be addressing other stereotypes as well and this is just the first post in a series. I look forward to hearing input from my readers on these subjects. Please take a moment throughout the month to let me know what you've heard, how these stereotypes affect you and your family or why they outrage you.

The Jatt stereotype in the caste system post came directly from a translation of the Mahabharata. It doesn't paint a very pretty picture of Jatt culture IMO. It also highlights a part of life some Indians would swear does not exist. How must a Jatt feel hearing this stereotype? Well, I'm not Indian but I can tell you (having come from a redneck area) that I think some would be proud of this title while some would not. I'm dead sure not every Jatt out there is drinking, partying and living a rough and tumble lifestyle like that passage implies. Others will be living that lifestyle and will delight in people recognizing how tough and 'manly' they are. Etc. You get the point.

Jatts are still widely stereotyped and portrayed as rough villains in many media outlets across India - by Indians. Music, serials, movies, you name it. Somewhere in there they will show you at least one Jatt that is acting the way the Mahabharata portrayed them. Is it entirely accurate? No. Jatt's don't run around beating people up, swearing and drinking. Media is almost always dramatized and this is true of Indian media as well as American media and I am confident that I could state (with no real experience) that it occurs in EVERY country with media outlets to various cultural groups in that country and not be wrong.

Since I've already brought it up, rednecks are my next topic of discussion. This is one of the American cultures that it has become universally acceptable to make fun of. No one is acting on their behalf to end it. In reality, they are typically hard working people who (some) still enjoy living off of the land around them - including hunting, gardening, etc.

How are rednecks portrayed in American media? I don't even have to describe it. Sadly Honey Boo Boo had made her entrance into India and thus, someone else has already told you. There's also Duck Dynasty and Buckwild (recently cancelled). These portray the most extreme aspects of redneck society. Why? It's the most marketable because it's socially acceptable to make fun of and stereotype rednecks in America.

This goes further with Hillbillies - which are not the same as rednecks. You would have to be from the Appalachian region to fully understand the differences but I promise you, as a long-term Appalachian woman, they are different. No one showcases hillbillies. Why? They're not marketable and dramatic like rednecks. But who are they? Hillbillies are often thought of as ignorant, inbred, poor, racist and always fighting with the neighbors. (Read Biography - Hatfields and McCoys: An American Feud). And how true is this stereotype? Just as true as the stereotype of the memsahib.

While we're on the topic of media images and stereotypes, let's address another NASTY trend going on. Indian media almost always depicts white women as trashy, low class, promiscuous beings. Is this accurate? Hell no. Alternately, American media depicts Indian women in one of two ways - either completely ethnic (sari, bindi, sindoor, etc.) to the max or as a poor, destitute widow begging on the streets (okay, a bit extreme but all my American followers know how I mean). Both of these are completely screwed up views of women. They're ugly stereotypes that do nothing to portray real life or the majority.

I could go on and on addressing stereotypes propagated by the media but I know you're all smart enough to get the picture. Sadly, media impacts our views of other people and cultures significantly. The more times you see an image, the more you begin to associate it with all the people in that culture. Yet, most of us don't seem to grasp the concept that these images are dramatized. We just accept it, even though we know the media is all about drama and slanting content toward whatever they think will bring in the most money. (I.E. Americans get emotional over poor people they can help and Indians get excited/outraged over slutty women.) It's all a marketing ploy to bring in more money for them - and who cares if the people they represent don't like it.

Humans are the same regardless of their country of origin. Stereotypes of anyone should not be taken seriously, nor should they be relied upon as 100% accurate (they are useful in some ways). They are only a representation of the most extreme factions of the race and NOT the majority. "Privilege" is not something doled out at birth to unsuspecting white people only. It is something that people take on as they age in a subsection, subcastes, or subclass of a society that makes them feel superior to some other group with less money, education, etc. Every society has someone who is privileged and takes advantage of it. We, as humans, are often opportunistic at the disadvantage of others and we tend to self-sooth by telling ourselves 'we are better than .....(fill in the blank)....' This is how stereotypes continue to breed and remain popular and effective.

Have any of these stereotypes affected you or your family?
How do you feel about these stereotypes?
What have you seen in your life to prove these stereotypes wrong?

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14 comments:

  1. People tried arguing that there's no racism in India? I find that hilarious because what would be called racism in the West is accepted fully out here. Drawing back on the Jatt example, everyone and their mother warned me not to hire any locals (Gurgaon is jatt territory) for maids and drivers--they're violent, they drink, they steal, and they settle arguments with homemade guns. Same thing for people from Bihar.


    Personally, I've become less offended by stereotypes after moving to India. I met a Delhi based restaurant owner who'd studied and lived in Atlanta for a few years who told me that he hated living in the US because everyone was forced to be politically correct all the time. He thought that was going against human tendencies. I'm starting to think he has a point!

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  2. The few times I tried to point that there was racism occuring in India I got pointed that it's not as bad as racism white people inflict on others...dear oh dear! So having people aking me if my daughter is really mine because she looks Indian and I do not is apparently appropriate and normal for them to think so with all the case of abduction in India? Or asking me very worried if my daughter is at least Indian an breathe a sigh of relief when I say yes. I'm toying with the idea of telling them that no she isn't just to see their reaction.
    DH is from uttar pradesh...many think it is a backward State with lots of violent or lazy people. makes my eye rolls because I haven't met anybody from that State that fit that stereotype, and most of my friends in my neighbourhood are or from the State in question or have in-laws or family living there, but listen to certain political factions in Mumbai and you'd end up believing that all UP people and Bihari in the city are criminals, violent, drink, are the only ones who rape women and are as a lot uneducated.

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  3. Me not being American but having a lot of friends from the US I must say that the high level of political correctess is a bit odd to me. As your friend said the way I see it happening in the US isn't really natural. It actually makes me think that by struggling to go the extra mile and out of one's way to avoid touching anthing cultural and finding special way to deal with different group of people based on their ethnicity is turning out to be another form of racial discrimination.

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  4. Cyn, you haven't quite got it right. Sometimes PC-ness in the States goes overboard, but overall it works pretty well, I think. As an American who grew up in the small town South, not so long after desegregation, I can say that we have come a long way and a lot of that has to do with being sensitive to people from different backgrounds. For better or worse, the US has a unique history as a developed country because of slavery. If you look at US society up until the civil rights movement, there was a lot of horrific stuff.

    Being politically correct is a step in the right direction. Historically homogeneous European countries can't understand this. I believe that as the US becomes even more diverse, that we will eventually move away from extreme political correctness because treating each other with respect, but also not taking things too seriously, will become second nature. More and more Americans comes from mixed backgrounds, as do my own children. Side note: when we were in India, I was told by several Indian ladies that my children would be more beautiful if they were lighter skinned. Naturally, I gave them what-for!
    Anyways, countries like India would do well to learn by the US example of accepting diversity and being mindful of others' feelings. I'll get off my soap box now! :-)

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  5. Cyn, you haven't quite got it right. Sometimes PC-ness in the States goes overboard, but overall it works pretty well, I think. As an American who grew up in the small town South, not so long after desegregation, I can say that we have come a long way and a lot of that has to do with being sensitive to people from different backgrounds. For better or worse, the US has a unique history as a developed country because of slavery. If you look at US society up until the civil rights movement, there was a lot of horrific stuff.

    Being politically correct is a step in the right direction. Historically homogeneous European countries can't understand this. I believe that as the US becomes even more diverse, that we will eventually move away from extreme political correctness because treating each other with respect, but also not taking things too seriously, will become second nature. More and more Americans comes from mixed backgrounds, as do my own children. Side note: when we were in India, I was told by several Indian ladies that my children would be more beautiful if they were lighter skinned. Naturally, I gave them what-for!
    Anyways, countries like India would do well to learn by the US example of accepting diversity and being mindful of others' feelings. I'll get off my soap box now! :-)

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  6. Sorry for posting twice. Weird internet connection-I live on a tropical island.

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  7. Christopher SweetJune 1, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    For me, as an avid self-taught speaker of Urdu and Panjabi who happens to be white-skinned, I find myself deeply hurt sometimes by a desi conception of white people, that the only white people who are interested in India are hippy-like people whose interest really only touches sitar music, some spirituality, and ganja. This view implies that whites interested in Indian culture are superficial, and though I'm sure this is based on interactions many desis have had in contact with the West, through Europeans and Americans visiting India, I've really been hurt when some desis treat me as if I'm just someone who does not really care about their culture, who has not taken the time of six or seven years to learn their culture via language. But when they see how well I speak Urdu and Panjabi (or bits of Tamil or Gujarati for that matter), and they understand my values as being much similar to theirs, when they understand that we have common cultural bonds and images, then they (usually) see that I am much different from the stereotype, that in many ways, I am also desi. When talking to a close Pakistani friend of mine about a private college my mother had praised, she said, "That's a really white place. I'm glad you're here (at SVSU). You'd never fit in there. You're too desi."

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  8. I think that we (Americans) really hurt ourselves by defining all these things going on as being completely wrong. We have a strict 'don't do it' attitude and then when one human makes a mistake the whole world jumps on them. It only heightens the problem to try and hold one group of humans to a higher standard. We are what we are, we are human. We make mistakes, we say things that shouldn't be said, etc. By setting a higher standard we are only causing more problems. Then enforcing things so rigidly just complicates things more. We continually make ourselves look bad by complicating things and putting so many rules in place.

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  9. Oh, I also meant to say that I've heard the same thins about UP that you mentioned. When I visited there I did not see that at all. I saw some very disturbing things along the lines of poverty and I also saw many inspiring things. I actually found that the shops I went to there didn't try as hard to rip me off as the ones in Delhi.

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  10. It's not natural! You hit the nail on the head! By keeping this charade going we're only separating people further. We aren't getting along, we're singling each other out and it's causing a lot of hate and discontent in the American landscape.

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  11. We've definitely come a long way from segregation. You and I come from similar backgrounds and I completely agree we should be sensitive to the things and races around us. But I think in many areas that things are going way too far and only causing more division among us. It's like in some ways, people are bringing segregation back by making most issues only about black/white skin colors. There is much more to race than just those two shades.

    I find the current trend of grouping via shades extremely disturbing. I personally don't believe that the struggles of the Irish, or the plight of Russian immigrants is anything like being an upper middle class white person, yet, they are all being grouped together for current black/white arguments and perspectives. Life is not simply black and white. There's plenty of brown, mocha, caramel, milk, honey, etc. going on when it comes to race.

    We need to stop separating and start appreciating more IMO.

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  12. There is a popular say

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  13. There is a fairly critical mass of Native Americans where I live and I am just now beginning to learn more about Native issues as they affect my community.


    One of the problems is that these stereotypes you speak of 'historicize' Native Americans; they look back on a romanticized, glory-filled past and ignore the fact that they still exist today, that they succeed and struggle just like any other group of people, and that even if their cultural practices are different, they are very much Americans as well.


    One thing to look into is the Idle No More movement, which started in Canada as a response to legislation that hurt the Native community and their lands, and has expanded into a fairly large activist movement across North America.

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  14. That's true. Native American tribes have their own system of government. They don't have to comply with all US laws, etc. They are improperly portrayed in our media just like other groups of Americans are. I live near a reservation (Native American lands) and I still rarely see Native Americans out and about in the area.

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