‘No matter if you’re black or white’

(Published in The Times of India: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/shaira-mohan-blog/no-matter-if-youre-black-or-white/ )

In the literary masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout Finch asks her father if he is, in fact, a lover of the dark-skinned people.

“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes—baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.” (11.107-109)

With this book, the recently deceased Harper Lee left us with a legacy that will remain unparalleled for generations to come . The above is an excerpt from the book where Atticus Finch, the audacious lawyer defending a black man in the America of the 1930s during the Great Depression is giving his impressionable daughter Scout Finch a lesson in racism. The lesson, however, echoed far  beyond the book into the classrooms and consciences of the world wide audience.

But did it really?

Today, nearly a century past the Civil Rights movement spearheaded by the likes of Martin Luther King, Andrew Goodman and many others who lost their lives in the struggle for freedom and equality, the predicament of many of our colored folks the world over remains unchanged and ‘un-fair’. (Pun intended.)

Its sad that the obssession with fair skin in countries like even our own has muted our abilities to look beyond the exterior and appreciate the person herself. Be it the corporate world, domestic help, supermarkets, or even airports, unabashed discrimination and segregation is still rife in many parts of the world and sometimes shockingly blatant. The intelligent African-American candidate will be overlooked for the fair-skinned but less skilled one. Help will be easily given to the fair-skinned passenger at an airport whereas the darker skinned one may have to fend for herself.

I have just moved into a building in Abu Dhabi where one of the receptionists at the lobby is a pleasant, friendly and helpful black gentleman who is unflinchingly polite and goes the extra mile to assist you in any way he can. His diverse group of colleagues are equally agreeable but Ali stands out – not for the colour of his skin but for the fact that by doing his job exceptionally every moment of ever day, he crushes the ugliness of the stereotype he is tied to and in doing so, shines a bright light on the darkness that a racist mind lives in.

The hideousness of racism, be it economic, social or cultural is particularly conspicuous in poverty-stricken sections of society, owing to this deadly twosome of racism and poverty operating in a vicious circle. But the impact sweeps along all classes and strata of society, further strengthening the lines of racial divides and widening the gaps between rich and poor, light and dark skinned.

The ripple effect in play is as a consequence, flowing in the wrong direction. The direction of regression and closed mind sets instead of progressive and humanitarian dispositions. Failing to look beyond the petty and peripheral has deterred our ability to judge the good and the bad by letting us base our final judgements on the superficial.

My young cousin recently asked me for advice on which book she should read for an essay assignment for school. On her request, I rattled off some of my favorites by Indian authors but I ended my message by insisting that if she hasnt yet read To Kill a Mockingbird, she must leave all else and pick up a copy immediately. I did that not just because I have read it thrice myself and it is one of my all time favorites, but because I think it is very important for us to encourage the younger generations to be aware of racial discrimination from an early age and not let them fall in to the colour trap. So that from their formative school years they know and accept children of all colours and all walks of life as ‘people’ and not ‘black’ or ‘white’ or ‘brown’ people.

It may just be a drop in the ocean but as the saying goes, every drop counts. Atticus Finch doesn’t have to be just a protaganist of a novel. We need to raise an Atticus Finch in every home and reverse the ripple effect.

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