Racism Should Not Subsume Any and Every Form of Discrimination, This Lexical Reference Should Be Kept Handy

RACISM… the word in vogue right now, though that’s not necessarily a good thing. What is even more astounding is that racism is being used to describe all sorts of discrimination. There might be critics of overt cultural appropriation, but the subversive dilution of racial discrimination means that the blunt force trauma that racially discriminated individuals encounter will become as common an occurrence as eve teasing in India (which could end up in an acid attack by the spurned lover), or just another instance that hordes are facing globally and too big to deal with. A lexical reference for discrimination is necessary, not just for those being discriminated against because of race, but for others who face discrimination everyday because of gender, caste, religion, sexual preference, economic status, or any multitude of discriminatory reasons.

Oxford: the practice of treating someone or a particular group in society less fairly than
MW:     a: prejudiced or prejudicial outlook, action, or treatment racial discrimination
b: the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than
Urban a: When YouTube doesn’t allow you watch a video because you don’t live in the
b: “Action based on prejudice or racist beliefs that results in unfair treatment of
individuals or groups; unjust conditions in areas such as employment, housing
and education.” – Museum of Tolerance
Law:     n. unequal treatment of persons, for a reason which has nothing to do with legal rights or ability.

Discrimination ranges from microaggressions of prejudice and bias to the killing of a train passenger due to religious reasons or parading a woman naked around the village because of her caste. These people face discrimination too, and they too do not deserve that the apathy towards their experiences with discrimination be diluted further. While societal constructs of discrimination might have changed on the policy level, the implementation leaves much to be desired for.

Among the many isms one might encounter in daily life, discrimination presents itself in many forms. Racism, casteism, elitism, sexism, and cronyism with its derivatives, crony capitalism and nepotism, are rarely happenstances, but a pervading prejudice that extends beyond geographical boundaries. The most recent example is the Cisco lawsuit “for caste discrimination toward an Indian American engineer”, also called CASTEISM.

Oxford:            a set of ideas or system of beliefs or behaviour
MW:                 a: a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory
b: an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief
Urban:             a: Someone who does a distinctive specified thing so much, that they are
now notorious for it. They are generally referred as a “their name”-ism.
b: In a fraternity or sorority of the ethnic persuasion, an ism is defined as
an individual that has the same position in line
Marine Law: Known as the International Safety Management Code, the ISM Code is
one of the required regulations in the marine industry

And what might be the difference between elitism and cronyism? The consideration of being among the privileged few and receiving favours for being among the privileged few… The pseudo-intellectual Bengali who hijacks cultural authority is likely exhibiting elitism.

Oxford:           the situation in which people in power give jobs to their friends
MW:                 partiality to cronies especially as evidenced in the appointment of political
hangers-on to office without regard to their qualifications
Urban:            partiality to friends, expressed by appointment of them to positions of
authority, regardless of their qualifications
Business:       the act of showing partiality to one’s close friends, typically by appointing
them to a position in a company or organization despite the individual not
necessarily being the best person for the position. Although this is favoritism
is frowned upon in many cases, it is often hard to determine what is or is not
cronyism…Although accusations of cronyism are prevalent, they very rarely
amount to any disciplinary action or removals from power.

Cronyism, on the other hand, has existed for as long as societal favoritism has. The influence of social networks in the world extends from panelinhas in Brazil to guanxi in China. According to an Oxfam India report, India Inequality Report 2018, “the total wealth of Indian billionaires is 15% of the GDP of the country, and the richest in India have made their money through crony capitalism rather than through innovation or the fair rules of the market.” The impact of crony capitalism is subversive in its obscure influence on the global political economy.

Even the Covid 19 pandemic has not deterred cronyism (Fig 1.), with the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) which provides loans backed by the Small Business Administration, displaying hints of crony capitalism which are often well within legal bounds. According to ForbesManeet Ahuja and Antoine Gara, “In a fresh twist on ‘relationship’ banking, personal connections were key to landing PPP cash whether the intermediary was a big bank, or a small one.” When the PPP application of Families First Pediatrics’ owner, Dallen Ormond, was refused by JPMorgan Chase which had “dished out $20 million in PPP money to two subsidiaries of Ruth’s Hospitality Group, the steakhouse chain parent that has a separate credit line with the bank, Ormond fumed in an email to Forbes, “Please tell the powers that be when this is all over I hope they can find someone to save their newborn baby’s life as they enjoy their $50 steak“”.

Of course, the Trump administration has already encountered flak for its nepotistic latitude as was evident with Ivanka Trump during the G20 summit in Japan. So, another cronyism derivative, nepotism, which favors family seems par for the course. In India, Kangana Ranaut’s outburst on Koffee with Karan against nepotism is infamous for the can of worms it splattered across the tabloids with eugenics being bandied about for good measure.

Of course, a lexical reference for discrimination would be incomplete without elucidation of the pervasive endemic of RACISM and SEXISM. One of the definitions of race is, “distinct evolutionary lineages within a species,” according to Alan Templeton. The “inventor of modern racial classification” Johann Friedrich Blumenbach published his analysis of human taxonomy, De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa (On the Natural Variety of Mankind) in 1795. According to Nature magazine, Blumenbach’s comparative analysis of cranial shapes “divided the human race into five great families: the Caucasian or white race, the Mongolian or yellow, the Malayan or brown, the Negro or black, and the American or red.”

Race and Genetic Variation
Source: Daniel Utter

Scientists in the 21st century refuse to ascribe race as a biological attribute for human classification, and “prefer to use the term “ancestry” to describe human diversity since race is a social construct.” Ancestry provides an intersectional approach to biocultural adaptation in diverse geographical conditions. Of course, colonialists’ attempts to civilize savages of Asia and Africa added to Blumenbach’s paradoxical authority and continued its subversive influence around the world… Not unlike casteist discrimination in India, which is based on the varna classification originating more than two millennia ago, and continues to be the basis of social identity for many. And let’s not forget the derivatives of discrimination based on gender and sexual preference which include:

  • Sexism: Prejudicial stereotyping based on biological gender attributes with discrimination generally directed towards women and transgenders
  • Sexual Orientation Discrimination: Prejudicial stereotyping based on sexual preference with discrimination generally directed towards those interested in same sex or non-binary sexual orientation

Obviously, while there may be enough reasons to discriminate, the question you need to ask yourself is, whether you should. While social categorization may be necessary for affirmative action or reservations for the disadvantaged in society, human nature has evolved through social constructs of identity and its dark underbelly will continue to resurface until discriminatory actions are considered unacceptable and insupportable not only on a policy level, but also within the layers of human existence.

Resonance of Literature – Seasons of the Palm

One often finds it intriguing how a flattened piece of wood with few inks splattered in patterns can make a person cry. For words have the power to move mountains and shake hearts so why does one delve deep into the vast expanse of this subject called Literature. It is because it speaks those truths which the mouth shies away from uttering. It explains details which the ordinary life can entail and yet be unknown about it.

I write this from a small and remote tribal village in Chhattisgarh with no proper connectivity to the mainstream. I feel this tributary is snaking its way around from the lived realities around me to this amazing phenomenon called book which I illustrated in my introduction. I just finished reading Perumal Murugan’s Seasons of the Palm. There is a concept of performativity in Social Science, where a victim or an oppressed has to ‘perform’ her oppression every time for her to assert her rights. A very simple example would be how a tribal has to prove her backwardness to the authorities to claim their entitled rights. In terms of literature, a women writer has to perform her feminism every time she writes, for there are questions too often which asks her about the ‘women’s perspective’ in her writing. The reason I bring this concept is to introduce you to Perumal Murugan.

Perumal Murugan is a Dalit writer from Tamil Nadu and his works have been translated from Tamil into many other languages including English. Seasons of the Palm is also a translated text from Koolla Madari. This book has tried to break the notion of performing the Dalit identity in very many ways. This is not to say that he has not at all touched the subject, rather he has put it into a context where the picture is not black and white where the oppressor is not the evilest creature on earth and our protagonist Shorty, the oppressed, not the naïve innocent child who obeys his parents faithfully.

This novel is built with a complex set of emotions just like any other literary work based on real life. I often find this sentence ‘based upon real life’ amusing. Can there be any word of writing in this world which has not been born out of real life? Everything has some or the other resonance with the life around. It is not possible to ride on the pillions of poesy to fly high if there was no ground to fly from, in the first place. Every piece of literature has been born out of its times and the author must have seen and observed her mettle to write it down in a piece of paper. However, my occasional detour was to back Murugan and second his thought that his fictional work doesn’t and cannot come out of blue. It is lived realities and experiences of many people which find words in his novel. Seasons of the Palm is about a young Dalit boy Shorty whose work is to herd sheep and do other jobs in his Master’s house to pay off the debt his father owes the Master. This debt seems to never end as his father keeps taking more money and the interest piles on. But in the introduction itself, Shorty clarifies that he doesn’t engage himself in this complex math, unlike Belly, another sheepherder and makes sure she gets a fair share of her work. This story has many other characters like Tallfellow, Stonedeaf, Stumpleg, and Selvan who is the son of Shorty ’s master.

The book is a very detailed account of the activities these young lads are engaged in when they are herding sheep or protecting them in the night or escaping out of this constant slavery. Murugan very beautifully details those moments of joy which these children steal out of their slaved lives like catching fishes, stealing palm fruits, stealthily going for a cinema and many more like it. These moments are precious also because Murugan describes nature with it. He somehow hints at the fact that although people are discriminatory and often involve themselves in drudgery, nature has always been kind and compassionate. This is done so lucidly in the book that I resonate with it in my village right now. Although there are no sheep here, I see similar actions by the goats or Poochi, the dog in my compound. The way the valley, the well has been described, it is as if one is also diving deep with each breath Shorty takes in it.

The social conditions of this village are not unusual. During the temple festival, these untouchable boys have to stand outside. Murugan also gives an account of how they come to this temple during the rest of the year when no one is around and play with the idols freely. There is a progress which Shorty makes as the story moves forward, he is described as this young boy who is fearful and sensitive in the initial chapters but in the end, he has become unwary of his surroundings. Murugan describes this as :

His (Shorty’s)ears appeared to have shut themselves off from the world.
Just as how his body had drawn itself into a tight knot, waiting to be kicked at anytime.

These lines come in the final chapters when Shorty starts asking questions about this atrocity to his father and starts calculating the money he earns and owes the Master. His beatings made him reason out a phenomenon which earlier he took for granted. As mentioned earlier, Murugan doesn’t put them in the strict categories of Oppressor and Oppressed. Shorty does run away for a few days and his Master accepts it as fate. In the same way, his Master leaves his sheep and cow free on the Harvest day and exclaim them as poor beings who work throughout the year. This care and compassion for the animals show a more skewed picture of caste discrimination. Casteism is so rampant and obvious that even a caring heart practices it without actually being so ruthless. If a reader needs one reason to pick this book it should be for its detailed accounts of the village life along with its half-hidden flaws, for everything needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

About the Author: Kalpita is a Bachelor in English Literature. Her ultimate goal is to fulfill the romantic notion of changing the world for better and she is pursuing MA in Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore.