When I wrote a post a while back on racism, some pointed out that desis can’t exactly sit on a pedestal like angelic little angels upon poofy clouds singing sad harps songs about discrimination as though we ourselves don’t discriminate at all. Perhaps some of the cruelest discrimination is the kind we inflict upon each other.
You’d think living in the US, we wouldn’t discriminate each other based on caste or clan or which part of the motherland you happened to have been arbitrarily plopped into at birth but judgment calls based on these are ingrained in the lives of many to such a degree that even thousands of miles away the beliefs remain strongly implanted like the roots of an old oak tree attached firmly to our feet oceans apart.
I’m quite familiar with the discrimination and stereotypes by desis against desis. Since I fancy myself a writer and not a research scientist presenting you statistical data, I share insight into my experience of intradesi discrimination through example.
Incident 1: Ten years earlier, instant messaging a friend, I see its 4am. Quickly type Oh man I think my dad just got up, its so late!! He’s gonna kill me! I log off. The next day I get ten missed calls from said friend, when I call her back she asks me in a voice filled with concern Are you okay. I assure her I am but am confused, Why wouldn’t I be? Luckily my friend explained, Well, you said your dad was going to kill you. Silence on my end, Does my dad seem the dangerous sort? She sighs, laughing nervously “Well, you know, you’re punjabi… you know how violent Punjabis are…“
Incident two:*walking to class with a friend in college*
Bobeena: You mean you’re… punjabi?
Me: Uh huh *continuing to walk and notice I’m now walking alone*
Bobeena: *stopped in her tracks, eyes agape* Wow.
Bobeena: Well…. how are you so…. civilized?
I’m sorry to say but the rest of the conversation involved me convincing her my parents and I did not sit around cursing all day while cracking peanuts with our toes.
And the others? Let’s run through the list…
Pathans are violent, emotional hot heads.
Memons are stingy businessmen.
Urdu speakers are sophisticated, slightly snobby, but ever so cultured and refined.
Punjabi’s (raises hand from back of class) are crude, unsophisticated, loud, obnoxious and apparently like to crack peanuts with their toes.
These stereotypes aren’t silly jabs without consequences. They can break friendships, prevent marriages, and tear families apart. It sounds so dramatic but its true.
I know too many who refused to allow their children to marry because one was Indian and the other Pakistani. Or even if both were Pakistani, one was of one caste, and the other a different lesser one. (Speaking of clans/castes, have you ever noticed how many desis are Syed’s and so proud of this ‘fact’, refusing to marry outside themselves as though they somehow are better than others because of this alleged link? I find it fascinating that roughly half of all desis are direct descendants of the Prophet pbuh, and the other half are all of some other ancestry than actually having roots in the region of their ancestors, if I had a nickel for every desi who is actually a descendant of some Arab prince or Syrian big shot.. I’d have my beach house in Fiji and then some) You would think that this mentality would change with this generation yet people still ask me what my father’s tribe is and nod approvingly or shake their head sadly depending on where on the rankings they themselves fall.
When my parents first came to the US, in they city they lived in, the amount of desis could be counted on two hands so they stuck together and ignored the ethnic divides. Indian? Bengali? Pakistani? Come one come all. I remember attending parties as a child with people from all different regions of the subcontinent. Yet as more immigrated, the lines began to be drawn in the ethnic sand. Urdu speakers found compatriots, the Bombay folks closed ranks, the Hyderabadi’s only inviting each other. Slowly my parents were no longer invited to parties simply because they were Punjabi and thus born in a region a few hundred miles from that of the people they currently lived 2 miles from in the US.
On the upside, I believe perceptions are changing. The community my parents now live in is certainly not as self-dividing, however there are still many communities that believe whole heartedly in these divisions and will uphold them to their last breath. Perhaps in the parents generation this is understandable, but to tolerate such prejudice in our own generation, is shameful.
Jokes touching on racial issues are the stuff that stand up comics rely upon to make a living. But its a fine line when you are treading the ethnic waters. Its okay to tease a Punjabi on their bhangra skills, but is it okay to believe us crude and uncultured? Its when it moves from playful jest to actual belief in the inferiority of another because of their region or caste or skin color that the joke just isn’t funny anymore. Racism, prejudice and bigotry is wrong no matter who is doing it, and who they’re doing it to.
For the post that inspired this one please see this post by Mezba on the same topic.
On a side note, I do realize this post is rather heated but its a topic that vexes me greatly. When responding please be respectful, this is a very touchy topic.