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Friday, October 06, 2006

Chp 94. Racism I: Chinky - What me insult?

“Oye chinky”
“Abey saala chinky”
“Ching chong bhen ch*d chinky”

These are just some of the few racial slurs people hurl at you everyday when you walk the streets of Delhi or other metros here in India if you happen to have a mongoloid facial character.

You’ll get that treatment everywhere for committing just one simple sin: Being born with “slit eyes”. Ah! What a crime! Completely unforgivable! Society must never accept such a heinous violation of our Indian Constitution. Burn every slit eyed male and female you see so that they don’t dilute the proud Aryan and Dravidian bloodline.

A regular follower of my blog will know that I for one am the last person to be insulted by the word “chinky”. I even received a couple of heated comments from some of my respected readers for using the C word too freely. I humbly apologize again if I had hurt anybody’s sentiments in any way.

I guess one reason why the word doesn’t mean anything to me is because of my upbringing. I’ve always been in a really diverse multi-cultured gang of friends where we used to utter racial slurs, expletives and other profanities freely at each other and none of us were the least bit offended by any of those “insults” as we were the closest of all friends (which doesn’t mean that we utter racial slurs at other people we don’t know. This was strictly only within our gang thingie). We still use those words even today (Read my upcoming post on “Racism: When is it “ok” to use Racial slurs?”).

Yet as my small World started getting bigger and bigger, I soon came to realize that people, a hell lot of other people, people I haven’t even met before, would cuss at me using that racial slur. The difference between my closest friends calling me a chinky and these strangers calling me a chinky is HUGE. The latter does it so in a very derogative, demeaning and offensive manner, all because of my race. Even when you don’t mean to offend anybody, identifying other races with a racial slur meant for that particular race is indeed a racist action (although I personally feel it is ok to use racial slurs with your closest friends as long as they are not offended by it, and as long as it is only between the two of you).

In my three years as a blogger, I have politely requested many bloggers who would generalize and identify us (Northeast people) as “chinkies” on their blog not to do so since the word is a derogatory slur. There are many Indian blogs out there where people would say stuff like “there were many chinky people there”, “he’s a stupid chinky”, “it sounded like a chinky language”, “we decided to eat chinky food”, “the waiter was a chinky guy”, "we watched a chinky movie", “there were two chinkies playing for the opposite team”, "the pub was filled with chinkies, like a bloody invasion" etc [These are all actual entries made by people on their blogs]. I never protest to such statements but rather try to tell them gently that chinky is an offensive slur. Some of them even replied that they didn’t intend to offend anybody. I don’t think “having no intention to offend anybody” gives that person the right to use racial slurs meant for other races. And if they really did not intend to offend anybody, then why use a racial slur in the first place anyway? I find that strange.

Ever since I got my nokia 3650 phone cam, I’ve been clicking away whenever I am with my friends. I have more than 4000 snaps taken from my phone cam stored in my PC now! Below is a collage of some of my closest friends over the past 2 years.

L-R: Amol, Shubha, Izzy, Ankita, Monu, Amra, Sowmya, Sanjeev, Adonica, Tommy, Kini and Amar. Amazing bunch of friends. My greatest treasure. They have what one might say a “typical Indian face”. And people will always associate such faces with India.

Below is another collage of some of my closest Mizo friends taken with the same phone cam over the same period of time.

The difference between this set and the previous set is that, the second group is usually not identified as an Indian face. They are insulted as “chinky” on the streets and even called “Chinese” even though they are as Indian as the people who called them are. They are all working/studying in Bangalore and everyday they have to not only put up with eve-teasing but also try to ignore racial slurs hurled at them from all directions.

The origin of “chinky”.

I used to wonder why other Indians would call us by that name just to have some strange satisfaction. Because “chinky” is actually derived from the racial slur “chink” which was solely in reference to the Chinese (not that I’m saying that’s ok). And by Chinese, I mean a person hailing from China. Not Japan, not Korea, not Thailand. I guess to a narrow minded ego-centric “stereotyper”, every mongoloid person comes from China, and still holds a valid Chinese passport, just because “we all look the same”. Lolz.

The Collins Cobuild English dictionary third Edition makes no mention of Chink in its list of words, while the Oxford dictionary defines Chink (also chinky) as “noun. informal. offensive. A Chinese person.” The
Racial Slur Database even defines “Chink” as:

Asian equivalent of "Nigger" for blacks. Two possible origins: the dictionary definition is "A narrow opening or slit", meaning a reference to their eyes. Or could also refer to the sound of someone working on a railroad, which Chinese immigrants helped build in 1800's America. Technically should only refer to Chinese, but used for all Asians.

The slang Dictionary also defines “Chinky” as:

Noun. 1. A Chinese person. Offensive.
2. A Chinese restaurant or takeaway. Offensive.
3. Chinese food, often a takeaway meal. Offensive.
Adj. Chinese in nature. Offensive.

Yet somewhere down the line, the word “chinky” suddenly transformed into a word meant to insult other Indians from India’s North-east. As if to show us that we are not welcomed to the rest of India, or to remind us everyday that we have a “non-Indian” face and that anybody not having a picture-perfect “typical Indian” facial feature is not accepted as an Indian.

The other day, I was watching one of my favorite comedy sitcoms “Scrubs” on StarWorld. Ofcourse I’ve already watched the complete season from 1 to 5 thanks to piracy (Forgive me for borrowing pirated DVDs from my friends), but that particular night I got no better things to do so I decided to watch the one running on StarWorld again. One incident deeply struck me.

In the original Scrubs episode that I’ve watched earlier, the script goes like this. Janitor asked JD to help him with his crossword puzzle. Janitor gave the clue “A dash in the armour, five letter word, used to describe a weakness of a particular thing”. JD thought for a moment and then suddenly exclaimed “Yes I know that one! It’s a chink! A chink!” And then suddenly Dr.Wang the Chinese resident doctor appeared out of nowhere, stared at him and said in much disgust “I knew it, it was you!” and after that, every Chinese doctor and intern were out to get JD’s blood. Ofcourse the joke here was, Janitor who was always trying to make JD’s life miserable at the hospital, managed to do it once again by tricking him into saying that word so that the entire Chinese community would deal with him.

The funny thing here was, in the same episode aired by StarWorld that night here in India, the part where JD exclaimed “A Chink!” had been completely censored.

I’m sure it was not the Indian Censor Board that censored that particular part, after all, when have they ever given a shit about us. Some people from the Northeast found that popular Amir Khan’s Coca cola Ad “thande ke tadka” offensive because of the way he imitated the Mongoloid Race, especially after Northeast students all over India immediately became the butt of crude comments such as “chinky ke phadka” thanks to Coke and Amir Khan. I personally don’t find anything wrong in that Ad but there’s this other Ad by a dog food company called Pedigree, where the dog featured in that Ad is ostentatiously called “chinky”. And the people in that Ad would throw a bone or a ball and proudly say “chinky, go fetch” and laugh their hearts out. And that Ad appeared like a hundred times on National Television (even till now). I’m sure members of the Censor Board too must have had a hearty laugh at the dog being called “chinky”. (I don’t know anyone who would name their dog “chinky” and even if you do, would you use that particular dog’s name of all the dog names in the World and show it on TV, especially when that name is a racial slur? I certainly wouldn’t.)

And then there is a certain bi-weekly business magazine... which is best left unnamed. When I was in IIMB, they gave a free copy to every student (to increase market share I guess) but one article in it really made my stomach churn. I think it was about China’s foreign policy or something like that. There was a picture of the Chinese Premier in the article and above, in bold letters was the headline “There’s a CHINK in the armour!” I found that extremely tacky and unpalatable, especially for such a renowned National business magazine.

(Speaking of ethnic slur, Beard and Cerf, in “
The Official Politically Correct Handbook”, p. 123, report that an administrator at the University of California at Santa Cruz campaigned for the banning of such phrases as "a chink in his armor" and "a nip in the air", because "chink" and "nip" are derogatory terms for a "Chinese person" and a "Japanese person" respectively) I never bought another copy of that mag again after that. But the fact remains, that whoever censored that part in Scrubs, did it so as not to hurt the sentiments of the Chinese and “slit-eyed” population.

India still has a long way to go in terms of educating its masses that there are also people of mongoloid lineaments included in what constitutes an Indian. But until that is done, India’s so called “chinkies” will continued to be stared at, goggled at and even jeered at by the vast majority that simply do not understand us.

Many renowned writers have boldly stated that all of us are racists, atleast a little bit. I believe in this theory as racial bias has always been ingrained within many of our cultures. One of the main (if not the only) cause of racism is stereotyping. And many notable psychologists have proved that all of us stereotype. John Dovidio, a professor of psychology said that even those of us who believe that we don’t stereotype, actually do. Various tests have proved this. According to psychologist Joshua Correll, the more a test-taker tries to not appear biased, the more bias shows up in the test results. John Stossel and Kristina Kendall in their article “The psychology of stereotypes” said that it is normal for people to stereotype other people, and that the biases in our head are harmful only if we act on them.

The only solution to this gross stereotyping (misunderstanding) is Education. School children should be made more aware of India’s Northeast at an early stage. One paragraph mentioning briefly about the Northeast in our geography text books will not do. So many people don’t even know the seven sister States of India (eight including Sikkim. Bro Sonam, you owe me a treat for saying that ), and some of those who do know a bit about the existence of these States, think people from these places are all cannibals, a hilly jungle occupied by tribals ready to bite off your knockers anytime. Some people even think that every mongoloid person walking around in India is a Nepali. Yes, I know learning about Rana Pratap Singh or Rani of Jhansi is important in our Indian history syllabus. But I feel learning about India’s North east is also equally important, if not more. Because these children, the future of tomorrow’s World, are going to grow up where they will never meet Rana Pratap Singh again but most definitely will meet a person from India’s North east.

The most dangerous consequence all these can have is that, a victim of racism usually turns out to be a racist himself. Check my upcoming post on this topic. Somebody who’s continuously a victim of racial discrimination will only end up stereotyping the “other” Race. Anything that befalls him, he will blame it on racism: restaurant bill taking a long time to arrive, impolite dickhead cutting the queue and standing infront of him, beaten up by a bunch of drunk rowdies, being flunked by a teacher at college, referee showing him a red card during a match, not being selected for a job at an interview etc. he will blame all that on racism. Such incidents will only heighten the insecurity of the minority group. It will soon become a case of “us” versus “them” (it already has, to a certain extent). This is not good, not good at all. Some of my Mizo friends are completely skeptical of every North Indians they come across especially Delhiites just because they've been tormented everyday by a section of people from there. In Kolkata, most Mizos prefer to take cabs driven only by Sardarjis because other “races” “always cheat them”. Many Northeastern students all over India hardly mix with their classmates from other parts of India because they feel they are insulted behind their back by everybody around them. By stereotyping others, we are just becoming as bad as those who stereotype us. I know, easier said than done you may say. But for a moment, just close your eyes and think. Would you rather take out your gun and shoot back, or try to remove all the guns that exist?

Eventually in the end, all of us do stereotype. We are humans and it is only natural of us to do that. What counts here is that we must always keep such biases to our heads and not act upon them. Remember, the more racists we get, the more difficult we are going to make this World for our children.