I do not know if this ad ran or not during the Super Bowl. It was sent to me by an American of Indian origin who knows my own angst about being called a Hindu.

Like the American Indian, or more aptly the Native American, there is no word Hindu in our scriptures and there is no one size fits all for the so called Hindus.

I have written about it earlier and you may find it quite amusing to re-read it. This post is to talk about the other aspects of being Indian in India.

Like the Navajo would not like to be called a Redskin, I would not like to be called a Madrasi though genetically I am from the South of India, but was born in Western India. And South India itself is divided linguistically into Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, with Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu being the local languages respectively.  Since during the British times all these states were part of the Madras province, North Indians insist on calling the whole jing bang lot as Madrasis.  This kind of profiling repeats itself in the rest of the country and it leads to the following problem.

When I am overseas, I introduce myself as an Indian. If I meet an Indian overseas, the first thing he will want to know is which part of India I come from so that he can slot me into the stereotype that he has about people from that part. So, for him I become a Tamilian from Maharashtra and that stumps him as he does not have a ready stereotype to typecast me, and my English stumps him further as the accent is not something that he can identify as being from any one part of the country.

What I would like to impress about India or for that matter, Hindus,  is that you simply cannot stereotype it or its people. I am sure we can’t for all countries with varied cultures within either.

For those who are interested in knowing something about India viewed from an Englishman’s point of view, and who has written extensively about us, here is a video that is worth spending about half an hour on.

Throughout the world there is strife of some kind or the other based on either ethnicity of sectarianism or religion.

In our neighbourhood, in Pakistan, you will find Sindhis, Punjabis, Mohajirs, Baluchis and the Pashtuns defending each individual turf when it comes to ethnic identity but when they now go overseas, claim that they are Muslims from India!  Bangladesh is up in arms between fundamentalists and the so called secularists.

In another neighbouring country, ethnic identity is about to erupt and cause more trouble to an already very troubled country.

So, where does it leave us?  Is Lennon relevant any more?

24 thoughts on “Ethnicity.”

  1. I love that ad – it boggles my mind that we still have teams with racist logos/names. And it’s endlessly fascinating to me how important ethnicity is within any given culture and how little meaning it has outside that specific culture. We seem to have a deep need to classify people.
    Secret Agent Woman recently posted..The wildlife in my yard.

  2. I had indeed a few weeks ago viewed the ad you posted regarding the American Indian and thought it to be a very powerful statement regarding the terminology ‘redskin’. One of our local colleges several years back finally opted to change its sports mascot name from ‘Indians’ to the “Red Wolves”.

    As to India, speaking for myself I think we Americans, as a whole, actually take little time to really educate ourselves on the ethnicity, religious and/or social issues of a particular country. During my working career I worked with a couple of Indians but admittedly came away not really knowing anything regarding their religion or ethnic identity. In hind sight I’m sure that if such subjects had been volunteered by my Indian co-workers I would have been quite interested in what they had to say. And as to why I did not ask any questions, well I did not know quite honestly that there were questions waiting to be asked and for that I’m sorry because now I would have really liked to have known more about who they were. Sometimes I think Americans primarily get their social and cultural educations from Hollywood from films such as “Gandhi” and that forms the basis for what they think they know about a country such as India. In India there are Hindu’s and Muslims and in that country the cow is sacred…. end of education and story!

    Mr. French’s lecture was very enlightening as was your post and quite honestly it all seems quite complicated, at least from this American’s view. It makes one wonder why chaos doesn’t rule yet there must be a high level of tolerance among the Indian people given all their differences, especially in ethnic identity. I know that when I was in Okinawa during the Viet Nam war for a period of time, I was amazed to find out that the general population in Okinawa (a part of Japan’s island string) would have a difficult time communicating with the general population of the main island of Japan due to the various dialects.

    Thanks for your informative post… 🙂
    Alan G recently posted..What were you thinking Zuckerberg?

    1. Alan, if you meet Indians in India who have worked with Americans in India, their experiences would be very similar to yours. It takes a very curious mind to overcome reluctance to intrude to ask about cultures from people we are not familiar with. I experienced this during my working life in a multinational company and your comments do not surprise me. The blog world however helps us navigate a much broader canvass and learn about many cultures that we would have otherwise not.

  3. Interesting commentary. We Americans like to pat ourselves on the back as being the great international melting pot. Bring us your tired, your poor… – unfortunately today that excludes neighbors south of the border. And interestingly enough I do not see vast numbers of Canadians making their way here. Color enters into the equation here much more than in India I expect. I know plenty of native Americans that don’t give a flying flip what a sports team calls itself and I know plenty that do. I really do not care. I would suggest we all could use a serious dose of cultural enlightenment – and the best way to do that is over food IMHO. Andrew Zimmern has it right – the easiest way to learn about another culture is to share a meal or to and let the dialogue flow. Yes – it sounds simplistic but too often we unnecessarily compliate matters.

  4. It all comes from our need to categorize people in order to make them fell safe for us. I think (sadly) that we all do it quite often without even realizing. Women, Indians, Blacks, Mormons, Muslims…we want to give some order to our existence. Whenever I see this in myself, I try to open my mind and breathe deeply…whether it is a negative characterization or a positive…it distances me. I don’t want that.
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  5. How much ethnic related teasing is there that goes down as good natured banter among Indians? Or is everyone proper and correct with their language all the time?

    Given that the football team is from our political center, Washington D.C., I propose they rename themselves as the “ThinSkins”. But perhaps that would be stereotyping politicians.
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