Saturday 15 January 2011

All French are racists...

I land in France. Among the first things I notice is that most French have a lighter complexion than me, though there are black, brown and yellow people too. I decide that the France has distinct races, and are probably racists, that is, they do not interbreed.

It takes me some time to notice that there are significant variations within the seemingly distinct complexions, which undoubtedly result from interbreeding.

My first conclusion owed much to the contrast to my own self that I originally noticed. I saw them as a group, and grouped what I saw. Later, I observed them as individuals, and discerned differences I had, deliberately or inadvertently, glossed over. Most probably, my second conclusion is closer to the truth than the first.

So why can’t a westerner fall into the same trap? Isn’t it possible that a Westerner, when he comes to the East, first notices how easterners are different from him, as a group; it’s only later that he comes to differentiate between easterners. And is it not conceivable that the initial observations, hurried and subjective, can lead the westerner to presume that easterners are homogenous, with ‘collective concepts of self’, a conclusion that would surprise most easterners? For all we know, had easterners would have seen westerners as collectivists too, had they not be trained to think of westerners as individualists!

Of course, it is well-established that easterners and westerners fashion the self differently. But then Aristotelian physics and racist anthropology were well established too. Why can’t loaded questions be asked, uncomfortable facts be ignored, and those who question conventional wisdom be dismissed as ill-informed, radical and silly?

PS: It’s ironical how quickly collectivist tendencies wear off in the east. No sooner than easterners have made a neighborhood in a hamlet, they are at each other’s throats. By the time they reach sub-castes, we have a full-fledged civil war on our hands. In contrast, westerners require evident differences in complexion before they start enslaving and massacring. There are wars between westerners too, but those were fought in pre-history, that is, pre-1945

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