Ethnicity.

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?

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24 Responses to Ethnicity.

  1. Reminds of of Sir Cadogan, “Be of stout heart, the worst is yet to come!”
    I hope I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.
    Cheerful Monk recently posted..Presidential Libraries

  2. 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.

  3. Alan G says:

    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?

    • 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.

  4. Grannymar says:

    Can you name any two countries side by side in the world that do actually like each other?
    Grannymar recently posted..Thursday Special ~ Clever jury

  5. shackman says:

    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.

  6. 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.
    Talk to Me…I’m Your Mother recently posted..Travel Connections

    • You are right. As much as one would like to be open to all experiences, we do tend to pigeon hole people who we come across before we open ourselves to them, if at all we do.

  7. Looney says:

    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.
    Looney recently posted..Wedding Stuff

  8. Anita says:

    Nice one, RR. A deeper issue than it appears 🙂

  9. Cathy in NZ says:

    Come to modern NZ – our original stock is Maori, who arrived from somewhere, a complicated process that mostly alludes me to write in depth on it; our next stock is where I come from the English/Irish/Scottish/Welsh immigrant…

    Although, that could be wrong as well, some one is bound to tell me, I’m all wrong…

    Move to the 21st century and there so many ethnic groups. blends of this and that – it’s a melting pot of people/cultures etc… People come here for all kinds of reasons, sometimes even using it as a jumping off place to emigrate to Australia, USA, other…but lots have stayed

    Many people think I’m in Australia and that we have a bridge across (there is no bridge check the map); or they believe that New Zealand is Australia!

    We are a very small landmass, we will fit into the state of Colorado (USA) snuggly. We are 2 main larger islands with a whole lot of smaller ones. Most people live in the North which is affectionately (good or bad) as the Mainland…

    However, there is a company in the South Island: Mainland Cheese!

    If you are following my blog we are on a virtual tour…(a bit behind with the trip) and haven’t even got to the bottom of the North – let along swing to the South…
    Cathy in NZ recently posted..Flipping back to Rotorua

    • I am following your armchair travelogue and enjoying the experience. I hope that I will be able to visit NZ before I pop off. I think that just about every country today has a mixture of citizens, except that in the Arab world they are not citizens but visiting workers.

  10. I found this an interesting topic and wonder if the Indian people view Americans the same way we view Indians. That being that in our eyes Indians are a monolith of Indians and that all the names you mentioned above aren’t ethnicities because you’re all Indians, and maybe you view all of us as Americans for the same reason. I’d like to think the difference is that Indians have always been Indian whereas only Native Americans can claim themselves as actually always being here… so to speak. lol

    As it applies to religion, maybe others associated Hinduism with India but truthfully, I don’t think it was until I was in my 30’s before I ever thought about it. Many folks around the world see the U.S. as a Christian country while people like me try to fight that belief. I’ve always viewed Italy as a Catholic country but never really thought much about any other country being that way until my 40’s, and of course once I learned about Israel it was always described as the Jewish state so I knew that one. Overall it’s never been my intention to categorize countries based on religion, but it’s probably because I don’t have one so I put it out of my mind.

    Still, it seems that for the majority of us we can find ways to segregate ourselves with our words and beliefs, even if we turn out to be wrong. I find that kind of interesting, though sometimes it’s also sad.

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