We often talk about the racism against black people in Western countries (note: Black Lives Matter) such as the U.S. and Europe. But what about the racial discrimination that is rampant in the East, in countries like India? Indian society, a society pockmarked with flaws that I have often become too familiar with, has a problem accepting even its own darker citizens. You can read about the colorism against darker South Indians and the uncomfortable industry of fairness creams in one of my previous Affinity articles titled Why Being Dark-Skinned is Still a Burden in Indian Culture.
So if Indians have issues accepting even their own darker-skinned compatriots, how do they even acknowledge actual black people in their country?
Well, the answer is they don’t. Or at least do a very poor job of it.
French-Cameroonian student Lionel Sonke, who studies engineering in Noida, near New Delhi, still hasn’t adjusted to life as a black person living in the throng of Indian society. “I barely went out during the first year. I never felt safe whether I took a bus or the metro, or walked down the street. People would always be staring,” he says in an article for eWords.
Many incidences of racist violence have taken place against Africans in India. Only this year, a group of Nigerian students in Noida were attacked by an angry mob, accused of cannibalistic involvement in the death of an Indian student. In 2016, a Tanzanian woman was injured by a mob in the city of Bangalore. And these cases only scratch the tarnished surface of many toxic racist attitudes and aggressions towards black people in India.
“I barely went out during the first year. I never felt safe whether I took a bus or the metro, or walked down the street. People would always be staring,”
Intolerance against Africans has also negatively affected those on the opposite end of the spectrum – ‘blindian’ couples, or interracial Black-Indian relationships. Lionel Sonke himself is dating Indian beauty blogger Bharti Puri and the two have experienced several obstacles throughout their interracial relationship, a phenomenon, they both confess, considering the racially charged attitudes surrounding African-Indian interactions, that is a ‘rarity’ in the society they live in.
When they do step out together, Bharti and Lionel do not hold hands or show any public displays of affection. When riding the metro, they travel in separate carriages. Both have faced hostile stares and offensive remarks, one coming from Bharti’s own friend, “Don’t you know what happens when you date a black guy? No one will marry you,” she says. Despite the fact that Bharti’s family has accepted the relationship, the overall racism pervading her society still injures her and Lionel’s relationship and peace.
In a parallel vein, when Ugandan-American IT consultant Jonah Batambuze started dating Indian ophthalmologist Swetha, her family was aghast. “Everyone was crying like there was a death in the family,” Batambuze said in a recent Times of India article, still stunned. Just because their dear Swetha was dating a black man. However, despite the odds (or in this case, Swetha’s family) lined up against them, the couple got married and now live in the UK with their two children, aged three and one.
Both have faced hostile stares and offensive remarks, one coming from Bharti’s own friend, “Don’t you know what happens when you date a black guy? No one will marry you,”
Inspired by his own tumultuous experiences in trying to be with Swetha, along with violent incidents happening to Africans in India, Jonah was inspired to create the #blindian project across social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram, as a way of encouraging Black-Indian couples to express their love in photos and videos online. The goal is to reduce the racist stigma surrounding “blindian” couples, normalize these relationships and provide a source of support and encouragement to other biracial couples. So far, 13 “blindian” couples from the U.S. and U.K. have taken part in the hashtag campaign and Jonah is hoping one from India, perhaps even Lionel and Bharti, soon choose to participate too.
Jonah reinforces, “While the media has covered incidents of violence, they haven’t done much to inspire critical thinking around racism against Africans in India…there is [certainly] some kind of dark skin complex…even people from the South are discriminated against. It’s not just outwardly to Africans, it is internal.”
The #blindian project is reminiscent of the #UnfairandLovely campaign in India and the general South Asian diaspora that encourages dark-skinned South Asian women to post celebratory selfies across social media, taking pride in their darker hues whilst condemning the shameful colorism and fairness cream industries in the subcontinent.
Through creating heightened exposure to “blindian” couples on social media, Jonah’s project similarly aims to ultimately celebrate and incite conversation on one of the most beautiful forces on the planet – love – and one that specifically transcends race, nationality and skin colour to become a kind of revolutionary act, in our age of rising xenophobia.