Guest Post by Pallavi Paul.
[ This is a response by Pallavi Paul to a post by Ashley Tellis titled ‘Indians are racist, but Africans are not nice either’ that was published recently on the Daily O]
Let me, at the outset state that I feel almost bad taking on such a soft target . I say soft because there is nothing redeemable about Ashley Tellis’ hatred towards ‘dangerous’, ‘morally corrupt’, ‘threatening’ and most importantly ‘unfriendly’ Africans. However, because we are dealing with someone who stakes claim in political-critical thought (or so I am told), this is important to do.
While Tellis cursorily signposts the odd murder and some statements made by a few ministers, he dedicates the rest of the article to creating a portrait of these “Africans” (an all subsuming term that can accommodate an entire continent). By having been a resident of Kishangarh, a colony in Delhi where some ‘Africans’ also happen to live, he takes on the role of the expert in ‘African’ behavior. He produces eye witness accounts of the depravity of these people.
“I also saw them do drugs at 3am in the middle of the street, snorting stuff from the tops of cars, I saw them striking deals with the local police on a regular basis, I saw them harassing women, I saw African women getting out of cars full of Punjabi boys at 3am with the African men on guard.”
My heart goes out to the trauma Tellis would have experienced by witnessing such unprecedented events unfolding before his eyes. Evidently, he has never, before his Kishangarh revelations, seen a ‘Mainland Indian’ (another wonderful concept) snorting drugs ( I will buy him a ticket to Udta Punjab whenever it releases) or a woman walking out of a car with men in it, late in the night . Apart from the assumption that a black woman couldn’t just be friends with ‘Punjabi’ boys – it is very clear that he doesn’t know how to mind his own business. In fact the tone of his reportage is comfortingly familiar. It reminds me of Chopra uncle from my childhood who was more interested in what the nieghbours were having for dinner, who the watchman was sleeping with and whether the new car we had, was bought from bribe money. We don’t remember him as the most minding-his-own-business type neighbor. Perhaps the nameless Africans of Kishangarh think about our author in the same way.
Further, it is confusing what Tellis actually has a problem with – is it drugs and sex (because he also makes a cautionary declaration that he is not against drug use and sex work), is it blaring music played in cars ( which I also have a problem with), is it Punjabi boys (whom I have mixed feelings about), is it the Bible (which I am going to stay out of), is it Sundays ( I like them) , is it Christianity , is it fundamentalism ?
While this is not clear, what is clear is that Tellis has felt harassed by Africans doing “unregulated” activities, which is a polite term for illegal things, . This becomes amply clear in his comparison of Singapore, a country with an openly dictatorial system, to India. While according to Tellis Singapore has been able to keep these trouble makers away, India has a lot of catching up to do. I would like to ask him if he would also like to embrace with equal enthusiasm Singapore’s policy towards homosexuals? Is he excited at the prospect of undertaking compulsory military service and be put into the same category as pedophiles? It is amazing that someone who calls themselves consciously Queer and is on the receiving end of the barbarity of legal systems, would be unable to understand how slippages in regulations sometimes help the most marginalized communities survive. Apart from the reinforcement of the worst stereotype of the African as the drug peddler, Tellis’ call for regulation is a joke devoid of all irony.
This, however, is not the only stereotype that is hurled at the reader of this article. Very seamlessly we move to the north-east of India, who much like Africans, are ‘endogamous’ and ‘unfriendly’. Perhaps in protecting his identity as a gay man (obviously North-Easterners and Africans are all aggressively and exclusively heterosexual) Tellis has forgotten the relationship that ‘mainland’ India has had with the North- East. Or maybe he doesn’t know of the looting, murders, rapes, bombings, draconian laws – that have been witnessed by these unfriendly people, in our names.
Obviously according to Tellis, the onus of fitting in, is on them. In the end I just have one question- if they are so terrible, why do you even want to be friends with them? Please go play with your lassi drinking, virginal, sleeping at 8 pm friends, Tellis. We are here to have some fun and fight tooth and nail, the violence that is unleashed by your kind of narrow minded hatred.
Pallavi Paul is a filmmaker, artist and a PhD student at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi