Being African in India

“As a black person culturally, I’m trying not to die!”

Trevor Noah delivered a hard-hitting punch in his light-hearted way during his new Netflix exclusive, Trevor Noah: Son of Patricia. The comedian and a television host’s stand-up was about an African’s experiences of living in the US and travelling to an Asian nation. His experiences reminded me of an incident that happened in Delhi last week.

Six Africans, four Tanzanians and two Nigerians, were rescued from two different locations in Delhi. They were accused of kidnapping a teenager and eating him up. A mob of around 200 people gathered around the house of the African nationals. Later, it was found that the teenager, whose family said he was eaten up, was not even kidnapped.

The police then registered cases on these people for being part of the mob and threatening the Africans. Since there wasn’t any physical assault, the case was about wrongful restraint against the mob. And of course, it wasn’t a case of racism, the PRO of the Delhi Police said.

This was not the first time when the Africans were attacked in the national capital and nearby areas and accused of cannibalism. The news reports that covered their encounters with racism had these things in common — they were repeatedly called habshis. This term is now commonly used to describe every African in India.

There are notions such as the Africans are poor and impoverished. Noah, who now lives in the US, narrates an incident from his vacation in Bali, the capital of Indonesia. The tour guide, in the name of giving the tourists “an authentic Balinese experience”, takes them to a person’s house in a remote village. The person, after greeting everyone in the house gleefully, looks at Noah with a flat face. During their deep conversation, which by the way happened through the eyes, the person asks Noah what he was doing there. Noah replies he shouldn’t have been in that house but the guide said it was a part of the “authentic Balinese experience”, to which the person replies, “Yes. Authentic for white people. You’ve got your own poor. Go back to where you came from.”

Since the time the people from the African continent started to migrate to escape the adversities of an underdeveloped nation, people began to stereotype them. Prejudices like they live in forests, they are tribals, who kill creatures and eat them have been perpetuated through the contemporary media. The great north-south divide has a role to play in it. Thanks to the colonisers. But even after going through the similar kind of oppression, even if they migrate to a third-world country in hope of a better life, they feel threatened.

Someone once asked Noah, while he was in the US, when Donald Trump says horrible racist things, do you sometimes want to pack your bags and escape all this racism? Noah said, “My friend, you don’t go back to Africa to escape racism.” People often wonder why Africans are coming to their country. In India, they get cheap and quality education and internationally recognised degrees. And some are just here to live freely, away from their conflict-ridden countries.

While talking about the history of racism, Noah talks about Rochester, New York, where there is a city dedicated to rehabilitating the people who escaped slavery. The people would rehabilitate them, put them on boats and send them to Canada. He was fascinated by the fact that these were white people who convinced black people, who just escaped slavery, to get on the boats. They were usually taken on boats to make them slaves. He wondered that the end of the conversation would be the invention of the phrase, “Nigga please!”  

While narrating one of his encounters with racism, Noah said his mother, Patricia, taught him a wonderful way of dealing with racism. She said that you don’t have control over the other people but you can choose how you react to it. While he was jaywalking on the streets on the US, a guy in a pick-up truck shouted at him and called him “nigger”. When he finally applied what his mother said, the guy driving the truck was shocked. “I’ll never give a racist person the pleasure of seeing me in pain,” he said.

In South Africa, the Xhosa language also has a word “nigga”, it means to give. Noah said the word never had any power on him. Rather, it brought many fond memories from childhood, he said. Indeed, when people travel to other countries, they take a new culture. It would be great if we, instead of focusing on the differences, count the things that we share mutually — greatest of them being humanity.
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