Indian Independence Day, August 15, 2009
Unfortunately, this a belated post because I wasn’t at a computer yesterday. However, since it was a huge part of my experience in India, I can’t let it pass unnoticed.
“Lakshya Toh” is the song my class XII Science students sang at the school’s independence day festivities. I must have heard it twenty times a day in the week leading up to August 15, 2009. It was stuck in my head for a solid two months after, but I feel a strong affection for the song nontheless. Though my Hindi is by no means fluent (or even functional), I take great pride in the fact that I can “sing” along to this song.
Listen, enjoy, and imagine 60-odd 17, 18, & 19 year olds belting it out in the middle of a field.
Some of you may or may not have heard about Oprah’s trip to India. If you hadn’t, well, she filmed it and it’s being aired on TLC. I hadn’t heard about this until one of my students from India (currently studying at my undergraduate college) sent me a link to an article on an Indian blog reacting to the first episode of the special. Always curious to see what foreigners think of Americans parading around their land, I read the article. As I read, I found myself becoming more and more dumbfounded by the way Oprah was purportedly reacting to Indian culture and to the Indians she met. It made me want to curl up in my skin and die out of shame for this awful representation of our country.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen the episode. I don’t have cable and I couldn’t find it online (at least, not anywhere that wouldn’t riddle my computer with viruses). I did, however, find a few other articles discussing the rampant stereotypes portrayed in her series. One in particular from ABC compares American with Indian reactions and, I’m sorry to say, the American reactions are more positive.
But, don’t take this from me. Read the side of the story given by another one of my students from India who is also currently studying at my alma mater. He addresses not only the Oprah episode (which he did watch), but also what it’s like to be a foreigner in America. This will change how you think.
If you’re interested in more related reading, this article from the APA discusses D.W. Sue’s work with microaggressions, which he defines as being “everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them.” As we discussed this in my Multicultural Issues class in fall of 2010, microaggressions can also be produced by anyone who benefits from a position of privilege, such as Oprah. The key word there is “well-intentioned.” If you’re familiar with the old adage, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” then you can probably understand how someone can think they’re saying the right thing, but because they’re unaware of their own personal biases, actually end up inadvertently causing harm to the other person. It’s some of the most interesting, thought-provoking research I’ve come across during my time in grad school. This class changed how I thought about a lot of things and I promise, if you read more about it, it will change you too.