(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
On twitter, a person’s one line ‘bio’ is a great way to gauge how people look at themselves. If the first thing they mention is what they do for work, then they usually turn out to be the sort of people who like to be defined by things they do in a professional capacity. Anyone calling themselves a ‘foodie’ is the kind of person who goes to a restaurant and orders the most exotic sounding thing on the menu. A person who refers to themselves in third person is the type of person you need to stay away from. Someone with a mildly amusing, self-deprecating one-liner in their bio wants you to think that they’re funny. And when someone’s twitter bio says that “they’re politically incorrect,” what they’re trying to tell you is that they like to say racist things out loud. I’m a bigot and I know it!
Recently, while giving a speech at a fundraiser in California, American President and the guy who plays god to thousands of people through his killer flying robots, Barack Obama, called the state’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris, “the best looking attorney general in the country.” It became the sexist compliment heard around the world and Obama apologized to Harris a couple of days later. The apology angered a lot of people (mostly men. Shocking!) who hate ‘feminazis,’ the ‘p.c. police’ and the ‘liberal media’ for brainwashing everyone into believing newfangled ideas like treating other people with respect and dignity. Ugh. What has the world come to? Why can’t we benevolently compliment a woman about her looks in a professional setting? What’s next, not being able to constantly stare at women we’re not related to, lecherously? Tyranny!
If you’re not part of a marginalized group then you might have a blind spot towards subtle forms of discrimination they face. Even today, a lot of women are told that their only job is to look pretty and sit on the side with the other women while the men discuss important business, sweetie. It is a symptom of the problem that even an accomplished professional like Kamala Harris-a rising star who is talked about as a future Gubernatorial candidate or a nominee for the US Supreme Court-cannot escape the epithet.
If you’re someone who grew up in the 90’s then you probably know someone who visited a foreign country and was asked where they park their elephants. (There was like one guy who was asked this question for real and then everybody else stole the anecdote and made it their own. That question was the “have you seen slumdog millionaire?” of that era.) or if you’re the vice-president in multi-national company but a lot of people still come to you with their computer problems because you’re Indian and they assume that you’d be able to help them even though the only thing you know about technology is how to browse matrimonial websites. If these things piss you off, then so should the fact that one of the most powerful people in the world thought it was okay to add “. . . but but she’s so purty” to a colleague’s resume. When we do things like that, we’re reducing the vastness of the human experience to a single attribute.
Although, in India, we’ve got the act of reducing people to a single attribute down to a T. We’ve had lots of practice, over the years. We can glorify/demonize large groups of people just based on one common attribute they inadvertently share. We like to put people in a box and get confused when they don’t fit.
If you like to kvetch about being mistreated, then, you probably shouldn’t be doing that to other people either. For example: If the best joke you can make about someone is based on a regressive stereotype, then maybe “jokes” are really not your forte. Try to be a little creative, maybe? Or not. As the first of April proves every year, a large majority of us are just not funny. Ask your doctor if shutting the f**k up is right for you!
You don’t have to be respectful towards other people. You can be as obnoxious as you want! No one’s stopping you. But if you want to be taken seriously, then maybe you should try to treat people like, you know, people.
Except, of course, anyone from Chennai.
Because nothing good ever comes out of that shithole.