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A Black Man’s Picture Was Used in an Indian Book to Portray “Ugly”

This incident once again proves how casual anti-Black sentiment and colourism continue to exist in India.
12 June 2020, 2:00pm
school students reading
Photo courtesy of Andrew Ebrahim / Unsplash

This article originally appeared on VICE India.

The past few weeks have been engulfed in what can only be known as one of the most important civil rights movements in contemporary times. The ongoing Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has sparked discussions on racism and racial inequality across the globe—forcing even us in India to acknowledge the discriminations in our society. The truth is that anti-Black sentiment and microaggressions towards the darker-skinned have always prominently existed in India. And they continue to make their presence felt.

This was proven once again when a parent in West Bengal saw their daughter’s pre-primary textbook depicting the word 'ugly' by using the picture of a Black man.

Two teachers from a local municipality-run school in the Burdwan district of West Bengal were using the book—called Child’s Study—to teach the students the English alphabet. The English book illustrated words from each letter of the alphabet—such as ‘A’ for apple. When it came to the alphabet ‘U’, the word given alongside was ‘ugly’, with a picture of a Black man serving to illustrate an example of the word. A parent caught this and was angered at the fact that racial bias was being taught to kids so early on. Parents of other kids in the school bolstered the anger against such blatantly discriminatory teaching by getting together to stage a protest against the illustration and embedment of racial bias in students.

The two teachers who were using the book have now suspended.“ The book was not recommended by the government,” said West Bengal Education Minister Partha Chatterjee to Hindustan Times. “The school’s teachers had selected it as a reference book.”

While the teachers who were involved in selecting the book have apologised saying they overlooked the picture, this incident exposes the casual anti-Blackness that prevails intensely in Indian societies. It is easy to go online, upload a black square in support of the BLM movement on our Instagrams, and conclude that we played our role in eradicating racism. It is much harder to get rid of casual racism and microaggressions that still silently exist in our society. The immense popularity of fairness creams endorsed by the same celebrities who have shown their support for the BLM movement is a testament to that. When we colour our darker-skinned gods and goddesses blue instead of dark brown as they supposedly are, it is not a surprise that being dark-skinned in Indian society is considered nothing short of shameful. Girls being chided for getting “tanned”, the fact that being gori (white) is synonymous for being beautiful, and generally being surrounded by the notion that fairer is better points to how casual colourism permeates all our lives in India. So even as we stand up in support of BLM and the toppling of colonial figures all around the world, let’s remember to also look closer home and change our own racist behaviours.

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