Storms and Teacups

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As GNXP’s only British contributor I feel bound to say a few words about the Big Brother controversy. For the past week Britain – and perhaps also India – has been gripped by a bout of collective insanity. I’m not sure how far the rest of the world has taken any interest in the affair, so here is a report from CNN.

In commenting I am somewhat hampered by having hardly watched the show – honest – but it has been impossible to escape it entirely. As far as I can judge, the alleged ‘racism’ has been hugely exaggerated. Tensions of social class and personality were far more important, though it would be difficult to deny an undercurrent of racism in some of the comments about Shilpa Shetty. But it is worth pointing out that the only overtly racist comment was made by Jermaine Jackson, whispering to Shilpa (perhaps underestimating the sensitivity of the microphones) that “we are people of color, they [Jade and her friends] are just white trash”. Shilpa, a high-caste Hindu, does not seem to have been overjoyed by this gesture of solidarity.

Which brings me to my main point: I question the smug assumption among the liberal commentators, including those of Asian origin, that racism is somehow a preserve of the white working classes. The commentators can hardly be unaware that prejudice exists in all ethnic groups, but with a few honourable exceptions, like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown here, there seems to be a tacit conspiracy to ignore it.


  1. And Jade herself is mixed-race. 
    Extract:”However, Ms. Goody, who herself is of mixed parentage (her mother is a white and her father a black) insisted that she was not racist though she may have used racist language. Her father, Andrew Goody, was of Jamaican descent. He abandoned the family when she was two, and died of a heroin dose in 2005.”

  2. From what I understand, Jade’s mother is a practicing Muslim. 
    Extract:”In an intriguing twist, it emerged last night that Goody’s mother Jackiey Budden, who called Shetty “the Indian” and refused to pronounce her name properly, is a practising Muslim who performed prayers while in the house. The prayers appear to have been cut from footage shown in the nightly TV updates. 
    Budden, who asked Shetty: “Do you live in a house or a shack ?” has observed Ramadan, the month of fasting, for nine years, according to Goody’s agent and publicist John Noel Management.”

  3. Given only one case, how can you distinguish between picking on someone and racism?  
    If someone starts making fun of the hairy-backed, we don’t assume they hate the hirsute. Granted, such a hatred is uncommon. 
    I think people naturally spout such sentiment about unfamiliar groups until they are repeatedly told it is Unacceptable. Witness the strength of various taboos against jeering at different groups: Black > Latino > East Asian > White.

  4. If someone starts making fun of the hairy-backed, we don’t assume they hate the hirsute. Granted, such a hatred is uncommon 
    what, do you live in iran? how is it that hairy backs seem normal to you?

  5. I lived in a YMCA in New Jersey for a while. Hairy backs were common there. As a young foreigner, I placed no particular interpretation on the fact, save that these guys were perhaps descended from people from parts of Europe unfamiliar to me. Was I being naive?

  6. Razib, actually a good portion of my classmates in highschool were Iranian (a Jewish school in Los Angeles). Comparing leg manes was not an infrequent pastime. 
    Forgot to say, but Shilpa Shetty comes off as quite ladylike in comparison.

  7. At some point racially-motivated offences came to be declared worse than otherwise equivalent offenses which were not racially-motivated. That’s caused no end of confusion, including metaphysical disputes about what groups should be under the umbrella. There’s a pretty strong liberal case to be made against hate crimes laws, and the ACLU has made it pretty consistently. 
    There were reasonable motivations to begin with, but I think that the good effects of hate crimes laws would be attained by laws punishing a.) organized and planned attacks on individuals or members of groups, regardless of race and b.) individuals with long strings of assaults and the like.  
    In mixed neighborhoods you have more hate crimes, but also more interracial friendships and marriages. In the long run, ethnic scuffling and trash-talking can be a step on the way to friendship, believe it or not.

  8. Shilpa is not a “high-caste Hindu”, afaik and regardless, she’s hardly casteist in her thinking; she’s Mumbai born and bred. She might have been baffled because the terms ‘people of colour’ and ‘white trash’ are unknown and unused in India.

  9. yup shilpa is one of the lower castes. Surprising how the author can write so authoritatively – Shilpa, a high caste Hindu 
    do your research buddy!