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Cricket, Racism, Hypocrisy, and Context

Check out this column on the recent racism row in cricket.

The 100+ comments below the article provide an excellent repost to the ill-informed, poorly written article.

Sure, Indians are as capable of racism as anyone. But the article got completely side-tracked into issues of *all* discrimination, not just racial discrimination.

‘Monkey’ and ‘donkey’ are commonly used in India to call someone ‘stupid’ or ‘a fool’. Growing up in India, we used to play ‘catch’ with a ball, where each time you miss you get ‘labeled’ which a letter from one of the following sequences: ‘M’, ‘O’, ‘N’, ‘K’, ‘E’, ‘Y’ or ‘D’, ‘O’, ‘N’, ‘K’, ‘E’, ‘Y’.

The bottom-line is this: what is offensive or racist is *context-sensitive*.

In the US, when a non-black person calls a black person ‘nigger’, it’s racist, but when a black man calls another black man ‘nigger’, it’s not.

Among Indians, friendly cussing happens in their primary language of communication. For some of my Hindi-speaking friends ‘gadhe’, ‘bandar’, ‘behan-chod’, ‘maadar-chod’ is not insulting, but calling them “son of a bitch”, “mother fucker” would definitely be. Yet for many of my English-speaking Indian friends, bastard or son-of-a-bitch are not insulting, but the literal “sister-fucker” might be.

One of the comments on Soumya’s article compared Indian crowds calling Symonds ‘monkey’ with how Inzamam was called ‘Aloo’ - both were meant to irritate the player. I can go step further and say that they were called ‘aloo’ or ‘monkey’ based on their *appearance* (Inzamam: aloo=fat and shaped like potato; Symonds: monkey=looking like a monkey). Definitely insensitive to call someone names based on their appearance, but that doesn’t automatically mean the appearance in question is racial. Potato is not racial. Monkey in India is also used to describe someone as ‘ugly’. Yes, when Indians refer to Blacks in a racist manner, they call them ‘kallu’ or might even compare them to monkeys - that’s definitely racist.

Which brings me to this: I grew up in India and have lived in the US for 17 years. And even though I follow cricket fanatically, I had no clue that Symonds was of a mixed race until this racism row. I never understood the furore about the ‘monkey’ chants in India directed towards Symonds- simply because I never saw him as a “black” man. Having learned of his mixed-race now, I can see how he might be offended.

On the other hand, I don’t get offended when my friends cuss me with the usual vocabulary, but even slight cussing from someone I don’t know well would be insulting. Fair enough if Symonds had told Harbhajan earlier that he finds it offensive to be called ‘monkey’, but he has to then reciprocate and not use any term that Harbhajan finds insulting. It’s a two-way contract, which became null and void, when Symonds broke it first.

Any which way you look at it, Symonds is a hypocrite and provoked Harbhajan unjustifiably in an attempt to bait him, knowing how hot-headed Harbhajan is. For his part, Bhajji is an idiot to fall for the bait, and he deserves a severe tongue-lashing from his captain and team management for dragging them into this muck. But his team-mates, BCCI, and Indian fans are correct in standing up in support of Harbhajan - *even if* he did call Symonds a ‘monkey’ *in retaliation*, because he was being deliberately baited, by Symonds and his “less than credible” teammates - Clarke and Hayden - who, at best may have *chosen to hear* what they wanted to hear, and at worst may have lied to “convict” Harbhajan.

In conclusion, let’s still not forget that *proven facts* only point to abusive or offensive language by Harbhajan - and by Symonds - not racist comments.

[Originally posted on my personal blog at, February 01, 2008]


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