The Culture of Whitewashing

Back in India, I used to think that English movies were better than Indian ones, English songs were cooler than Indian ones, and English soap operas were more entertaining than  Indian ones. And I used to consider that being better at the English language and being more into English media than many others in my country, made me better than them.

 Yes. I’m being brutally honest.

 In the 12th grade, my then boyfriend took me to watch this Bengali movie, Baishe Srabon. I was blown away. It was a work of sheer brilliance. And I don’t say that a lot about movies.

 I wondered why I did not watch Bengali movies more. I remembered the only other Bengali movie I had watched in the theatre: Chokher Bali. That too was very much worth the watch. And I thought about Rituparno Ghosh. His movies had always been well above the mark. So why did I never follow the Tollywood movies that released?

 Thankfully, I did not ever think as lowly of watchers and makers of Bengali movies as before. Of course, I still hated the atrocities committed by Dev and Jeet in the name of moviemaking, but the good is always a few among many bad. That is what makes them special, and that is why they are ‘distinguished.’ The worst of humankind can never represent all of humankind.

 In September last year, I moved to Cardiff. Instantly I realized that the West is not as ‘open-minded’ as all of India believes it to be. Like in India, there were few people whose minds were truly open. That is the same everywhere. Of course. It would be foolish to expect otherwise.

 The ones with their minds open, are the ones who delve into cultures other than their own, and who have the intelligence to accept and appreciate the good in those cultures. Because they have vested themselves with the power of breaking the shackles of cultural conditioning. And they have the insight to recognize the good in things, however foreign.

 Also, I realized that I was not as westernized as I had assumed myself to be. I was still very western in an Indian context, but in a British context I was pretty much Indian.

 I had recognized an urge among Indians and many others from different nations to be ‘western.’ English was the language through which they asserted their ‘superiority.’ I wondered if I too belonged to such a category of people who would do anything and everything to ‘whitewash’ themselves — literally, using fairness creams. Because apparently, the more you are like white people, the classier you are. I realized that I was very much like that.

… 

Not one culture is ever better than another. No language can intrinsically be superior to another. Every land has its share of good and bad. Of course, everywhere, the good will probably be outnumbered by the bad. That is how it always is.

 We, the Westernized Eastern kids, are able to relate to a white person onscreen who speaks with an accent foreign to ours. But we do not relate that well to a differently complexioned person who speaks with an accent we are unfamiliar with. We find them strange to listen to, not coherent enough, not civilized enough.

 The US is economically and technologically advanced enough to spread their culture globally via the media. They can afford to do this to such an extent that a culture completely different from ours has become a normalized part of our world. This characteristic of being relatable, leads to ‘white privilege’. Maybe that is why we take such pride in being whitewashed, to partake in a bit of that privilege.

 One culture might generally be better than another for you. But that depends solely on your individual taste and the environment you grew up in. In the same way that you always end up favoring the cuisine of your land over others. You were fed that food with such regularity, that now no matter what, you can always eat it. You know for sure that you won’t hate it.

 When we watch a bad Hollywood movie, we say that the movie was bad. When we watch a bad Bollywood/Tollywood movie, we say that Bollywood/Tollywood is distasteful. I have studied enough of media by now to know that Hollywood is nowhere near perfect itself.

 The greatest works of art are created by the greatest artists. And a great artist can be born in any nation.

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