Published in Express Tribunes Blogs:
Less than a couple of months ago, a colleague of mine, who is of African American descent, and a Muslim convert, mentioned to me an incident:
“You know I was sitting in the mosque for the taraweeh and there was a South Asian woman sitting next to me. While talking on her cellphone, she made some reference which I’m sure was for me ─ ‘kaali’ (black). The funniest of all the things was that she herself was not a shade lighter than me.”
Beneath a hearty laugh, I was terribly embarrassed. Almost as a rebound, I explained,
“You may have been mistaken, but yes, many of us are pretty colour conscious, and you can easily guess that by the amount of business we do with fairness creams. Not just the top brands, but top film stars from India and Pakistan, too, are eager to endorse those creams.”
To make her feel comfortable, I added my personal true story.
My husband’s loving aunt used to call me kaali, when I newly married him. She did this because their nephew (my husband) was a few shades fairer than me. She proudly told,
“He looked so angreiz (English/white) when he was born, that we gave him an English name ─ ‘Bobby’.”
As her fascination for his skin colour still continues, she calls him Bobby to date.
Beyond this personal experience, it was pretty unpalatable to keep hearing repeatedly, West Indians being referred as “kaali andhi” (black storm) by a mainstream Pakistani channel for the past two days.
As the game progressed and West Indians got closer to the victory stand, some of us started to lose our control and the ‘kaaley, shadeed kaaley’ (black, very black) references spilled all over my social media timelines, the commonest one being:
“Hum kaaley hain to kya huwa, trophy waaley hain.”
(So what if we are black? We have the trophy.)
Here are some tweets from my timeline during the match:
Mariyam Ali Dhillon @MariyamAli
“The Kali Andhi rises”. VEHSHI! #WIvsSL
Amidst there were occasional sane tweets, expressing their dismay at the references:
Maria Memon @Maria_Memon
Kindly spare us the “Kaalay” jokes. #NotFunny
Jesus Christ, Geo. Kaali aandhi? That’s effing racist.
Shoaib Taimur @shobz
Cricket exposes the racism in our people. just check their FB statuses and Tweets.
In reply, some had ample justification for the use of these terms, with expressions such as:
#TwitterRage making a mountain out of mole hill – #kaaliAndhi#racism #twitterPhadda #idiotism
Mansoor Zia @nOxym0ron
@shobz Sometimes, it’s just a joke. People take life too seriously and worse, too literally.
There definitely is a background to this “black storm” reference. It’s from back in the 70s and 80s, when the West Indians were the reigning kings and feared for their strength.
Since most people explained themselves by saying that the reference wasn’t offensive and had been used for a very long time, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. I Googled the history of this reference and its link with the West Indians.
I did not find a single reference on the internet of the West Indians being called the “black storm” in the 70s/80s.
None of the international media had referred to them as the “black storm”, saving only some of our Pakistani mainstream newspapers. Are we the only ones, with the sharpest long term memory then?
Even on Twitter, the hash-tag #Blackwash barely had a dozen references, but the trigger word ‘kaaley’ was all over my timeline, with or without the hash-tag.
Moreover, how does this reference being 30-40 years old justify its political in-correctness?
Haven’t things changed since then on an international stage? Shouldn’t we then change our own mindsets, too?
Mind you, all the things I’ve quoted are from social media only. One can calculate how many folds thick the usage of such racial slurs has become in the real world.
However, on a more optimistic note, there was an overwhelming number of people who rejoiced over West Indians winning the ICC World T20 cup. I wish that the number will someday tilt the balance in their favour. For that to happen, we certainly need to educate the people and most importantly, the media. It is socially responsible and should realise what a colossal role it plays as an opinion leader. It is time they know that there is no option for them but to at least be responsible enough to convey ethically correct messages, and not merely echo the insensitive crowd-pleasers.