Vancouver: She was good enough for the BBC, but couldn’t get a job in mainstream broadcasting after immigrating to Vancouver in 1972.
For Shushma Datt, racism and discrimination seemed the likely reasons, and she got a job in ethnic media.
“I couldn’t get a job in my own field, so I had to get into the Asian broadcast industry,” she said.
Born in Kenya, Datt got a degree in Dehli before moving to London and joining the BBC.
Today she runs the radio station she founded — AM 1200 Spice Radio in Burnaby — and produces shows for Shaw and OMNI.
A year ago, she and colleagues came up with the idea for the inaugural Raise Your Hand Against Racism movement, which also caught on overseas after it received some publicity.
“Last year was such a huge success,” Datt said. “We had people send photos from England, Australia, we were interviewed by media in India and Pakistan.
“It was very exciting.”
The idea sprang from the ancient Hindu spring festival Holi, a celebration of colors and of sharing love.
Datt thought: “Let’s do something exciting for Holi, let’s start a campaign with stuff that Holi signifies.”
This year’s racism-awareness campaign culminates on March 19 with events at which the public is invited to dip their hands in water-soluble paint and add their palm prints or any other bit of finger painting to a giant mural in seven Lower Mainland communities (North Vancouver, Delta and Richmond have come on board to join the four centers — Vancouver, Surrey, White Rock and Burnaby — that took part last year).
“Holi signifies that everybody is equal, that we’re all the same under a myriad of colors,” she said.
As far as Datt knows she’s the first woman and first Indo-Canadian to be granted a radio broadcast license by the CRTC, and the first in Canada to broadcast in Hindi and Punjabi.
Things might be better today for established immigrants like herself, Datt said, but she feels newcomers still face the same obstacles she did.
“We want to raise this to the next level, someone coming up and saying, ‘Here’s a solution, here is how we can eliminate racism,’” she said.
In the colder Midwestern state of Minnesota in the USA, The St. Paul City Council’s Resolution 20-712 has deeply troubled the Hindu community the region, needlessly bringing divisive international politics and creating Hindu phobia amongst the masses. Amidst the deadly coronavirus pandemic when people are losing lives, left right and centre the St. Paul City Council has chosen to table Resolution 20-712 which has left the Hindus of the area dumbstruck. The resolutin is to be taken up on May 20.
The way this resolution has been secretly introduced makes it problematic for the community. There are around 50,000 people of Indian origin in the Twin Cities and this resolution 20-172 creates an unnecessarily hostile environment for them. According to Vishal Agarwal, member of the Advisory Board of the Hindu American Foundation and Trustee Executive Council of the Hindu Society of Minnesota the Hindus are now forced to dispel the many untruths and stereotypes the St. Paul City Council has perpetuated. In these times of trouble, they have another pressure on themselves as respectable citizens of the area.
In an Open Letter to St. Paul City Council signed by 27 of the Twin Cities’ prominent Indian and Hindu community leaders, they have asked the government to Stop Tearing Apart the Hindu Community with RES 20–712. The letter written by Vishal S. Aggarwal given on Medium is as follows:
“Dear City Council Members of St. Paul, MN
We are a group of long-term residents of the Twin Cities and are prominent members of the Indian and Hindu American Communities of Minnesota. We are writing to you to express our collective dismay at RES 20–712 proposed by the St. Paul City Council for a vote on May 20, 2020.
It is our considered opinion that the tone and the content of this Resolution promotes misunderstanding and marginalization of our community, puts us in the way of harm, and distracts from our city’s collective fight against the ongoing Pandemic.
This past April, city council members introduced RES 20–621 that rightly condemned acts of racism directed against our fellow Americans — immigrants from the Asian and Pacific Islander communities residing in our state, who were being blamed unfairly for the Covid-19 Pandemic. The current RES 20–712 is opposite in its essential nature and impact. It injects divisive overseas politics into Minnesota and thereby endangers the safety and well-being of people of Indian origin in the Twin Cities by creating a hostile environment for us and creating fault lines within the community. We know that the City Council strives for peace and friendship in our community. This resolution achieves the opposite.
We urge you to withdraw RES 20–712 or vote against its passage for the following main reasons: It mis-states facts that are easily verifiable. Inaccurate declarations are made worse with incendiary language. It divides our local communities along religious and political lines at a time when we need to fight the Covid-19 Pandemic unitedly. The Resolution unnecessarily injects divisive overseas politics into local concerns. It endangers Indian Americans residing in Minnesota by falsely implying that their homeland is becoming some version of the Third Reich. Most Indian Americans here are first generation immigrants with strong family ties in India. The resolution makes them appear as racists and religious bigots. It also affects their relationship with family members back in India. It diminishes the valuable contributions of the Indian American community to Minnesota and undermines the healthy relationship between the two largest democracies in the world. Below we provide a Fact Check as ‘Clarifications’ for the various erroneous assertions made in RES 20–712 so that you get a correct and informed perspective.
There are 50,000 people of Indian origin in the Twin Cities. They are outstanding members of the community, contributing to a variety of notable sectors, including but not limited to healthcare, bio-technology and engineering, entrepreneurship, education, tourism and food service, retail etc. Numerous Indian, Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh community organizations in Minnesota are volunteering tirelessly to serve other Minnesotans during the ongoing Pandemic. We wish to emphasize that when a city council paints an entire country in broad and factually dubious strokes, it reflects negatively on all people of Indian origin, and especially on Hindus Americans who reside in Minnesota as fellow Americans. It also promotes Hinduphobia.
Indian businesses have made a significant investment in the Twin Cities and are creating jobs for Minnesotans. According to a study by the Confederation of Indian Industry, Minnesota has attracted more than $1.8 billion and created 2,500 jobs as a direct result of investment from India-based companies, ranking Minnesota third among American states in Indian investment dollars. Several Indian companies are doing business in Minnesota: TATA Consultancy Services, Infosys, Wipro, and ITC Infotech are in the IT and telecom industry; Essar in the materials and manufacturing sector. Twin Cities based businesses also have significant and mutually beneficial investments in India. For example, Cargill began a five-year investment plan of $240M in 2017 intended to improve food safety and economic development and benefit the food processing and agriculture industries. 3M is heavily invested in India for over 30 years now. Target Corporation and Medtronic Ltd (with its major operations run from Fridley, MN) are other examples of companies with a broad footprint in India.
This resolution diminishes and disregards the deep economic relationship between Minnesota and India and demeans the worth of Indian Americans in our state as fellow Americans. The two organizations who have drafted this resolution do not fully represent their own communities, let alone South Asians or even Indian Americans as a whole. In the coming years, the governments of the United States of America and India are expected to coordinate closely to fight this Pandemic. It is pertinent to note here that the largest vaccine producing company in India is owned by an Indian minority citizen. Below is a list of individuals who endorse the contents of this letter (along with the Appendix). Their affiliations, while not reflective of institutional endorsements, give you an indication of their stellar community service to the several prominent institutions that they have founded and nurtured in our esteemed state. You have heard from some of our community organizations. Through this letter, our intent is to convey how RES 20–712 has deeply troubled us as individual Americans. The country of our origin has been tarred with crude and broad strokes without even a basic fact check, thereby making us feel otherized and unwelcome in a state that we have called home and contributed to for decades. Sincerely, 27 Prominent Indian American Citizens of Minnesota.”
The letter clearly states their plight and expresses how their status is being tarred without a thorough fact-check. They have clearly conveyed how their sentiments are deeply hurt and they feel targeted and troubled by RES 20–712. It further claims that the resolution divides the local communities along religious and political lines at a time when the fight against COVID-19 to be fought unitedly should have been the government’s main target.
Actress-entrepreneur Shilpa Shetty Kundra on Sunday alleged that she faced an unpleasant experience for being “brown” at the Sydney airport over her cabin luggage. Upset by an official who was curt, she says people’s tone must not change with preference to colour.
Shilpa Shetty Kundra, who dealt with racism in 2007 when she was a contestant on the fifth season of the British reality show “Celebrity Big Brother” — which she went on to win — faced the latest experience while boarding a plane for Melbourne from Sydney.
The 43-year-old took to Instagram to share the ordeal with a Qantas Airways lady staff member over a cabin luggage, which was deemed as ‘oversized’ at the check-in counter.
A furious Shilpa wrote: “At the check-in counter, met a grumpy Mel (that’s her name) who decided it was ‘okay’ to speak curtly to ‘us’ (brown people!) travelling together. I was flying business and had 2 bags (my allowance) and she insisted and decided my half empty duffel bag was oversized (to check-in), so she sent us to check it in at the other counter dealing with ‘oversized luggage’.
“There a polite lady (yes this one was) said, ‘This is not an oversized bag, please check this in manually if you can at another counter’ (all this happening while the counter is going to shut in five minutes).
“As the manual check-in wasn’t going through for five minutes (we tried), I went upto Mel and requested her to put the bag through as her colleague said it wasn’t an oversized bag. She refused again… Just being adamant especially when I told her this is causing a lot of inconvenience.
“We had no time to waste so we ran to the oversized baggage counter and requested her to put the bag through which she did after I told her that rude Mel had issues! To which another colleague joined in and reiterated my duffle wasn’t oversized and could’ve easily been checked in.”
The “Dhadkan” actress said her intention to narrate her experience is to make Qantas Airways take cognisance of the matter.
Even academics like me who often view certain topics through the lens of race sometimes
receive negative attention and judgement. Some people feel that speaking or writing
rationally about race is counter-productive and even racist.
Indo-Caribbean people (Indians), in particular, tend to receive condemnation when they
examine topics on the basis of race. Indian victims are often criticised for reporting
On the other hand, Afro-Caribbeans (Africans) receive either indifference or praise when they discuss race. For example, the following comment by a black calypsonian, published in a Trinidad national newspaper, drew praises: “In the midst of black consciousness in the 1970s, Bro Superior told black people ‘No matter where yuh born, Yuh still African’” (Guardian Nov 12, 2017).
Discussing race objectively with empirical data and statistical evidence is not racist. Racism
is the belief that another race of people is inferior. This attitude results in discrimination,
antagonism and domination individually, politically, economically and otherwise.
Race, ethnicity, class, sex, religion, nationality, geography, etc. are valid, legitimate and
appropriate social categories of difference in examining historical and contemporary issues.
Why should someone who talks objectively about race be criticised as a racist? Should we
also condemn someone who uses sex as a mode of inquiry as being sexist? To do so would be ignorant, biased and unfair.
In a recent public broadcast, the Prime Minister of multi-racial Trinidad and Tobago (T&T)
advised some citizens “not to see race in everything we do” (Express Sept 22, 2017). This ill- informed statement was made in relation to the mixed responses he received when he
appealed to citizens to open their homes to displaced Dominican refugees who were devastated by Hurricane Maria.
On the contrary, people should be encouraged to “see race” as well as sex (gender), class, nationality, geography and types of social identity. Studying race can reveal differences in the form of disparities, disadvantages, inequalities, power and privilege which have structured human life in the past and present. To overlook race would be to ignore the elephant in the room.
Criminologist and social psychologist Dr Ramesh Deosaran wrote a book entitled Inequality,
Crime & Education in Trinidad and Tobago: Removing the Masks (2016). He found that there was a toxic relationship among race, class, gender, family and geography, resulting in African students performing the worst in the education system.
Deosaran wrote: “Wittingly or unwittingly, the education system, to a large extent, becomes a racially segregated system. And with academic achievement also stratified by race” (page 163). His data showed that while 47% of African students went to university three years after secondary school, as much as 72% of Indians did so, and 49% of the Mixed group also attended.
Prospective students of Whitman College in the USA are encouraged to enrol in its Race and Ethnic Studies programme. They are told that “ideas about race and ethnicity have been central at many points in world history and remain salient today, whether we talk about ethnic pride or ethnic cleansing, about multicultural diversity or racial discrimination.”
Race and ethnicity are often used interchangeably. However, race refers to biological features (bone structure, facial features, hair texture, skin colour, etc.) and ethnicity denotes cultural traits (history, customs, religion, family-type, values, music, food, etc.).
In the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC) CSEC Social Studies syllabus, Section A
(Individual, Family and Society) comprises of a content section that explains characteristics
of the population. These characteristics include age, sex, occupation, religion and ethnicity. In the CXC CAPE Sociology syllabus under Unit 1, Module 3, Social Stratification is
conceptualised according to status mobility, gender, class, colour, caste, race and ethnicity.
The topic of race and ethnicity is studied not only in sociology but also in history,
anthropology, cultural studies, visual culture, media, literature, communication, law, health,
human rights, gender, political science, economics, geography, public policy, international
relations, social psychology, etc.
In a research paper entitled “Understanding race and crime in Trinidad and Tobago,”
criminologist Dr Randy Seepersad (2017) found that most of the murderers, victims, accused and prisoners are Africans. His disaggregated data demonstrated that most of the violent crimes are committed by blacks against blacks.
In 2011, former National Security Minister John Sandy said, “We must recognise that it is
people looking like me who are being murdered, mothers like my mother, God rest her soul, who are out there weeping more than any other race” (Express Sep 3, 2011).
Race has always been a major factor in voting in all general elections in T&T. This form of
ethnic polarisation has been well documented by pollsters such as SARA, NACTA, ANSA
McAl and H.H.B. & Associates Ltd. Most Africans and Mixed persons support the PNM
while most Indians vote for the PP/UNC.
Dr. Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books. He lives in Trinidad.