Supremacy of color, appearances, and religion

Writer: Nisar Ahmed Category: প্রবন্ধ (Essay) Edition: Dhaboman - Eid 2019


I am not a conformist when it comes to the definition of race by the skin color. I refuse to identify any human group by the conventional skin colors – white, black, red, yellow, and brown. At a broad brush, people from European origin are considered white, people from African origin are considered black, people of China, Japan, and rest of the East and central Asia are called yellow, native people of North and South America are classified as red, and generally all others including people from South Asia and the Middle East are considered brown. Even if one accepted the classification of Homo sapiens by skin color – which is utterly unacceptable, if you ask me – it would be various shades of brown, but not black, white, red, or yellow. Milk is white, Raven is black, egg yolk is yellow, and blood is red. No human skin looks like milk, raven, blood, or egg yolk.

There are many East and Central Asian, Middle Eastern, South American, and even Indian subcontinent people who have light skin color, same as Europeans. But, they are not considered whites; they are – to the western world – red, yellow, or brown. Division of the human race into so called colored “races” has no scientific basis. The color terminology to describe human groups can be traced back to rabbinical literature of medieval times where Noah blessed his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, as black but comely (brown), black as Raven, and White, respectively, and gave each of them different parts of Noah’s world of that time. Even though Francois Bernier, a French physician and traveler who was a personal physician of Mughal prince Dara Shikoh and of Emperor Aurangzeb’s court, rejected the grouping of human kind by skin color in his 1684 article “A new division of the Earth”, he introduced a different way of creating racial prejudice, by physiological differences. Scientifically, all of human is one race, and the colored or physiological “races” are not grounded in genetics, as argued in the National Geographic article, Human diversity comes from migration, mutation of genes, and evolution by natural selection. Unfortunately, the natural diversity of human species has been used to establish supremacy of one group over others. 19th century doctor and scientist, Samuel Morton – through his study of the size of human cranium of different skulls collected from all over the world – concluded that the Caucasians are the smartest, followed by the Mongolians, then came the Southeast Asians, followed by the Native Americans, and the blacks were at the bottom of the human intelligentsia. Morton’s conclusion was praised by the supporters of slavery in the American South and was used to point out that slavery is the rightful place for the inferior black people.

Human diversity in skin color, physiology, culture, language, religion, and in all other dimensions of our collective human experience is an asset to any community, country, and for our endless human journey towards progress. Countries like America and Canada are fortunate to have such broad multiplicity in the population, which needs to be cherished and nurtured. But those who believe in their supremacy – either because of their lighter skin color, or because of their misguided believe that they have larger brain power in their larger cranium – are scared of losing their “White” identity and power because of diversity. On the other hand, in more homogenous societies – from skin color or skull cranium size – like in Indian subcontinent, a different form of supremacy comes into play. Supremacy there mostly comes from religion, caste, financial status, but surprisingly, from skin tone as well. Those who are in the minorities due to religion, caste/tribe, or financial status do not always have the equal opportunity as the majority in those countries. My personal observation makes me think that the Hindus and other religious minorities and indigenous communities in Bangladesh, or the Muslims, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India are considered lesser people than the majority and are subjected to social and economic discrimination. One interesting (not in a good sense) behavior I observed among the Bangladeshi diaspora in the USA is – despite, as a minority, our uphill struggle to establish ourselves in this land and repeated reminder of our non-White inferior status – that we frequently find ourselves looking down upon other groups such as Hispanics and African Americans. I have heard Bangladeshi diaspora people calling African American or Hispanic people with derogatory names. On the other hand, Bangladeshis in Bangladesh and elsewhere in their country of residence generally treat Caucasian people with higher respect. This dichotomy – in one hand complaining about racism and discrimination by the Caucasian people, and then displaying similar racial and discriminatory behavior to other groups – is a conundrum to me.

There are numerous examples of this human behavioral dichotomy in the world. Among those, I feel obligated to mention the one that has been playing out the Middle East for far too long for religious reasons. Jewish people have suffered a lot throughout their history, and especially in the hands of fascist Germany. So, it is only fair that they would desire a sovereign homeland and liberation from persecution they suffered for centuries. But that cannot be exercised by persecuting a group of people from different faith, the Palestinians, who played no part in the historical sufferings of the Jewish diaspora. Israel, in its pursuit to establish the Zionist state, continues to invite Jewish people from around the world including Ethiopia and help them settle in Israel and the occupied territories. While the East European light skinned Jews enjoy full support of the state of Israel in their assimilation process, the dark skinned Ethiopian Jews have remained an inferior, discriminated class of citizens.

This story of supremacy of one group of people over another due to differences in color, religion, culture, language, etc. continues throughout the world including the discrimination against the Uyghur and Tibetans in China, oppression of minority Shiites in Sunni majority Muslim countries, atrocities against minority Rohinga and Rakhine population in Myanmar, neglectful conditions the native Australians live, conflicts between ethnic groups in many African countries…the list goes on. Though all these depressing human conditions make me wonder if we, as the human race, will ever be able to live in an equitable world where all will live harmoniously. End of slavery, apartheid, and humans like Buddha, Mandela, Gandhi, Dalai Lama, and Jacinda Ardern makes me hopeful about our future. But, I am afraid, I won’t there to see that. I can only hope that my son’s generation will not only be the agent of change but also the generation to live in a world of equal opportunities devoid of all forms of discrimination in spite of any and all differences.