Talking Racism

Bhutan is progressing by leaps and bounds, not only economically, but also socially on everything from women’s rights to the latest being accepting gay and transgender people.

Many of us spent an entire election cycle condemning Trump for a lot of bad behavior, including his perceived racial bias and the racist attitude of some of his supporters.

We Bhutanese, like to think of ourselves as a liberal, easy going, accepting and fun loving people. But the question to ask is if that liberal attitude really applies to people outside ones village, ethnic grouping or even country.

The level of casual racism in everyday conversations, general attitudes and even widely held beliefs is disturbing.

People on the streets, neighborhoods, offices and even at homes use racist terms and lingo against each other sometimes as jest, sometimes in normal conversation and on occasions out of anger.

Talking of anger if one witnesses’ two Bhutanese quarrelling the talk will rapidly descend from cuss words into ethnic and racist insults and rants. It is considered fair game and normal to use such words, irrespective of the impact it has.

Leaving the streets, even the supposedly educated elite and intellectuals of Bhutan are not immune from this habit. The attack may not be as direct but the subtle and sometimes not so subtle insinuations are there.

The icing on the cake is on the social media forums where people really express what they feel, and in a reflection of our society there is both casual and overt racism while criticizing each other. It is amazing to see how perfectly normal, sane and apparently ‘decent people’ come under their own profiles and hurl racist abuses at the drop of a hat.

It makes one wonder where all that deep bile, xenophobia and anger is coming from.

For a problem to be solved there first has to be acknowledgement that Bhutan has a racism problem not only against foreigners or perceived foreigners, but also among and within Bhutanese.

However, far from acknowledging the problem there is a casual acceptance of racism and it is mostly ignored or at times even cheered and celebrated in popular culture or writing at times.

Racism of any kind is a deeply de-humanizing process where the ‘other’ is created and along with it all the violence in thoughts and words.

A Bhutanese can do great things for his or her country, bleed for his or her country and people, contribute to the greater good but it is a sad day when the same Bhutanese is only identified by a narrow ethnic profile.

One would think this is counterintuitive in a country of multiple ethnic groups and dialects, but it apparently is not.

Whether one acknowledges it or not, there are deep racial and ethnic fault lines in the country, which in many ways is even manifesting in the form of ‘regionalism’ in politics. A type of opportunistic politics that threatens to tear apart our united national fabric.

Early Singapore was a melting pot of majority ethnic Chinese along with Malay, Indians  and other groups. Race riots were not uncommon then. So before ‘Singapore’ could be built this issue had to be addressed. It was done on the basis of building Singaporean society on the basis of racial equality with an idea of multiracialism. Overt racial discrimination was also outlawed.

It is important to reflect on Article 7 or Fundamental Rights of the Constitution which under section 15 says, “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal and effective protection of the law and shall not be discriminated against on the grounds of race, sex, language, religion, politics or other status.”

Maybe it is time to truly understand, appreciate and imbibe this important part of the Constitution for the country’s sake and our collective sake.

“Racist thought and action says far more about the person they come from than the person they are directed at.”
Chris Crutcher

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