The Monk’s Podcast 77 with Govinda Prabhu – Racism – what it is, what it isn’t and how to deal with it?
Racism -What it is and what it isn’t and how to deal with it
Summary at 2.15.34
We discussed the topic of racism.
We started by talking about how to consider belonging to a nation to be special, that could be a form of illusion. But we also said that for everybody to belong to something to say this is special is not bad it’s a matter of gratitude. But the thing that I’m superior, that’s what makes it bad.
And then, you talked about how spirituality is meant to elevate our consciousness, but also to expand our consciousness. And if, if there is no expansion, there’s only elevation, then it is good if somebody is doing solitary bhajan. But if somebody is actually living in society. Then they will alienate people. Then we talk about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, He was also conscious of Shankar Pandit and Shrikant, although he was in high ecstasy. So, the expansion of consciousness is there. That means we recognise and we embrace people from various backgrounds. So that expansion itself will at one level counter racism.
Then we talked about how rather than focusing on racism, we focused on the idea of group identity. It could be nationalism; it could be gender group. It could be regional groups. So, at four levels we have equality and identity and be everybody’s soul, but different people have different abilities, and everybody can be given equal opportunity, but we can’t mandate equal results. So, in the example of a cricket coach, if they have a quota system then they will not have the best team. So, equality of opportunity has to be given.
Then we discuss that at an individual level, acknowledging that different people are different abilities is straightforward; it’s a fact of life. But could some groups of people have certain abilities more and certain abilities less? That’s also possible. So, we could go to two extremes. One is to impose that all groups should be equal in every way. So, you said that a Telugu athlete will be as good as a African sprint runner. It’s unlikely. And we could do a lot of social engineering and do it, but what is the point of it. Is it worth the effort? Instead of that, train them and facilitate them in growing and what they are good at.
One extreme would be to absolutely equalise all races, the other is to stereotype that everybody in this race will be good in this and bad in this. Say somebody from a Telugu community is very good at athletics they should also be in the facility.
You actually at the start mentioned that racism arises from individual insecurity. If I have insecurity, then I try to get a sense of strength from the group which I belong to. And then, if it is an individual thing. It can be tolerated, and it can be corrected at an individual level, but when it becomes a group thing, the whole group of people start thinking we are superior- that’s when it becomes dangerous. Like Hitler did with the Nazis.
In India, if there was some amount of system of superiority, a certain people or certain caste felt superior that was more of an individual failing. It was not like a systemic or collectivised or organised exploitation of people.
In that connection we talked about Thomas Sowell that we really can’t have ideal solutions, we have to have trade-offs in the world. And that means that-and the Bhagavad Gita also says this-that different people are good at different things. And rather than seeing that as a weakness, we can see that as a strength, if everybody complements each other.
And then you said that the four varnas are good at fighting for four things. The brahmanas can fight ignorance, the Kshatriyas can fight invaders, the Vaishyas can find insufficiency, and the Shudras can fight indolence. And all these need to be fought in society. In a sense, everybody can contribute. So, the Varna system involves recognising that certain people have certain attributes, certain groups of people have certain attributes. But that is not racist because everybody is cooperating and contributing.
Then we discussed how artificially imposing equality can create problems. So, we discussed about the position of women -say, if there is a rape, then the woman the criminals have to be punished. But then we also have to recognise the society we are living in. And we can’t artificially equate the behaviour of a woman with a lot of privilege and protection with a woman who doesn’t have that.
So, in the Indian society there is a lot of inappropriate behaviour as compared to say some other parts of the world, but to attribute it to Indian culture, rather than to attribute it to current circumstances or to attribute it to disconnection from the culture, is like furthering a biased narrative. And it needs to be corrected. But the correction involves not blaming the culture but changing the situations.
And you also mentioned toward the end that, one reason why so much wrong that has happened in Indian culture is because people often stayed silent. Of course, historically Indians have fought that’s why our culture has survived, but in the modern times, the tendency to fight is that I will take care of myself, what happens otherwise in the society – that’s not that’s not my concern!
So even some brahmanas see other brahmanas behaving in self-righteous ways that’s unhealthy, they should stop that.
Then we talk about certain regions associated with when there are regional statements about certain people, are those racist?
A-it is not so much racist as it is more for people who are there contextual statements for those people to feel a sense of fortune and to take that fortune seriously. Okay, you are born in the dharmic states, to countries so you can be elevated, so take this and get elevated not that other people have been condemned.
We also discussed fair colour and dark colour. The fascination with fair skin is relatively a modern, maybe a colonial hangover. In the scriptures we do see that that Draupadi was fair skin and Bheeshma was what they said, black tooth. Kunapa Danta. Even the sages were not necessarily attractive. So, attraction ‘Natya Shastra” says is not based on skin colour. It’s based more on shape.
So, even if some statements are there, associated with skin colour, they are not the core teaching of the Scripture. The core teachings are the universal principles. Those are what we should focus on and those are what we should share. There was also one point about when people belong to a group, the people belonging to the group should lead to individual growth.
But belonging to the group leads to a person thinking that let the group decide things for me. That is unhealthy. So, like a Karta. We are not Kartas, but at the same time we have to do our responsibility our “Yoddhas”, as you said. We have to do our responsibility; we don’t have to have that doership. And in that connection- when we belong to a group, when there is a belonging to a group-the key point is that that belonging to a group should not make us lose our sense of individuality and responsibility but, rather, it should equip us to become more responsible.
We talk about how the scriptures talk about Satyamev Jayate not Shraddahamaya Jayate. Because Satya is what maintains social order, and Satya is associated with Dharma. So, there is Satya externally. And there is Shraddha internally. And if there is Shraddha without Satya, Shraddha without Dharma, then that will lead to fanaticism and then shraddha in the lower modes. So holistic growth will be– if both Dharma is established externally and Dharma means universal principles for human well-being, and there is a shraddha that is growing internally.
When Dharma talks about certain principles of purity, or cleanliness, or meat-eaters-those who don’t eat meat will not mix with people who eat meat. That is not meant to look down or condemn those people. It is meant to preserve certain standards of cleanliness and purity, but not at the expense of condemning. You talked about how Ramanujacharya was quite radical and Ramanujacharya equated the salaries of the temple cleaners and the priests, and also, he walked with Dhanurdas, and others.
One more sensational point you made about this raises a behavioural label that – in the Ramayan there is Vishvamitra and Chandala is talking and in the Srimad Bhagavatam there is the Vyadha Geeta.
So, if you look at them, somebody might be a racist; stereotype they will feature the racist based on some statements. But if you look at the broad examples, as well as a broad principle, as well as specific examples we do see they are not racist, but they are very universal. And ultimately the scriptures are manifesting Krishna’s compassion and Krishna accommodates everyone. Krishna accommodated even the Kauravas even though they were so sinful. And Krishna accommodates in the Bhagavad Gita the different kinds of worshipers.
End of transcription.