Indians in the USA - Their Racial Perspectives

March 22, 2010
Dr Bhaskar Dasgupta

The fact that Indians (and yes, pretty much broad based definition of Indians) are racist is not open to debate. The national obsession towards whiter skin and the pretty much well known behaviour towards Blacks (of whatever nationality) is evident across the country. Ask any black chap to go to any place in the country and try to get rented accommodation or even walk around without being stared at. Do not get me wrong, I was four square in this category as well. Anyway, that’s not the point. An interesting question comes up, what happens when you take them out of India say to USA. If you do that, do their attitudes change? So what are the attitudes of Indian Americans or Indian immigrants towards African Americans?

Thankfully, we now have a research paper which sheds some light on this rather interesting sociological behaviour. The research picked 161 Indian immigrant and Indian American Students at a large mid western university in the USA. They were paid $10 for filling out a questionnaire which took about an hour to fill out. This sample ended with 63 Indian immigrants of an average age of 25 years and 81 Indian Americans whose average age was 20 years. Indian Immigrants were defined as people who spent their first 18 years in India. Indian Americans are those whose parents emigrated to USA and thus were born and brought up in USA. 51% male. ~$80k median parental income for Indian Americans and ~$30k for Indian immigrants. I am not going to go deeper into the methodology, that is guaranteed to send you to sleep.

So what did they find out?

  1. Indian immigrants reported stronger racist attitudes towards African Americans than did Indian Americans.
  2. Stronger the identification with other oppressed minorities, the more positive they felt towards African Americans
  3. The beliefs about social status, social hierarchy like caste which are inculcated by Indians growing up in India is a factor in the behaviour of Indian immigrants towards African Americans
  4. More contact with African Americans helped in reducing the level of racism
  5. Indian immigrants do not identify with African Americans in terms of being a minority, they identify themselves more with the White majority.
  6. Holding more positive attitudes toward being Indian was associated with higher levels of modern racism for Indian immigrants, but no relationship was found for Indian Americans.

Quite an interesting set of results there, Sir. Obviously the limitations of the study are pretty obvious. Small sample size in a hothouse university environment, one of the first studies, sample population not representative of overall population, inherent problems with trying to draw conclusions from such a small sample, difficulty in comparing world views of two totally different populations such as Indian immigrants and Indian Americans etc. etc.

But overall, looks like more contact with African Americans helps in reducing racism although India has a very long way to go before it can truly call itself as colour blind and non discriminatory. When people say that you can taken an Indian out of India but you cannot take India out of an Indian, looks like its true, but some of the worse elements you can take out.

Dr. Bhaskar Dasgupta works in the city of London in various capacities in the financial sector. He has worked and travelled widely around the world. The articles in here relate to his current studies and are strictly his opinion and do not reflect the position of his past or current employer(s). If you do want to blame somebody, then blame my sister and editor, she is responsible for everything, the ideas, the writing, the quotes, the drive, the israeli-palestinian crisis, global warming, the ozone layer depletion and the argentinian debt crisis.
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