Who's Monkey Now?

The Indian fans' gesture is more than an expression of ignorance.

It’s an image as tragic as it is appalling: Indian cricket fans making monkey gestures and noises toward black Australian cricketer Andrew Symonds during a match in India last month.

One might be inclined to dismiss the incident as a stupid fan reaction to Symonds’ arguments with Indian players or to believe that the Indian fans had no racial intent when making the gestures. It would be about as plausible as former Virginia Senator George Allen’s claim that he didn’t know what macaca meant when he called an Indian American by that name.

The Indian fans’ gesture is more than an expression of ignorance. The snapshot of Indian prejudice, broadcast to the world and juxtaposed over Australia’s own problems with racism, is another example of the disconnect between Indians and blacks, despite their shared histories of exploitation by white Europeans. It is a powerful symbol of the animus between formerly colonized people still fighting for the crumbs left behind by imperialism.


In the age of globalization, Indians are more connected to the world than ever before; yet, as a collective, they remain largely ignorant of histories not introduced to them by the country’s British influenced educational system. Young Indians living in Mumbai or New Delhi might watch MTV and rap videos as much as they see Bollywood images, but 50 Cent or Young Jeezy gives them no real understanding of the history of oppression that has kept blacks as the eternal Other.

Perhaps many Indians, particularly those who came of age in the postcolonial turmoil in the 1960s and 1970s, are still scarred by the animosity their countrymen faced in countries such as Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Uganda, Fiji and South Africa. Or perhaps the British were so successful in instilling a sense of superiority over Africans among Indians that it has become almost impossible for them to believe that blacks have a shared humanity, especially since the images exported to India often depict the criminality and hypersexuality of black men.

These images become internalized and Indians who immigrate to countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia have a hard time accepting the idea that the overwhelming majority of blacks – just like the overwhelming majority of whites and Indians – are decent people and law-abiding citizens. As a result, the Indian expatriate community’s inability to educate its counterpart in India has fueled the same perceptions of blacks that have existed since the colonial era, when British racism attempted to legitimize racial caste construction by sub-humanizing darker populations.

This brings us back to the issue of the Indian response to Symonds. Had Symonds played for India or a team in the West Indies, would Indian fans have seen his racial origin and made such insulting gestures? Indian and Sri Lankan players are often just as dark -sometimes darker – as their African and West Indian counterparts, which again begs an answer to the question of how Indians construe blackness.

Ironically, in the days following the Symonds incident, Australian cricket officials urged their cricket fans not to treat Indian players with the same racial insensitivity as the fans in Mumbai had shown Symonds. Perhaps the Indian fans who made the monkey gestures might have realized then that, in the eyes of white Australian cricket fans and in the social discourse that has shaped race in a global context, they are held in equal disdain as blacks.

Who are the monkeys now? The Indian fans need only go to a cricket match in Australia to find out.   

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *