Calling a spade, a spade, or in this case, a bully, a bully isn’t the problem. But being insensitive to cultural nuances is.
Last week, as allegations of UK Home Secretary Priti Patel bullying her staff were levelled by three previous employees, The Guardian came out with a cartoon depicting her as a bully.
The Left-leaning and liberal newspaper is the woke generation’s favourite baby that draws the line between right and wrong, and more often than not, takes a progressive stance on issues. So, it’s bizarre that the editors looked over the cultural sensitivities of depicting an Indian woman as a bull.
Keeping in mind her Hindu identity and Indian origins, many members of the Conservative party deemed the cartoon racist and called out The Guardian for being irresponsible.
This isn’t the first time a ‘progressive’, Left-leaning Western newspaper has come under fire for stereotyping India. In recent memory, at least two cartoons published by The New York Times were called out for their overtly racist tone. One, where an Indian is depicted as a poor farmer with a bullock trying to enter the ‘elite’ space circle. In the second, an elephant acting as a hurdle in the Paris Climate Change agreement.
— Chandra can neither confirm nor deny that he (@NCResq) June 3, 2017
Ah, for all those white men with a superiority complex, who think all of us want to dress, walk and talk like them, brown people’s spunk gets to them. The success and authority of ‘third world’ countries’ are incomprehensible.
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The same men got a taste of their own medicine, though, thanks to cartoonist Sandeep Adhwaryu and ISRO’s fantastic success.
Times of India did it earlier on another of NYT's racist cartoon. pic.twitter.com/ya83Bbx56T
— Justice for Kamlesh 🇮🇳 (@tweetingsourav) April 29, 2019
But when it comes to racist cartoons, one’s ‘favourite’ has to be from The Australian by Bill Leak in 2015 — where an Indian is shown eating China-made solar power panels with mango chutney. This abomination of a cartoon reflective of the white man’s worldview doesn’t even deserve a comment.
— David Pope (@davpope) December 13, 2015
My problem with Western media houses is their woke stance on everything under the sun, but being completely deaf, dumb and blind to other cultures, especially the Eastern countries’ sensibilities. Last year, stand-up comedian and talk show host Trevor Noah, who calls out systemic racism at least five times in his programmes, termed the India-Pakistan conflict a most “entertaining one”. Noah was initially remorseless, but later expressed regret over the remark after much criticism.
Recently, when Tulsi Gabbard tweeted about ‘Hinduphobia’ in the US, she received instant backlash with some rejecting her criticism as merely being the invention of a nationalist. Even if it’s true that Gabbard is a Hindutvavadi who peddles hyper-nationalism, she was talking about discrimination against her community, dismissing which is outrightly wrong.
Problematic, not racist
Here’s the thing: Steve Bell, who drew the cartoon for The Guardian, was ignorant of the sensitivities of the subject at hand, but I don’t believe he was trying to be racist against the Indian-origin Home Secretary. He was depicting her for what she is (or at least what many are insinuating she is) — a bully. The fact that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was lampooned the same way is testament to the cartoonist’s intentions. This is precisely what the racism-crying Conservatives conveniently and deliberately cropped out of their tweets. Perhaps featuring Johnson, the white man who received the same treatment, would’ve watered down their cries of racism.
The allegations against Patel
Sir Philip Rutnam, a senior staffer at the Home Secretaries’ UK office, resigned on 29 February and in a letter detailed the kind of harassment, toxicity and bullying he had to suffer at the hands of Home Secretary Patel. He also pointed out how Patel had resorted to shouting, belittling, condemning her employees on several occasions, something that needs ‘bravery’ to be called out.
After Rutnam’s resignation, two more allegations of workplace harassment and bullying against Patel emerged, both painting a similar pattern of behaviour — a senior who ridicules publicly, shouts at the top of her voice and likes creating unnecessary pressure. Basically, a boss who enjoys making your life hell.
If the allegations against Patel are true, then make no mistake, she is a class A bully — the kind of boss who makes even waking up in the morning difficult, and work suffocating. Such bullies need to be called out.
Bullying isn’t the answer to bullying
While I think interpreting the cartoon as racist is misconstruing the cartoonist’s intentions, the hate and online trolling against Patel was disgusting to say the least.
Tweets were full of racist slurs, crude language and posts that basically amount to bullying, the very thing she is being criticised for. One Twitter user even called her an ‘undesirable immigrant’.
Isn't it time Priti Patel took herself off to India ? She was chucked out of Uganda by Idi Amin – who wouldn't even have her in his cooking pot (he wasn't in to munching curries) – and is only here as an undesirable immigrant.
Much better to replace her with someone from EU. https://t.co/IDoklbBIBQ
— Arthur O'Connor #FBPE (@Chantepoule) February 29, 2020
I feel the tweets were also a true reflection of the hate brewing in the UK against immigrants — something Patel’s party has inflamed time and again.
In denial of racism
Patel, a strong advocate of Brexit, has been instrumental in drafting the final ‘touches’ to the plan along with PM Boris Johnson, and ran a vicious campaign that heavily polarised Great Britain (not an alien concept for Indians at this point). Hate crimes saw a surge after Brexit vote, with 71% of people from ethnic minorities reporting racial discrimination in February 2019, compared with 58% in 2016, according to a study.
Patel has also strongly advocated for and helped implement stringent immigration laws that would limit the entry of ‘unskilled’ labour to Britain, thereby blocking the entry of people exactly like her parents, who migrated to Britain from East Africa.
Patel has been a prominent face of division in the UK, backing and implementing laws that validate a racist’s perspective on many issues. In the midst of all this, Patel has dismissed allegations of racism against PM Johnson and has repeatedly said that there’s no racism in the UK.
The Guardian cartoon calls a bully, a bully. Since Patel is confident that there’s absolutely no racism in Britain, I’m sure she won’t see anything racist in the cartoon either. She should just laugh it off, perhaps check her behaviour and move on.
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