Hasan Minhaj opens up conversations on race among South Asians

Two months ago, I linked to an excellent special episode of Hasan Minhaj’s show Patriot Act following the murder of George Floyd where he discussed racism. In particular he discussed the racism and colorism that is found in South Asian communities. He spoke about the derogatory term ‘kalu’ used in India for not only black people but fellow Asians who happened to have darker skin. That clip has prompted some discussions about this problem.

It turns out that former West Indian cricket captain Darren Sammy had heard the term used for him by some of his Indian teammates when was playing in the Indian Premier League. He had assumed that it was an affectionate nickname that had been coined just for him and it was only after he saw Minhaj’s clip that he realized that people he had viewed as teammates and even friends had been using a slur right to his face.

He demanded an apology and after some discussions, seems to have resolved the issue.

“I’m please to say that I’ve had a really interesting conversation with one of the guys and we are looking at ways to educate rather than focusing on the negatives. My brother reassured me that he operated from a place of love and I believe him,” Sammy tweeted.

“Don’t get me wrong I’m not condoning what was done/said. I’m saying let’s use this opportunity to educate each other so it doesn’t happen again. One can only apologize if he/she feels wrong about something. I’m confident & proud to be black. That will never change,” Sammy said.

Sammy’s allegation of being addressed with a racist a nickname was lent credence by an old social media post of his then SRH teammate Ishant Sharma in which ‘Kalu’ was used to identify the West Indian in a group photograph.

The Black Lives Matter protests have led to highlighting the colorism problem that plagues the subcontinent with Bollywood celebrities promoting skin whitening products.

Several Bollywood stars have been labelled “hypocrites” after speaking out against racism to lend support to global protests while promoting products in India designed to make people’s skin lighter.

The actors were also trolled and accused of “cowardice” for their refusal to call out the attacks on India’s minorities, mainly Muslims, while protesting against the killing of George Floyd in the United States.

India’s multibillion-dollar skin lightening industry has a host of products appearing to offer dark-skinned Indians a lighter, fairer and ostensibly “better” version of themselves, often endorsed by the Bollywood’s top actors.

The roots of the colorism problem in South Asia run very deep and will be hard to erase.

I sent that clip around to people I know in the Sri Lankan community because the same problem is widespread there too. In Sinhala, the language spoken by the majority in Sri Lanka, ‘kalu’ translates as black and is not by itself derogatory but it has a derivative that refers to a dark skinned person and can be construed as a slur.


  1. says

    As I understand it (and please correct me if I’m wrong), quite a number of those celebrities promoting skin lighteners/whiteners have had their skin tone lightened in photographs and video.

    So not only is it hypocritical to condemn racism while profiting off of it, but they’re also selling ineffective snake oil using lies made credible by photographic deceptions.

    It’s pretty Freuding horrible.

  2. tororosoba says

    When apartheid was still in full swing, I (mainstream central European) traveled to South Africa and was appalled and saddened to find products for lightening skin and de-curling hair in supermarkets. Obviously light skin was (and perhaps still is?) associated with success and being the master, and dark skin the opposite. To an extent that people are ready to give up their self-pride.

  3. says

    I’m really happy about the way Minhaj has been killing it since the journalist’s ball speech. He’s brilliant and funny and explains things really well. He and John Oliver are anchors of sanity in these times.

  4. johnson catman says

    Marcus @3: And they both came from the school of Jon Stewart. Like many of Stewart’s cohorts from his tenure at The Daily Show, they are smarter than most MSM “journalists” and effective communicators.

  5. Mano Singham says

    johnson catman,

    Don’t forget another alumnus from that show, Samantha Bee, who is also doing excellent work.

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