On The Uncomfortable Racism In A Passage To India
It’s hard for me to think that, just 50 years ago, in the decade prior to the one in which I was born, America was segregated. “Separate but equal” laws were prevalent all over the U.S., but especially in the south.
I don’t get racism. The foundations of my faith are based on the premise that someone greater than us created us all equal. The fact that, since the beginning of time, racism has popped its ugly head up all over the world, in all types of races and cultures, just doesn’t make sense to me.
As an American, I’m used to reading about racism within our country over the last century. It always makes me cringe, but it’s nothing new.
However, I haven’t read a lot about racism in other parts of the globe, and that’s what keeps A Passage To India interesting to me.
The novel deals with the tensions between India and Britain during the English’s occupation of India in the early 20th Century. Many Englishmen and Englishwomen moved into India during that period and experienced the Indian people and culture for the first time.
From what I’ve read, A Passage To India does an excellent job of reflecting their attitudes.
One of the most extremely racist characters in the novel is an Englishwoman named Mrs. Turton. Think about the racist women from The Help, add a few decades to their age, make them British, and you have Mrs. Turton.
Here, she tries to convince a younger, more open-minded, progressive woman, Adela, to drink the racist kool-aid. The Ranis are the Indian royalty.
You’re superior to them, anyway. Don’t forget that. You’re superior to everyone in India except one or two of the Ranis, and they’re on an equality.”
Fielding is one of the good guys in the novel. Think of him as an Atticus Finch type character.
He’s a British guy who stands for what he knows to be right, even if that means turning his back on his own people and siding with the Indians. This passage comes fairly early in the novel when E.M. Forster is setting up Fielding as a lone wolf in his beliefs among his English friends.
The remark that did [Fielding] most harm at the club was a silly aside to the effect that the so-called white races are really pinko-grey. He only said this to be cheery, he did not realize that “white” has no more to do with a colour than “God save the King” with a god, and that it is the height of impropriety to consider what it does connote.
McBryde is the British superintendent of police in India, and there’s no other way to say this: He’s a complete jackass.
Think of Tom Buchanan from The Great Gatsby. He has the same persona as McBryde in A Passage To India.
That said, the passage below is something that most of the English occupiers in India would agree with. McBryde simply says what all the others are thinking.
[McBryde] remarked that the darker races are physically attracted by the fairer, but not vice versa – not a matter for bitterness this, not a matter for abuse, but just a fact which any scientific observer would confirm.
To this point, A Passage To India isn’t as much depressing as it is an indictment on human nature. That’s depressing, but in a different way that I can’t quite explain yet.
What’s amazing to me is that this stuff still goes on across the world, nearly 100 years after A Passage To India was written. That’s disheartening.
If you’re interested by issues of race and culture, I think you’ll be interested by this novel. The pacing is slow and the story is fairly simple, but it’s definitely a revealing look into human nature.