By Marissa Johnson
People often view Gandhi as a great proponent of peace and a fighter for the struggle against British infringement upon Indian rights. What is often ignored in the discussion of this great figure is that he made several racist comments against #black people.
He is quoted as saying “A general belief seems to prevail that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa.” That’s a pretty harsh assessment of black people.
Gandhi later says that all kaffirs [a derogatory term for black people] want to do is hunt, buy wives, and lived naked, lazy lives. However, in India arranged marriages for profit are not uncommon. Making fun of Africans for supposedly buying wives is the pot calling the kettle black. That’s hypocrisy.
Yet again, Gandhi made racist comments, saying that it is necessary to make “colored” servants become registered because black people are lazy and either don’t work or perform their jobs poorly.
Gandhi seems to think putting black people down to make the Indians look better is okay. He adheres to the stereotype that black people are lazy. However, one must keep in mind that Gandhi was speaking in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s before the civil rights movement had taken hold. He also had not had much exposure to the outside world at that point. So is he forgiven for his ignorance?
Gandhi’s ignorant inflammatory comments against black people did not end there. He calls Indians “infinitely superior to the Kaffirs.” He complained about overcrowded, unsanitary conditions for the Indians.
But, his other primary grievance was with being forced to share space with black people. “There is, too, a very large Kaffir population in the Location for which there really is no warrant.”
Gandhi also was opposed to the mixing of the black and Indian races, which he said he feels “strongly” about. He said it’s unfair to Indians and that it test Indians’ patience to have to deal with black people.
Gandhi also seemed to believe that black people were like children. In that way, he seems to subscribe to the slave master’s justification for #slavery as being a paternalistic mission as black people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
Gandhi said black people can be “pleased with toys and pins” unlike the Indians.
Then, Gandhi calls black people “as a rule uncivilized…They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals. They often started wars and fought among themselves.” So he also believed the stereotype that black people are violent, loud and animalistic.
The Atlanta Black Star published these quotes on its website. Commenters seemed furious that this part of Gandhi’s history had been omitted from popular conscience.
Prisama Vanadhan, a commenter, called Gandhi a “non-violent Hitler” and pointed out Gandhi’s views on race relations evolved as he gained more exposure to the black plight after a trip to South America.
So is Gandhi’s racism excused because of the time he lived in? Should he be held accountable for those views? Should he be celebrated as a hero like he has been?