Tejaswin Shankar interview: Racism is not a black and white issue; Indians need to re-examine their view of the world
Despite the fact that the majority of these events are unfolding several thousand kilometres away from India, Tejaswin Shankar stressed in an interview with Firstpost that Indians also stand to learn something from the current situation
Over the course of the past three weeks, the United States has been embroiled in conflict, with protests erupting across the nation in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder at the hands of four police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The incident has raised several questions over the continuous and systemic racism that African-Americans have had to endure for several hundred years, and has also led to a number of serious discussions being held in the sporting world, with the likes of the Premier League and the NFL recently showing their support for 'Black Lives Matter'.
However, despite the fact that the majority of these events are unfolding several thousand kilometres away from India, high-jump national record holder Tejaswin Shankar stressed in an interview with Firstpost that Indians also stand to learn something from the current situation, saying, "people think that in America, right now, it’s a black vs white argument, that as Indians, we don’t have anything to do with this.
"But when a foreigner comes to India, those same people will say things like 'dekho kaala aa gaya'. That’s racism too, but we don’t talk about it here, we openly say things like ‘chinki’ and ‘kaala’ and nobody seems to have a problem with it. Maybe it's time we also tried to combat these issues."
"I mean, we’re in 2020, and we’re talking about going to Mars, and there are still people discriminating against others for their skin colour. How does that make sense? It’s ridiculous. It’s so unfortunate that people are still thinking like this. How can something like the George Floyd incident be happening anymore? There’s no place for this anymore," he added.
Tejaswin also admitted to having had similar thoughts in the past, saying, "Having lived in India, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t ever said anything that was racist. I think making the move to America and learning about the different forms of racism from peers and professors at college has broadened my understanding of the issues. I never thought about these things when I was in India, because I was in a place where it was accepted and wasn't questioned, but now that I’m not there, I think I’ve understood what I’ve contributed to this problem."
When asked if he was ever personally discriminated against on the basis of skin colour, the 21-year-old replied in the negative, saying, "If you personally ask me if I’ve been the victim of racism during my time here, I would be lying if I said yes. But I’m someone who’s come here as a university student, I’m a member of this community. I’ve never really heard anyone say anything about me, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not happening to other people."
Tejaswin, who is currently studying business administration at Kansas State University, also noted the lack of diversity in business, saying, "I’m studying accounts and finance, and there are so many examples of systemic racism in this field. The majority of Wall Street CEOs at the moment are white, the board of directors are white, the organisations are mostly white. That’s why someone like Indra Nooyi stands out so much, because she’s an outlier, because it’s so rare for someone like her to be in a position like that."
With COVID-19 having grounded much of international travel, Tejaswin has spent the last few months in Kansas. "I’ve thought about coming back home so many times, but that’s all it is, just thoughts that never really materialise into something concrete. I have to take one flight, maybe two to get back, and then after that I’ll probably have to spend some time in quarantine, and I can’t even go home, because my grandmother is quite old. There are a lot of variables to consider. Another thing is the availability of a track and equipment," he said.
Despite being far away from home, the JSW athlete has been keeping his spirits high and focusing on training, saying, "I've been doing good. We weren't able to use the facilities in my university in the first few weeks, because everything was shut down, but it wasn't as bad as India where I'm situated, in Manhattan Kansas; there are barely 2,000,000 people in the whole state of Kansas.
"The facilities in the university were closed, so I had to find someplace to train and stay in some sort of shape. Luckily, I was able to find a gym, so I didn’t lose anything when it came to training."
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