In India, Racism Begins in School. Textbook Says U for Ugly, Depicts Picture of a Black Man

Social Commentary

In India, Racism Begins in School. Textbook Says U for Ugly, Depicts Picture of a Black Man

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Across the world, the Black Lives Matter movement has been gaining support in what has become a time of reckoning for institutional racism. However, apparently a school in West Bengal has missed out on the memo. A controversy erupted after it was discovered that teachers were using an alphabet book for instructing pre-primary students with the photo of a black man as the appropriate visual representation of “U for ugly”.

To make matters worse, a report by Times Now obtained what appear to be photos of the page in the text book – right next to the word ugly, was the word “uncle”, where a photo of a white man in formal clothes was used as a visual representation, something that could only further entrench the bias against dark-skinned people. The outrage over this obviously racist lesson being taught to young children was triggered when a parent of one of the school’s students came across the offensive content while helping the student with their studies, and alerted other parents as well as the state’s education department.

In response to the controversy, the West Bengal state government suspended two teachers from the school, which is located in the East Burdwan district. Speaking to the media, the state’s Education Minister, Partha Chatterjee, said, “The book is not part of the text books referred by the education department. It was introduced by the school itself. We have zero tolerance for acts which instill prejudices into the minds of students.”

While the fact that the book is not officially referred to by the education department is a source of faint solace, it does raise questions about how many other “unofficial” textbooks are being used in schools across the country, and the kind of content contained within their pages. India is a country where fairness creams are marketed as a solution to many of life’s problems, and the bias against people with dark complexions is not underlying, but overt. And if children are taught that being black equals being ugly as early as pre-primary, that discrimination will not be going away anytime soon.

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