Brown: The colour of toil but non-acceptance across the West? (Book Review)
Title: Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today
Means (to Everyone); Author: Kamal Al Solaylee; Publisher: Harper
Collins Publishers; Pages: 344; Price: Rs 599
All our social development and our technological advancements don't seem enough
to eradicate our long-persisting atavistic sense of difference based on
appearance, which though long-suppressed is now emerging free from its
restraints -- as proved by the recent intemperate comments by US President
Donald Trump on immigrants from a certain set of countries.
Trump's thinking, as seen in his off-the-cuff remarks, underscore that the
questionable classification of race, expressed by the obviously evident and
inescapable feature of a person's skin, is well alive -- and extends beyond the
white-black binary. What about the yellow, or rather, the (as necessary for
global economy but far more exploited) brown?
Trump is only one leading manifestation of the malaise facing brown people --
which include West Asians, Latin Americans, North Africans, and South and
Southeast Asians -- and far beyond the West too or from the "Whites", says
Yemeni-origin, Egypt-bred, Canadian journalist-turned-academician Al Solaylee in
Trump's victory "largely (but not exclusively)" rode on demonising Mexicans,
galvanising sentiment against Muslims and championing white nationalism, the
vote for Brexit was mostly pioneered by those with a restrictive view of
Englishness, the record of Canada under Stephen Harper's Conservatives -- all
these are obscure racial conflicts brewing in the US and Europe for decades now.
"Examine these tensions closely and you'll find a strong anti-brown sentiment at
the core," says Al Solaylee as he traces the response to, as well as the
experiences of, the residents of Global South, who are forced to migrate to --
and much needed in -- the Developed North for various reasons, not least of
which is the latter's colonial record.
"Brown as the colour of cheap labour continues on a global scale... brown bodies
undertake the work that white and older immigrant Americans refuse to do (and
that black slaves were forced to do in previous centuries). These are low-skill,
labour-intensive jobs in unforgiving climates," he says, but also that these are
not limited to the Western nations but also in the more affluent parts of Asia
"This is now our destiny as brown people. Our labour is needed, but citizenship
is denied; our presence as Muslims or religious minorities is offered as an
example of the tolerant, diverse societies in which we live, but we continue to
be feared," says Al Solaylee.
And there is no difference whether this is deliberate or mistaken as he goes to
cite the cases of the racist slurs on Sikh volunteers feeding the homeless in
Manchester in the wake of the May 2017 terror attack, or the fatal shooting of
Indian techie Srinivas Kuchibhotla in the US in February 2017 by an American who
thought he and his friend were Iranians and screaming at them to "get out of his
Al Solaylee contends we think of brown as a "continuum, a grouping -- a
metaphor, even -- for the millions of darker-skinned people who, in broad
historical terms, have missed out on the economic and political gains of the
post-mobility, equality and freedom". They are now living, he says, among former
colonial masters where they are "transforming themselves from nameless
individuals with swarthy skins into neighbours, co-workers and friends".
And it is their story he tells -- both in their homes from the Philippines to
Sri Lanka and workplaces from Hong Kong to the Gulf as well as Western Europe
and North America.
Al Solaylee, however, starts with first recounting his own childhood experience
on learning he is brown after seeing a English movie featuring a white child and
coming to terms with "brownnes"" in his journeys around the world and
interactions with other browns (fairness creams figure largely as well as the
concern that he settle down) as well as brown's significance in nature and
He then takes up the human obsession with race, despite the concept being
debunked, except in politics before his exploration of the experiences and
consequences of being brown around the world.
A stirring travelogue, incisive social and political comment and a passionate
cry to rise above unavoidable consequences of geography and genes, this
invaluable work rises in importance beyond its subject to be a seminal guide to
the world today -- and what it will soon be -- particularly the US.
TAGS: Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone)
, book review
, Kamal Al Solaylee