To get a head start on filming our interviews, my partner and I left Sai Palace (our hotel) three hours early to catch a rickshaw. Being that it was much earlier than normal, countless drivers refused to pic us up. After maybe 13 attempts, a older modeled vehicle creeped to our rescue. The driver was middle aged and his two front teeth had withered away but he was pleasant. The first thing we noticed was a sign that read ‘hello’ in what must have been 50 different languages.
As we waited to reach our destination, my partner and I discussed our objectives for the shoot. Out of nowhere, in broken, yet confident, english, we heard the phrase “Good Morning”. This was a pleasant surprise, most of the rickshaw drivers we encountered in the past did not speak a word of our language. Personally, his greating gave me insight into how mumbai’s citizens must feel when I attempt to speak hindi. We replied hello. He continued, where are you from. My partner replied “we’re from the United States”. The driver then pointed in my direction, where are you from? I reiterated that I was from America. With a smirk he pointed to my blonde haired classmate and said “Nahi, she america. and you?” At this point I realized – he was either totally oblivious to the fact that there was such thing as an african american or, genuinely, being an asshole. With a flick of his wrist, I got my answer. Pointing to my hand, “black” he shook his head back and forth. “White, America” nodding up and down with an even bigger smirk.
My partner was flabbergasted – but the drivers behaviour didn’t shock me at all. Throughout my entire stay in India, I was constantly reminded just how much the Anglo Saxon physical features are valued and worshiped. From the constant request of locals to take photos with my white travel mates to the heavy presents and availability of hair dyes and skin bleaching creams. I could have acted in a plethora of ways during that situation, but, I simply reassured him that we were both american. I then raised my own finger and pointed in his direction saying, “you can be american too”.
At that moment, I was totally prepared to lecture the driver with a more in-depth lesson but that wasn’t my job. And furthermore it would be a waste of my time, brain cells and breath. I came to india to make documentaries and learn filmmaking techniques. Trying to unteach centuries of white supremacist sentiments in the 3 minutes I had left in the rickshaw would more than likely prove ineffective. Had it been another day at at a different hour, I may have taken the time to exorcise our rickshaw wallah’s ignorance. But Instead, I paid my fee, crossed the courtyard and continued to film a documentary about the inquisitive, cultured and malleable children that will build Mumbai’s stronger tomorrow.