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Blacks, Science And National Pride

By Kancha Ilaiah

Deccan Chronicle
02 July, 2003

As I mentioned in my last column, I bid farewell to the book-carrying ship Logos II and left for Raleigh-Durham of North Carolina State. From San Diego to Raleigh, it is a four-hour flight with a brief stopover at Chicago.

The moment I came out of the Raleigh airport, I saw cars bearing number plates that read “First in Flight”. I did not at once understand what they meant.

Last year, while on a visit to Chicago, the moment I came out of a railway station, I saw cars bearing number plates “Land of Lincoln”. I then thought because of Lincoln’s indomitable stature, the State in which he was born proudly keeps mentioning him as its worthy son.

But what did “First in Flight” mean? Not just one or two number plates, but each and every car registered in that State bore the same logo. On enquiry, I was told that the Wright Brothers, who had invented the aeroplane, belong to the State!

In other words, North Carolina describes itself as the State “First in Flight”. As Lincoln was born in Illinois, the first aeroplane was born in the State of North Carolina. That State, therefore, proclaims it with pride.

If we go by such pride proclamations, Alabama should have adopted “Land of Martin Luther King” as King was born and brought up in that State. But Alabama has not done that so far. Though Martin Luther King’s birthday is a national holiday, his own State has not become the “Land of King”.

Racism has its own room in America even now. At the same time, it is being fought with all the strength of the Black population.

The Whites as a social mass positively respond to the anti-racist struggles and discourses. Some of them even join hands with Blacks in their day-to-day protests against racism.

The anti-racism bent of the White Democrats has been part of the intellectual tradition of Americans. North Carolina is not only the birthplace of aeroplanes, it is the birthplace of racism too. Early import of slaves began in that State, and slavery expanded therefrom.

Slavery then became an all-American phenomenon. It slowly acquired an international dimension. The Black labourers built the American economy bit by bit, and made it very powerful indeed.

Many European Whites who migrated to America slowly came under the influence of the English language. Of course, Christianity being the common religion, it also constructed a common bridge of culture among all Americans. Consequently, they do not have diverse food cultures from State to State, as we do in India.

In our country, Gujaratis are very fundamentalist vegetarians and sweetmeat-eaters; Punjabis are roti, onion and dal eaters. South Indians are basically rice-eaters and prefer chillis and tamarind. But the huge expanse of the American continent seems to have acquired a common multi-cultural food habit, with beef and bread as the staples.

I kind of discovered Timothy Kasbe, a Dalit from Maharashtra with boundless talent, now living in Raleigh. He heads the marketing section of IBM, one of the world’s largest computer and software companies. This company sent Kasbe for the Duke MBA course, which is one of the costliest courses in the world.

The Duke University has a very prestigious Fuqua School of Business Management that offers specialised courses in different forms of business management.

Kasbe told me that IBM had paid $150,000 towards his two-year MBA course fees and other expenses. He now feels proud about his prestigious MBA degree, thanks to his company.

The Dean’s office of the School of Business Management interviewed me in its studio. That video interview, I am told, will be shown to all their students on the reopening day of the university.

After the interview was over, Kasbe took me to the Duke basketball stadium and told me that the university produces world class basketball players. The Duke University basketball team has so far been America’s best team.

Quite interestingly, all the basketball players are either Blacks or coloured African-Americans. There is not a single player whose height is less than seven feet. I was told that the sports department had made it a policy to recruit only African-Americans who combine both physical and mental abilities.

Normally, the sports departments of the universities compromise with academic standards as far as players are concerned, but the Duke University does not.

Hence these African-American youth get the best of jobs in all companies, as they bring laurels to their companies through their talent in sports, and also work well thanks to their excellent intellect and good academic training.

The Duke University is a private university established by a tobacco baron. At the beginning, it was started as a theological training centre. Then it diversified, expanded and became one of the world’s best universities in many fields — particularly medicine and business management.

In every branch of the University, the African-Americans get their quota of seats and they have been excelling in many fields, including medicine and business management. Probably, a society that feels guilty about the social inequality it constructed, is now looking for ways and means to remove such inequality.

In many countries, religion gives rise to a feeling of guilt, and in many cases, a soul-searching self that certainly evolves some positive social values.

Hinduism is the only religion that never allowed its priestly caste and other social forces closely associated with it to let in the feeling of guilt, even about the practice of untouchability for centuries.

Even now, there is no such soul-searching among Hindus. That is one of the reasons why there is a consistent opposition to reservations for the lower castes.

In sports and other cultural activities, perhaps our tribals, Dalits and OBCs would have brought laurels to the nation, if only they were given preference as the Duke University gives to the Blacks.

All the major universities in America — including Harvard — were private universities and most of them were started as theological centres. Subsequently, they expanded and diversified their educational structure.

We must then ask why did Indian industrialists not establish good universities? We have industrialists like Birla who make business out of temples, but they never established a university that could become a model university.

Capitalism also should have its capitalistic welfare ethics. Within the broad framework of democracy, capitalism should establish efficient, diversified educational institutions, which can produce intellectuals of plural backgrounds.

Such positive capitalist ethics evolves in a civil societal environment where the basic consciousness of spiritual democracy expands. Indian capitalism functions in an environment of spiritual fascism. That is the reason why its sense of science is also very slow.

Things like Illinois State taking pride in Lincoln for abolishing slavery and North Carolina lauding the invention of the aeroplane become possible when even a tobacco baron like Duke thinks of establishing an efficient university that locates talents among all sections of the people.

Science develops only in an environment where all kinds of talents have been harnessed with equal opportunities. In America, the Black talent is being harnessed in every possible way.

In India, such an environment has not been created. The Indian institutions think that the productive communities are not worthy enough to be promoted in every sphere of life. It is here that our scientific temper suffers a lot.