As I watched Mississippi Masala I constructed a pyramid shaped figure of the social and racial hierarchies I saw in this film. Since we didn’t get too deep into discussion about it I would like to share some more thoughts with the class about these hierarchies.
I like this movie because not only do we see the traditional racial struggle of whites v. blacks in this film but, as mentioned in class, we see colored v. colored as well. There is Indian v. Black, Black v. Black, and Indian V. Indian. The racism in this film consists of personal racism, interpersonal racism, and even institutional racism.
The whites restaurant owner in this film makes several comments about how she and her husband helped Demetrius get the bank loan by vouching for him. It seems like Demetrius and his father are constantly trying to keep these people happy. He goes into the bank dressed professionally to discuss his loan, at the end he is threatened with repossession if the loan is not paid off within a week or so. Demetrius tries to keep the whole white community around him to respect him and see him differently than the average black person. It didn’t matter that Demetrius is current on his payments but, when it comes down to it, the only difference they see in him is his skin color, not the fact that he has been a good responsible business person.
The beginning of the film begins with the Ugandan government kicking out Indians from the country (institutionalized racism). This is the first example of colored v. colored racism. When it came down to it, it was the fact that they were Indian that caused them to have to leave the country; it wasn’t just that they were “non-native”. Once they go to the United States we see that the Indians are very protective of their community and outsiders, like Demetrius, are not welcomed in. I don’t know if this necessarily means that they saw themselves superior to blacks, but it definitely shows that they acknowledge the difference and that it is not acceptable for Mina, or any other Indian person, to marry a non-Indian.
The whole community disapproves when Mina and Demetrius are caught together. Not only were whites upset, but Indians and blacks too. There was mention of “the rules” which the two lovers broke. This shows me personal racism, which is each individual acknowledging and accepting their place in this racial hierarchy. Demetrius’ partner knows that it is very difficult to break these roles and that is why he chooses to leave Mississippi.
Among the black community Demetrius is criticized (black v. black). He is not only criticized for loving Mina, but simply because he has had more success than was usual for a black person at that time. The barber tells Demetrius “black folks don’t like to see other black folks do good”. I don’t think he was just referring to Demetrius’ financial success, but his overall happiness with his life.
As far as Indian v. Indian goes, the scene that stood out the most for me was the wedding scene. Mina, who is a “darkie”, is criticized because not only is she dark, but she is poor, and therefore she doesn’t deserve the most eligible bachelor in the Indian community. Before this I didn’t know that fair skinned Indians were seen as more desirable. Why do you think this is so? Perhaps it is because fair skinned Indians are a closer shade to white than their “darkie” counter parts.
The hierarchies in this film are not simple. I’m sure they can be broken down further than what I have presented here. But, I am amazed at how many angles of racism are present in this film, not just the traditional angle, but even more complex angles that I didn’t even know existed.