Friday, March 9, 2007

Social, Racial, and Economic Hierarchies in Mississippi Masala

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.


SamFelsing1 said...

I don't think that Mina's culture was against marrying or dating someone outside their race. I think that they were bitter towards people with black skin because of their circumstances. Having been thrown out of a country by people of that skin color, it was somewhat natural for them to feel that way. Since they were bitter, they probably ostracized Demetrius. I think the last speech that Demetrius gives to Mina's father was supposed to make us believe this. I am curious to know what her family would have felt if Mina dated a white man. Would they have they felt the same way about the white man as they did Demetrius? It is possible they would have felt better because of they didn't have as much history with white skinned people. However, considering Mina says in the movie that the hotel gets customers all the time, probably white, who say "Not another damn Indian," I imagine there would be some opposition from her family.

Deborah Arroyo said...

I think Indian women (in this movie) are supposed to marry Indian men. Because if they were really free to love and marry whomever they want then why does it seem like the one Indian girl who gets married isn't interested in her husband or happy with the marriage? She doesn't even want to be intimate with him. I think that there is much pressure to marry within her (Mina's) own race and marrying outside of it is taboo.

lauren_oliver said...

Why do you think Demetrius is more successful than some of the other Black people in his community? What makes him different? I would then ask you the same regarding Meena. Why is it that these two people could get past the things that nobody else could seem to get past. I don’t think that Demetrius or Meena are as economically successful as they are emotionally successful. Demetrius and Meena are the only truly happy characters in the entire movie. Everyone else is running from something or trying to be something they are not. How does this play into the racism that they experience from their own people? I think all of these questions must be explored when looking into why they face this opposition.

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