Empire and Degradation

Rafia Zakaria in The Baffler:

The thought of white men imagining all of brown women’s sexuality being available to them for purchase came to me following more recent historic revelations. On September 3, the New York Times published an article detailing President Richard Nixon’s racist comments regarding Indian women. “Undoubtedly the most unattractive women in the world are the Indian women,” he said at one point. Later he remarked, “They turn me off. They are repulsive and it’s just easy to be tough with them.” Notably, the latter came during tense discussions between Nixon and the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the topic of avoiding war with Pakistan.

Indira Gandhi was not trying to seduce Nixon, but such perhaps is the enduring state of the white male imagination, that all Indian women are prostitutes who must show up twice a month for genital exams or face fines and prison sentences. Nixon certainly couldn’t tolerate the idea he would have to negotiate as an equal with India’s female prime minister.  All his notions about white superiority, however deeply embedded, came to the fore. If he wasn’t “saving” a brown woman and she didn’t guarantee her subordination to him, he found her “repulsive.”

In fact, both Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, held deeply prejudicial attitudes toward the people of India and Pakistan, as White House tapes of their closed-door sessions would document. There is a straight line between the dehumanization we see in the British colonial history and that of Nixon and Kissinger—and the results in 1971 should not be forgotten. After Bengali nationalists in East Pakistan won a democratic election, the Pakistani regime engaged in a brutal crackdown. As author Gary Bass described it in the Times, “Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger staunchly supported the military regime in Pakistan as it killed hundreds of thousands of Bengalis, with 10 million refugees fleeing into neighboring India.” Just as British and American colonialists were unable to accord women their full humanity, they proved capable of the next step too: shrugging off genocide when it seemed “necessary” for their geopolitical strategies.

More here.