When is a Vindaloo not a Vindaloo?
According to some reports about 17,000 people joined in Tuesday’s Vindaloo Against Violence event to demonstrate solidarity with the Australian-Indian community, following a number of apparently racist attacks against Indian nationals—mainly students—in Melbourne.
Now this strikes me as mainly a consciousness-raising exercise. No, it probably won’t have much effect on its own, but 17,000 agreeing to do something (admittedly something with very little cost to themselves) creates a community of sorts, and fosters a sense of solidarity with Indian students and with other people who abhor racist violence.
I started thinking about then when I came across a discussion on Twitter with a couple of people, including Barry Saunders, who asked the question:
While I appreciate the gesture behind Vindaloo against Violence, isn’t reducing Indian culture to, um, buying a curry, a bit problematic?
This is a good question. For a start, Vindaloo was originally a Portuguese dish, and is largely unknown in India, being far more popular in Anglophone countries. As DPN pointed out on Twitter, it is ironic that this was the dish chosen to be emblematic: it underlines the huge gulf of understanding between many Australians and their India guests.
But there is another aspect to the event that I want to think about. The event, worthy as it might be, runs the risk of being seen as little more than a middle-class conscience-salve, in which a public but fairly minor action takes the place of any more concrete or politically significant action. Is there any value in this sort of action? Kirsty_l on Twitter thinks so:
I don’t think it is necessarily a reduction. It’s potentially common ground which is a good starting place.
Like many people, I think, I’m at a loss to understand how to combat society-wide things like racism and violence. But solidarity and consciousness-raising does seem like a good start.
But I wonder whether these things run the risk of actually de-politicising the very thing they are striving to make political? If we eat the curry, join the Facebook group, and add the Twibbon to our profile photo, have we done enough? Some people, I suspect, would say yes. Or maybe say, “I’ll do something more proactive when I’ve got time.”
Fair enough, not everyone has the time or personality to be an activist, but the middle-class conscience-salve of choice used to be that you’d join Greenpeace, or give few dollars to some guy in a koala suit. Sure, these things still happen, and a whole lot more. But in the age of charity fatigue it’s easy to click a button, or change your restaurant for the night, and feel that you’ve done something worthwhile.
Is a night at a restaurant, with 17,000 registered attendees a better form of protest than an old fashioned street-march with maybe a few thousands? Not, of course, that the two mutually exclusive. Do the thousands of people who have joined Facebook tribute pages for the two recent, high-profile murder victims actually make a difference?
I certainly don’t know, but I’d be interested in your thoughts.