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Theodore Larkin

April 25, 2013


English 2:30
Mary Grabar
George Schuyler and Untouchability
George Schuyler was a black journalist and a strong proponent for African American
rights. Schuyler was known for social commentary on issues regarding racial discrimination and
segregation. Schuyler wrote in a weekly column in the Pittsburgh Courier, a Black newspaper
published in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in which he discussed his views on social trends and
events pertaining to African Americans at the time. On February 2, 1957, the Courier published
an article by Schuyler commenting on the analogous plights of the Indian untouchables and
African Americans. He comments on the heinous practice of untouchability in India in relation to
racial discrimination in the United States. This essay highlights many parallels between the
plight of the black American and the untouchable Indian, but Schuyler ultimately argues that in
many ways Black Americans have a better chance to overturn the racism of new country then
their lower caste brethren in India.
Untouchability is the act of ostracizing a minority group of people based on an
identifying characteristic such as religion, race, or language. In India, this group of people is
known as the Dalit, from the Sanskrit word meaning "crushed" or "broken." Since the countrys
roots, Dalits have been discriminated against and socially segregated. When India was first
settled, these untouchables, as they have become known, were indigenous to the land. Given
the Hindu caste system, the Dalits were unable to be incorporated, and were thus victimized as
an inferior group of people.
Social organization and societal evolution in Hinduism does not rely on the idea that the
religious question of existence is solved through a belief in God. Instead, Hindus believe that

each human soul is a product of God himself. When an individual dies, he or she is born again
into a caste according to his or her previous life actions. If a person acts righteously in
compliance to Hindu laws, he or she will move up a caste in their next life. On the other hand, if
a person acts sinfully, he or she will be demoted in caste. The untouchables, who represent about
one quarter of the Indian population, were considered outcasts and thus subjected to social
discrimination. Untouchables were not allowed to walk on several streets in India, were not
permitted to worship in certain temples, and were treated similarly to lepers.
During the 1950s, untouchability was a great controversy worldwide but especially in
India, much of the untouchable population decided it was time to fight back towards their
oppressors. After the rumblings of protest and growing support from influential individuals
such as Gandhi, the untouchables were able to grab societal attention and have their opinions
considered in the political realm. In 1950, the national constitution of India officially abolished
the practice of untouchability. At this time, the national constitution also prohibited separating
public services, such as roads and educational institutions. Although these laws had been
enacted, discrimination towards the untouchables persisted throughout the 1950s.
The corrupt politics in India specifically piqued the interest of George Schuyler. In his
article published in the Pittsburgh Courier on February 2, 1957, Schuyler provides an
assessment on the Indian perspective towards American societal values, specifically racial
discrimination. He begins his article asserting that many Indians who visit the United States are
extremely hypocritical towards American way of life. When Prime Minster Pandit Nehrus
daughter, Indira Gandhi, came to the United States, she visited a youth house in New York.
Here, several juvenile delinquents had been detained. Several of the inmates had pin-up pictures
from magazines showcased on the walls of their cells. Gandhi said she became depressed

when she saw the vulgarities hanging on the walls of the cells. She questioned why they were
permitted to post those sex pictures. Schuyler claims this is incredibly hypocritical considering
many Hindu temples display explicit images and sculptures. He sarcastically says that any
American would become equally as depressed as Indira Gandhi did if he or she were to see
young, innocent Indian girls worshipping and idolizing the aforementioned figures (Schuyler).
Schuyler continues by explaining how Indians are also generally hypocritical in the way
they condemn racial discrimination and segregation. Referring to untouchability, he asserts,
the situation in India is so much worse as to beggar comparison. Although laws have been
made and bills have been passed in order to diminish the practice, Schuyler explains, this
law is less effective than our Constitution in Mississippi. In other words, he is saying that the
untouchable outcasts in India are far worse off than ill-treated African Americans in the United
States. He supports his argument by referencing a South African Nationalist newspaper
supporting apartheid. The editor of the newspaper visited India and was genuinely shocked by
the condition of these Indian sub-men. Additionally, Schuyler notes how ironic it is that
untouchables are discriminated against considering many of them, particularly Dr. Ambedkar
(Ph.D. from Columbia University), are tremendously successful and influential people. He ends
the article saying that the critics abroad should observe and reflect on their own countries
before they bash the United States (Schuyler). Schuyler writes that, like African Americans,
untouchables were segregated, denied ready access to education, restricted from public
transportation, turned away from religious temples, disallowed from certain jobs, streets and
neighborhoods, and otherwise disenfranchised and economically oppressed.
Despite these clear class similarities, Schuyler uses the plight of Indian untouchables to
demonstrate that the situation of the black American is more hopeful. Indeed, Schuyler was an

iconoclast and contrarian that rejected Malcolm X and other militant black leaders. His
personally philosophy was that American blacks "had it better than any other blacks in the
world." Schuyler proclaimed this conservative perspective even further by describing how the
caste situation of the Indian untouchables was far worse than that of most American blacks. One
example he uses is one of religious context: Unlike the authentic Christian perspective of Jesus
embracing the outsider, the tax collector, the prostitute, the sinner, and the leper, Hinduism has
no such mandate to care for the poor untouchables of society. Hinduism taught acceptance of a
caste system that is fixed at birth and one's caste could only be changed "in the next life." Castes
in practice seemed to be perpetuated from both had a sense of "you get what you deserve" and a
sense of predestination. Many in the lowest of Indian castes have sought emancipation through
conversion to Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism. While race is also fixed at birth, American
blacks have some chance, however restricted, to engage in the meritocracy of America and
advance their station in this life without awaiting the next.
While moderate-conservative thinkers like George Schuyler had an insightful perspective
during the Civil Rights Movement, his wisdom and name has often been forgotten as more
colorful and militant names like MLK and Malcolm X are adorned in inner city schools and are
the focus of "black history month." History books are full of archetypal leaders and extremists
who write their names therein at the expense of peace. As a native of Pittsburgh, PA, who has
neither read nor even heard of the George Schuyler's Pittsburgh Courier, I am somewhat
ashamed that my own ignorance is a microcosm of the larger problem that both racism and
untouchability represent.

Source:
Schuyler, George S. "Views and Reviews." Pittsburgh Courier (1957).
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