Comrades at Odds: The United States and India, 1947-1964

By Andrew J. Rotter | Go to book overview

4
Race: Americans and Indians, at Home and in
Africa

On landing in Calcutta I was at once surrounded by a crowd of
nearly naked “niggers.”… These gentlemen crowded me so
much with their black, oily bodies, that I found a vigorous beat-
ing with my umbrella necessary to keep them at a respectful dis-
tance.

—Robert B. Minturn, Jr., From New York to Delhi

A colonial situation is created, so to speak, the very instant a
white man, even if he is alone, appears in the midst of a tribe,
even if it is independent, so long as he is thought to be rich or
powerful or merely immune to the local forces of magic, and so
long as he derives from his position, even though only in his
most secret self, a feeling of his own superiority.

—O. Mannoni, Prospero and Caliban

Katherine Mayo’s Mother India had a profound effect on American perceptions of India after 1927. But the first exposure to India for most Americans born between 1900 and 1965, whether they knew it or not, came from Helen Bannerman’s book Little Black Sambo. The story concerns a boy who is given a beautiful set of new clothes by his parents, Black Mumbo and Black Jumbo, then walks off proudly into the jungle. There he is accosted by four tigers, one after the other, each of whom agrees not to eat him in exchange for an article of clothing. Sambo is left with only his dhoti, a skirtlike garment worn by South Indian males. As he stands there crying, Sambo overhears the tigers meet and begin to argue over which of them is “the grandest.” Sambo watches as the tigers remove their clothes, circle each other warily, then seize each other by the tail and

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