Why I don’t feel threatened by racist Americans

[Before you read this, go here. Read the post, and the comments. Then come back and you will understand why this item has this particular heading.]

IN TIMES of economic gloom, the people in any country tend to blame the outsider for the malaise that is eating into their vitals, spoiling the good times and generally ensuring that an air of gloom hangs over proceedings.

When things turn particularly bad, people tend to even turn to lynching the outsider. In the US of A, 46 million people are living below the poverty line (nearly 15 per cent of the population if one goes by the last census figure of a population of 307,006,550) and the economy is shot to pieces. In this climate, the foreigner becomes an easy target.

Thus it does not surprise me that an American programmer by the name of John Larson chose to write a piece titled “Why I will never feel threatened by programmers in India”.

As an aside, one must mention that Larson is a web developer. His venture is probably not getting as much business as he would like, the reason being that work is outsourced to India. The man is annoyed about it. Hence his little rant.

Larson’s thesis is basically that Indian programmers churn out poor quality work; the rate per hour is low but given the number of hours that are consumed, things ultimately turn out to be more expensive. And, in the end, they often do not work. The code is of poor quality and, judging from three projects which he himself encountered, he decided that an entire nation had to be damned. Of course, only a fool would generalise about an entire nation from three examples; I would hesitate to do so even if it were about a village with a population of just 1000. But Larson is a programmer.

Larson’s argument is nothing new. I wrote this piece seven years ago and, at a time when blogs were in their infancy, received 29 long emails in response, 28 against what I had written and a single email in support. There is a link to a similar article at the bottom of this piece. Larson was not revealing anything new; Indian outsourcing companies are best at handling drudge work. All the good programmers in the country leave and go abroad to work for foreign companies; now they work for foreign companies in India.

It was an American tech trainer who once said “ninety-five per cent of programmers are idiots.” Pinku Surana even went so far as to say that that figure could be higher. He never spoke a truer word. Programmers only have to learn to write a Hello World statement and after that they generally feel that they have understood all the mysteries of human existence. About the only thing they cannot do is to turn water into wine. They can turn it into urine, though. They contemplate life’s most complex problems as one would a piece of chocolate fudge. And when it comes to blaming the outsider, they are at their very best.

After he published this piece of modern-day literature, Larson was taken aback somewhat by the scale of the reaction. He realised that he had let his true feelings show and that inside he was rather a racist. He then changed the title of his piece to Why I Will Never Feel Threatened by Cheap Overseas Programming.

His change of heart is not surprising. Whether one likes it or not, there are 1.2 billion Indians around the world, more than a seventh of the human race. One is bound to come up against them here or there. For a man like Larson, who is touting for business as a web developer, it would hurt his business prospects if he were perceived as a racist. One has to make ends meet; one cannot live on love and fresh air with the occasional bit of racism thrown in.

Racism is common around the world these days. Having travelled as much as I have, I have experienced it in a myriad forms. Blaming the outsider has always been a form of escaping reality and trying to justify one’s own self-worth.

But it has not served any worthwhile purpose. My response to his article was:

All that you have done is provide an outlet for a bunch of frustrated Americans to exercise their feel-good complex and assert, “Maan, them Indian fekkers, them can’t do nuthin’ right.”

Doubtless you thought you were making a unique contribution to the debate around outsourcing. All that emerged was cheap, racist sentiment. And then, scared by the genie you had unleashed, you took a step back and realised what you were and what you had done. At that point, you had to make yourself look like the good ole American who’s from the land of the brave and the free (and all that other shit which is spouted ad infinitum). You can’t unscramble an egg, old chap. The damage is done.

Only a fool would even try to generalise about a country of 1.2 billion.

I’m writing an article titled “Why I don’t feel threatened by racist Americans.” You might like to come by and comment when it’s done.

It took a while for that to be accepted; I had to write and ask what had happened and remind the man that he was claiming not to have rejected any comments, no matter how severe.

Larson’s piece has generated a lot of comment. It was featured on the echo chamber called Slashdot, where a large number of idiots gather to reinforce their prejudices.

There are numerous reasons why outsourced projects fail. Communication can be a problem; English is a highly ambiguous language and American bizspeak is not exactly the easiest lingo to understand. There are cultural issues and also plain laziness to deal with. But as Larson did, one cannot simplify this into a George Bush-type “you are with us or you are with the terrorists” credo. It is orders of magnitude more complex.

For people who refer to the corruption in India, my response would be to watch the documentary film Inside Job which details the genesis and fallout of the global financial crisis. After watching corruption of that magnitude if anyone can say that the US is not the most corrupt nation on the face of the earth, I would be extremely surprised. People who live in glass houses… but then you know the rest of that.

There are shonky workers in every single nation and the US is no exception; some of the worst workers I have had to deal with have been Americans. But I would be the last person to condemn a country because of a few individuals. For that you need a monumental fool.

Of course, the intelligent reader would comprehend why I wrote this piece. Sarcasm is not something that bears explanation.


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