There are a handful of websites making the rounds, and at least one actual book, making the claim that Mahatma Gandhi was a racist. I won't dignify them with links; google "Gandhi racist" and you'll see plenty. Now, there are two schools of thought on countering campaigns of lies. One is that the lies should be ignored because addressing them only draws attention to them and will even lead the conspiratorially minded set to believe them. Hey, I love a good conspiracy theory, but those that are set on obvious beds of tripe should be exposed for what they are. This is the second school of thought, turn the light of truth onto those lies and burn them up.

So, what exactly is the "proof" offered of Gandhi's alleged racism, and why am I so sure it's false? One example is that upon forming an organization to promote the interests of Indians living in South Africa in 1894, Gandhi wrote that the purpose of that organization was "to promote concord and harmony among the Indians and Europeans in the Colony." This is read as an implicit support of the European oppression of the native Africans. But to charge racism should require something more explicit than this, and expressing a desire for harmony between one ethnic group and another -- which happens to have all the power in the region -- just does not imply any condemnation of an unmentioned third group.

A direct attack is where Gandhi is said to have written in 1908 that "Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized - the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals." In 1903 that "We believe as much in the purity of race as we think they do... We believe also that the white race in South Africa should be the predominating race." The quote about "Kaffirs" being uncivilized, is taken out of context, for in complete context, it was a reference only to those who were 'on the dock' for criminal trials, not black Africans in general, and was made at a time before the word "Kaffir" had taken on its modern negative and racially charged sentimentation. The quote about purity of race and predominating race is not about one race being superior to others, but an assurance that Gandhi was not seeking to force the white power structure to accept an intermixture with Indians that the whites opposed, and did not seek to set Indians up as potential rivals for control of South Africa.

There are many more quotes cited that are incendiary presented without context, but in the context of the situation are completely innocent of racist intent against any peoples, and directed only towards the minimal task which Gandhi felt was one he could undertake in South Africa, improving the lot of its small Indian community. It would not surprise me if some other quotes which have made it into this mix are complete inventions, easy as it is to stuff words into the mouths of others. Other supposed evidence of racism is Gandhi's religion, Hinduism, which has long supported a caste structure based on the belief that those born into low places are properly paying the penance for the errors of previous lives. Gandhi himself spent many years fighting against caste discrimination, even engaging in tasks such as garbage collection normally reserved for untouchables, to protest their treatment.

One website even asserts that Gandhi "participated" in the colonial war against native Africans. What this accusation neglects to mention is that Gandhi's participation in such military action was restricted to being a volunteer in an ambulance corps, helping wounded soldiers off the field of battle, and that his was one of the only ones willing to aid wounded black South Africans!!

As a biographical preface, Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869, and was assassinated on January 30, 1948, at the age of 78. All of the quotes presented in support of the racism claim come from a period between 1894 and 1908, that is, when Gandhi was between 25 and 39 years old, most coming from the earlier years of that period. These quotes are suspiciously based on snippets, always presented out of the ether, without any historical or situational context. An even-handed examination therefore dispels the craftily engineered myth that Gandhi was in fact a racist of any stripe, and certainly not the least bit so in the later years of his life when he developed and exercised the lasting personal philosophy from which his legacy derives.

An even deeper question is, what motivates people to manufacture and disseminate claptrap about a man who is almost universally recognized as a champion of peace and good acts, a flesh and blood example of nonviolence yielding grand results? Well, some people just like to tear down legends, as though the act of discrediting a great man somehow places his destroyer on an even greater level. Some would pour bitter herbs on his name because he was in fact a Hindu, not a Christian or a Muslim, or, ironically, because they are themselves racist and wish to hang their hateful views on Gandhi as well. There are, possibly, those who wish to entertain the fallacy of despoiling the methods that Gandhi used by bringing disrepute on the one who used them most famously. This, as if to pretend that non-violent resistance doesn't work, or the Indian state is illegitimate, if the forbear of both can be tarnished with a shoddy brush.

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