It is high time to define what is normal. Normal is a powerful word because it could alienate people who could not meet the prescribed standards.

Normal or norm is a ubiquitous term which could find references in almost all offshoots of the social sciences. Actually, normal was considered to be a purely scientific and mathematical concept until the end of the Second World War. The concept which revolved around science in general and mathematics in particular to identify the redundancy and average crept into the social science paradigms after the development of new concepts in the cultural and anthropological studies. Later, this term became the mononym of cultural hegemony and eagerly tried to ascertain and authenticate the nuance structures of racial superiority.

Norman and Norma

Notably, the couple statues ‘Norman’ and ‘Norma’ built-in 1945 were advocated as the perfect representations of an average American male and female. They were the creations of obstetrician-gynaecologist Robert Latou Dickinson and artist Abram Belskie. To bolster this claim, the scientific and statistical data were also pragmatically and abundantly applied in a precise manner. Interestingly, the statue of Norman was created from the statistical averages of the anatomy of Second World War American soldiers and Norma from almost 15000 native white American women. Each body part was scientifically calculated average of the native white American and they are dexterously assimilated to actualize the concept of a perfect American normal. The Norman and Norma were adopted by Cleveland Health Museum. Nonetheless, the statues were hailed as one of the landmark creations and an epitome of the positive collaboration of art and science. The statues which created a beeline to their exhibitions also urged the newspaper Cleveland Plain Dealer to hold a competition to find the perfect real counterpart of Norma.

Ramifications of Norms

Initially, the statues were showered with appreciation and high opinions. They were espied as the source of aspiration and potential for self-improvement. The enviable physical traits of Norman and Norma was thought as a perfect yardstick for an American to compare his biological standards and a destination to strive towards. However, the statues and the concept of normal restructured the social and political milieus of American society like never before. The well-built physique of the Norman was hard for an American male to relate himself with. The situation was more or less the same with the females. This generated a sense of insecurity and shame among the Americans and also among the white people all around the globe. Also, the term normal gradually usurped the position of native white American and outcast all others as abnormal. It erased the specific position of the white race in the USA by covering it with the veil of normality and eventually cemented its dominance. The social and cultural space of the USA flirted with the dangerous idea of normality and riveted it to the white racial identity. The conceptual misunderstanding of normality created an ever-widening gulf between the native white American and the rest. Notably, Rosa Parks to George Floyd was desperately trying to narrow down this gulf of normality.

The Great Indian Normal

Furthermore, the concept of the norm has permeated to almost all the spheres of social life. Even though nobody is aware of the actual position of normality, everyone eagerly strives towards that mirage. In India, a person in a normal economic state is largely identified with a person working in an organised sector. However, 95 per cent of the Indians belong to the unorganized sector and by no statistical means an organised sector employee could fall into the category of normal. Similarly, in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-linguistic country like India, it is a gargantuan task to pick an average Indian. Although, the mainstream media and popular culture easily perform this task with a well built, tall, fair, hairless torso, Hindi and English speaking male and a fair, lean and cosmetic savvy female. Everyone outside the gamut of this physical and racial circle is considered abnormal and they are supposed to eagerly try to enter the circle of normality. Albeit, almost all the Indians found it difficult to identify themselves as normal, these traits are well established and insensitively injects insecurity and inferiority among people.

by Fernando Barrios Benavides

It has to be noted that, the heedless concept of normality or average without even a proper statistical buttress could be identified in all spheres of social life. This virtual line of normality divides people as successful and under-achievers. Although manual labours are inevitable for the economy, this discreet line of normality keeps them in the failure charts. A Dravidian, Bhojpuri and a North-East Indian find it difficult to accommodate him/her in the column of a normal Indian. They know they are Indians but the mainstream narratives keep on reiterating that they don’t fit the bill of the normality concept of Indian. It is high time to define what is normal. Normal is a powerful word because it could alienate people who could not meet the prescribed standards.

Cover Illustration by Fernando Barrios Benavides

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