Friday, February 13, 2015

Caste "privilege", the Americal Dalit speaks

Over at The Aerogram there is an interesting piece up, Caste Privilege 101: A Primer for the Privileged. The main downside of the piece is that it is standard post-colonial "social justice warrior" claptrap. Unless you buy into the premises a lot of the rhetoric falls flat. You can really write a regular expression to just "search & replace", and it could be about another set of people. Really the post just leverages pretty generic ideas about race privilege, and interpolates them into a South Asian context.

But the good part is that it is interesting that the experiences of low caste South Asians is highlighted. There simply aren't that many in the Diaspora...or are there? Perhaps they "pass" as this woman and her family have done? And it is a nice reality check to note that what many South Asians consider normative South Asian behavior and folkways are actually just representative of a relative thin and elite strata of Indian cultures. It is also quite sweet and delicious when the authors suggest that many South Asian Americans with names like Iyer and Mukherjee who play the part of "oppressed person of color," despite a customary elite family background, and impeccable educational qualifications and a high income, are oblivious to the structures of privilege in which they partake while excoriating white society.

The major issue I have is that in the process of lecturing (and frankly hectoring) higher caste Indians the authors express their own narrow viewpoints. For example, when talking about religious differences between low castes and higher castes, they excise Muslims out of the equation. As Muslims are about 1/3 of the South Asian population this seems an important lacunae, and as we all know there are caste and caste-like structures within Islam too, some of which have been imported from Hinduism (e.g., "Muslim Dalits").

Finally, a lot of the generalizations about upper caste Indians seems to be bullshit. American born Indian Americans intermarry at nearly a 50% clip. I really don't think that caste matters that much when they (we) are marrying people of other races at a very high rate. The fact is that no matter if you are a fair skinned Pandit or a dark skinned Nadar in this country you're a "sand nigger." Next to that all the caste posturing looks like a farce.