Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

July 25, 2012

A little food & medicine go a long way

Filed under: Caste,Lower Caste,Prejudice,race — Razib Khan @ 7:45 am

I clicked through on the links to Zack’s post below and was pretty shocked. I know this somewhat, but not having grown up around many Indians (or South Asians generally) I didn’t have a good sense. That being said, a few years ago I stumbled on a book at the local book store, Daughter of the Ganges: A Memoir. The author was an adopted woman of Indian heritage from Spain. Skimming through, her family seems to have been peasant cultivators in Maharashtra. Therefore, I was struck by her photo. She is rather attractive and not “worn down” by the life of extreme subsistence.

This is not to take anything away from Zack’s post, and she obviously does not look like the typical upper caste NRI even to my unsubtle eyes. But a great deal of the physical difference in terms of perception is environmental. Though I do think it is telling that a woman who looks like this could never be a leading lady in a Bollywood film.

Asha Miro


March 21, 2011


Filed under: Culture,Prejudice,Racism — Razib Khan @ 10:44 am

On this weblog a few months ago Zach Latif mentioned that he worried about individuals transforming conventional South Asian constructs of racial/ethnic/caste hierarchy and making them even more concrete by using frameworks such as “Ancestral North Indian” vs. “Ancestral South Indian.” Thanks to the release of the Reich et al. data set, now that can be done. Dienekes has posted a plot of South Asian ancestral components (I am DOD075). Light green is ANI, and dark green ASI (light blue is East Eurasian, and dark blue is African):

I like genomics because it makes concrete the terms of debate of racial/ethnic superiority which are implicit. As someone raised in areas with very few South Asians I’ve been pretty insulated from this sort of stuff, at least in the brown context (I am more familiar with people who are proud of their Mayflower ancestry than their Brahmin ancestry). Only by knowing brown people in my adulthood and reading weblogs like Sepia Mutiny have I been able to read between the lines in terms of rank order of value. Here are some observations I’ve made (I am not sure of the generality of such observations). I’m skipping over the South Asian obsession with “fair skin,” since that’s self-evident and requires no deeper inquiry.

- There is a graded hierarchy from Punjabis to Malayalis/Tamils of racial worth. I infer this by the fact that I’ve noted multiple times individuals from Andhra Pradesh distinguishing themselves from “Madrasis.” These individuals will sometimes assert in contravention of scholarly consensus that Telugu is not a Dravidian language, but an Indo-Aryan one.

- There is a secondary axis of value, top to bottom, from Punjabis to Bengalis, west-to-east. I infer this from the fact that I had a conversation with a woman who had married a Bengali man, who was quite clear that his family were not indigenous Bengalis, but rather originally from Rajasthan. The woman was of European American descent, and didn’t seem to place any value judgement on this, but it was quite clear that this centuries-old migration was very important to the family. This assertion of western ancestry/origin is one I’ve heard from many Bengalis. It is probably rooted in part on truth, but in part on attempts to distance oneself from the short dark-skinned Bengali peasant (the mass rapes of Bengali women by the Paksitani army was justified in some quarters as improving blood stock. A narrative which I note has reemerged in Darfur).

- Punjabis, Sindhis, etc., are quite clear that other peoples of the subcontinent are ugly, with ugliness proportional to distance from their own physical type. Other peoples of the subcontinent generally accede to this framework. I have seen many times people who are not northwest Indian recount that people have confused them for northwest Indians (which they’re quite happy about). I have never seen a Punjabi note that someone thought they were South Indian. From omission one can infer much.

- South Asians value a physical type as the aesthetic ideal which is actually typical for Iran, and not even Pakistan. For this reason I have stated that brown folk perceive ourselves to be an “ugly race,” since our typical deep brown skin, somewhat broader features and thicker lips, are seen as less than ideal.

- Brown people have an obsession with ancestry from the northwest. Muslims will prioritize Arabs and Persians. But even Hindus (e.g., Kashmiris, Kamboj, etc.) will allude to Persian ancestry (presumably pre-Islamic in this case). Groups such as the Chitpavan Brahmins, Jatts, and Nasrani Christians, will also suggest Near Eastern or Central Asian antecedents (i.e., Jews and Scythians). In contrast, there is generally total amnesia about eastern ancestry, which is relatively common in the Indian northeast, as well as trace but detectable levels of African ancestry in much of Pakistan.

- Brown people also have an obsession with caste, especially being “high caste.” If your caste of origin isn’t indisputably high caste, you recreate it as high caste (e.g., Kayasthas). Non-Hindus also take pride in high caste ancestry, multiple Nasrani Christians have told me that they are descended from Brahmin converts. I express some curiosity as to this datum, because their natural increase must be high indeed, as Kerala today has ten times as many Christians as Brahmins!

I’m open to disputes about these impressions, or elaborations. I tried to broach this general topic several times at Talk Islam, but it never got anywhere, probably because of lack of brown critical mass. I note a contrast between the Han Chinese, who take definitive pride in being autochthons, to the point where Han with clear non-Han ancestry will not acknowledge it (e.g., “Ma” is a Chinese Muslim surname, and there are a significant number of people with that surname, or variants of it, in the Han population, so clearly it indicates some descent from Chinese Muslims, ergo, Central Asians). In contrast, South Asians have a tendency to shouting from the roof tops a sliver of Arab or Persian ancestry.

Genomics will make concrete the hierarchies, and therefore I hope, challenge people’s perception of their validity. That’s a normative preference, not one that I think will necessarily describe reality. I am an individual with minimal group pride, so my own results have pretty much zero impact on my own self-worth, positively or negatively. But the reality that I have so much “eastern” ancestry which my family was unaware of did raise my own consciousness as to the blank spots in our Bengali ethno-cultural creation narrative.

March 16, 2011

We are Khan, the Awesome Ones

Filed under: Culture,Prejudice — Razib Khan @ 2:30 pm

The evening of 9/11 some friends from college called me. They were worried, since I was now a Brown Man in the U.S.A. Specifically, I was a Brown Man in a 95%+ non-Hispanic white town. I had a long conversation with them, catching up, since we’d been out of touch for a few years. I didn’t have anything to report of note. In 2004 I visited Bangladesh with my family, and my parents were queried about anti-Muslim prejudice. My parents are Muslims, though my mother does not cover her hair. My father admitted that he didn’t experience any prejudice, rather, his Sikh acquaintances were facing the brunt of the hostility. It’s been nearly 10 years since 9/11, and I’ve traveled through “Red America” a fair amount. I can’t point any instances of anti-Muslim prejudice. Though I’m an atheist, I’m brown, and for those in the know my name clearly indicates Muslim origin. I don’t wear an “I’m an atheist” t-shirt, so I assume that I’ve been Muslim from the perspective of strangers and acquaintances for years (at least judging by the occasional random chat-ups about Muslim related geopolitical issues which I don’t care about which I’m an involuntary party to in coffee-shops or other places where people think they can strike up conversations with strangers). My siblings report the same lack of prejudice and discrimination. In fact, the only time one of my brothers faced discrimination or prejudice was when he was verbally mocked for being a “beaner” (Mexican).

This is all in sharp contrast to the accounts of anti-Muslim and anti-brown prejudice I hear from others. In some cases it makes straightforward sense, as they “dress Muslim” (whether it be a hijabi or a Sikh!) But I hear about these accounts even from Western-dressing Hindus and Christians, who just happen to be brown. So what’s going on here? I wonder if there are two dynamics at work:

- The Khan family has a personality type which allows them (us) to be oblivious to attempts to insult or discriminate. Perhaps we have been targeted many times, and simply didn’t notice!

- People who are sensitive to discrimination have a bias in seeing discrimination or prejudice when rather there is generalized boorishness or inconsideration. As an analogy, I have known Asian American males who complain that white women won’t date them because they’re racist. These same Asian American males may have substandard hygiene, be flabby, and socially inept. Instead of focusing on the traits which they can control, they attribute their lack of success with females to an essential attribute.

March 13, 2011

Hierarchies of racism

Filed under: Celebs,Culture,Prejudice,Racism — Razib Khan @ 12:02 pm

Recently I had an online discussion with the blogger Eurasian Sensation. Our conversation began with the different sorts of immigrants which nations attract, and how that impacts the broader society. For example, I think the fact that the USA doesn’t have a “Muslim problem,” but Britain clearly does, has a lot to do with the type and mix of Muslims which the two Anglophone nations are host to, much more than their specific public policies (i.e., Britain seems more proactively multiculturalist than the USA). The Muslims of Britain are more deviated from national norms in educational and skills qualifications, and, they are broken into several large socio-cultural blocks. For example, the working class Muslim Mirpuri Pakistani identity in the north of England is substantial enough that individuals could make their own lives within the community. This is almost impossible in the United States, where there is a great deal of ethnic balance, and Muslims are geographically and occupationally diverse.

But that’s not what I want to talk about in this post. Eurasian Nation asked “is discriminating against the less intelligent (or more pertinently, those who don’t perform well on IQ tests) really that much better than discriminating against someone because of their race?” First, like diversity, discrimination has taken on too much of a uniform moral valence in polite society. I don’t think diversity is always good, and discrimination always bad. But setting that aside, not all forms of discrimination are considered equally bad. This is clear in how we reacted to the way South Africa treated its non-white, and in particular black, population, and the way that Saudi Arabia treats its women and Shia, today (let alone non-Muslims). We here being the West. Racial discrimination is considered to be particularly objectionable, for whatever reason.

To this Eurasian nation responded that:

…but it’s worth remembering that Sudan oppressed it’s black population for many years and the world didn’t care until it turned into a major conflict. The world sadly only really cares when there is a material interest at stake, or the atrocities reach a level at which they can no longer be ignored.

I’d also add that in Sudan, as in your hypothetical Saudi example, it would slip under the radar because Arabs are not really “white” in the way that Rhodesians and Afrikaners are. Sad, really.

President of Sudan

The first point is that Sudanese Arabs are referred to as abd, an insulting Arab term for black, when they go and work in the Gulf. So Sudanese Arab racism against the blacks of that nation is really more that of mixed-bloods against people of full Sub-Saharan African heritage. Additionally, the bigger variable is probably religion. I would be curious if a pure-blooded Nubian Muslim would be excluded from the elite simply on account of the lack of Arab ancestry?

The second issue, related to the first, is that no one considers Sudanese Arabs white (in fact, most people probably simply code them as black mentally). Racism of non-European peoples against non-European peoples presents moral and cognitive difficulties for Westerners. Consider the confused reporting of racially motivated attacks against black Africans in Libya. Many colored people know from experience that other “people of color” can be as racist, or more so, than white people, in large part because there has never been a proactive attempt to inculcate racial sensitivity in colored people.

In the USA there is a common saying which is manifestly stupid, but captures the spirit of the age. Race + power = racism. The implication is that since only white people have power, only white people can be racist. I think this is a remnant of 1950, which is shadowing us into the 21st century.

Finally, the photo at the top left is from a blogger who created composites based on available images. All four shots above are Indian, two of movie stars and two of average people on the street. I suspect you can infer which pair are which….

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