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

July 28, 2018

On ethnicity

Filed under: Ethnicity — Razib Khan @ 3:29 pm


A really strange conversation on ethnicity broke out below. The primacy of lots of different variables was argued.

My family arrived in the USA ~1980 when there were not too many South Asians compared to today. Additionally, they have lived in major urban areas, small towns, and medium-sized cities. My parents grew up in (East) Pakistan, married and had their first children in Bangladesh, but have spent most of their lives now in the United States of America. Both speak English with a strong accent and are moderately religious Muslims. You wouldn’t call them secular, but neither are they visibly or ostentatiously Muslim. In American politics, they are staunch Democrats, while if they have an opinion on Bangladeshi politics they are Awami League (the ratio of discussion of American to Bangladesh politics in my family growing up was about 100 to 1 in favor the former).

Today my parents’ social circle, in a relatively large urban area, are Bangladeshis. Most of these people (almost all in fact) arrived in the United States much later than they did. But in the 1980s my parents had a much smaller pool of social acquaintances who were Bangladeshi. In the early 1980s, there were 15,000 Bangladeshis in New York City. Today there are probably closer to 200,000.

Here are some things I will observe in relation to my parents’ more diverse social circles in the 1980s. First, they were overwhelmingly South Asian. Those who were not South Asian were usually married in, and usually white. Second, a core group consisted of Bangladeshis. But the next group probably consisted by Indian Bengalis. A somewhat more established community. In fact, the boundary between Bangladeshis and Indian Bengalis were somewhat fluid. The two groups spoke the same language, and there was a large dietary overlap.

Next in order to the Indian Bengalis were a variety of other social clusters of South Asians that they met through various acquaintances and friends. For example, one cluster of friends consisted mostly of people from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, but with a large minority from other parts of India. Because there was ethnolinguistic diversity in this social group generally everyone spoke English, rather than Telugu, which was the most numerous language.

Another group consisted of people from Pakistan and Indian Muslims. This group also had some other token Bangladeshis. The unifying factor in this group was that all were South Asian Muslims. The de-unifying factor in this group is that the non-Bengalis would sometimes make the proactive case for Urdu as a unifying language, which my parents and the other Bengalis always objected to (because of their age, almost all the Bengalis in the group could follow the conversation in Urdu, since they grew up in Pakistan).

One issue in social circumstances with Pakistanis is that my parents found the food less palatable. This was a very important criterion for them for social interactions and a primary reason why sometimes they preferred going to parties thrown by their Hindu Bengali friends in preference to their Pakistan Muslim friends. By “less palatable”, I mean here that Pakistani cuisine was not “comfort food” for them.

My parents went to a multi-ethnic mosque several times a year. From what I could tell the South Asians kept to themselves, the Arabs kept to themselves, the Turks kept to themselves, etc. There was no real deep interaction. My parents never had any close Muslim friends who were not South Asian. In fact, we went to dinner with Chinese people (my father’s colleagues) more often than we went to dinner at a non-South Asian Muslim’s house.

That’s about it from me. Below are some genetic plots.

October 30, 2011

When genetics comes in handy in politics

Filed under: Culture,Ethnicity,Human Genetics — Razib Khan @ 12:21 pm

In Mother Jones Andrew Serwer has a long profile up of a Mitt Romney adviser who has associations with Lebanese Christian sectarian radicals. This section jumped out at me:

Régina Sneifer, who served in the Fifth Bureau in 1981 at the age of 18, remembers attending lectures where Phares told Christian militiamen that they were the vanguard of a war between the West and Islam. She says Phares believed that the civil war was the latest in a series of civilizational conflicts between Muslims and Christians. It was his view that because Christians were eternally the victims of Muslim persecution, the only solution was to create a national home for Christians in Lebanon modeled after Israel. Like many Maronites at that time, Phares believed that Lebanese Christians were ethnically distinct from Arabs. (This has since proven to be without scientific basis.)

The scientific issue is actually a little more complex than Serwer comprehends. It is true that Muslims and non-Muslims in any given region share a lot genetically, but non-Muslim minorities in the Middle East have gone through a long period of endogamy and demographic contraction, resulting in genetic differences (mostly obviously, they seem to have less Sub-Saharan African admixture than their Muslim neighbors). But the interesting point is how widespread genetic information is now becoming in trying to understand various issues. Serwer is broadly correct I’d say that the Maronite radicals who argue for a strong separation between the origins of their own people and the Muslim and Druze of Lebanon are not on solid basis, just as Muslim Arabs who believe that they are predominantly descended from Arabians are also not on solid ground.

When genetics comes in handy in politics

Filed under: Culture,Ethnicity,Human Genetics — Razib Khan @ 12:21 pm

In Mother Jones Andrew Serwer has a long profile up of a Mitt Romney adviser who has associations with Lebanese Christian sectarian radicals. This section jumped out at me:

Régina Sneifer, who served in the Fifth Bureau in 1981 at the age of 18, remembers attending lectures where Phares told Christian militiamen that they were the vanguard of a war between the West and Islam. She says Phares believed that the civil war was the latest in a series of civilizational conflicts between Muslims and Christians. It was his view that because Christians were eternally the victims of Muslim persecution, the only solution was to create a national home for Christians in Lebanon modeled after Israel. Like many Maronites at that time, Phares believed that Lebanese Christians were ethnically distinct from Arabs. (This has since proven to be without scientific basis.)

The scientific issue is actually a little more complex than Serwer comprehends. It is true that Muslims and non-Muslims in any given region share a lot genetically, but non-Muslim minorities in the Middle East have gone through a long period of endogamy and demographic contraction, resulting in genetic differences (mostly obviously, they seem to have less Sub-Saharan African admixture than their Muslim neighbors). But the interesting point is how widespread genetic information is now becoming in trying to understand various issues. Serwer is broadly correct I’d say that the Maronite radicals who argue for a strong separation between the origins of their own people and the Muslim and Druze of Lebanon are not on solid basis, just as Muslim Arabs who believe that they are predominantly descended from Arabians are also not on solid ground.

June 19, 2010

America in 2050 may still be majority white

Filed under: Culture,Ethnicity,race — Razib Khan @ 12:50 pm

I have expressed some skepticism at the idea that in the year 2050 the United States of America will perceive itself as a majority-minority nation; that is, non-Hispanic whites will be be a minority. This projection is repeated and asserted so often that it’s a plausible background assumption when you’re making a model of the American future. But there are other factors which make this a shakier inference from current trends. A new article in The New York Times which has nothing to do with racial identity as such is a good tell as to the other factor at work, Plea to Obama Led to an Immigrant’s Arrest:

he letter appealing to President Obama was written in frustration in January, by a woman who saw her family reflected in his. She was a white United States citizen married to an African man, and the couple — college-educated professionals in Manhattan — were stymied in their long legal battle to keep him in the country.

One of the principals is introduced as white, but later on, you learn:

“I’ve been feeling very confused and ashamed as an American citizen,” she said, evoking her family’s eclectic immigrant origins.

Her father, an emeritus professor of East Asian languages and cultures at the University of California, Berkeley, is the son of Scottish immigrants; her mother’s family were refugees from North Korea; her stepmother is Chinese; and her sister’s husband is Egyptian.

Vanessa HugdensIf her mother is one of the tiny minority of white European-descended Koreans, she happens to be one of those who also has a Korean first name (it isn’t too hard to find these data on the internet). In other words, The New York Times felt that it was permissible for the purposes of this article to frame one of the individuals profiled as white despite the fact that more precisely she’s Eurasian as is clear within the text of the article itself (she may also have identified herself as white to the reporter). I am not sure that she would have been defined as white if her husband was not an African immigrant, as for narrative purposes that is probably a better contrast effect. But imagine if her mother’s family were black immigrants from Jamaica: The New York Times would not define her as white I would hazard in that case.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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