Be brown & proud? Uh, I need to study for my test….

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Bored in my hotel in Columbus I decided to check out Suman’s blog and clicked the link for Satya Circle, which is about brown issues. I stumbled upon this article titled THE INDIAN AS “BLACK-WHITE” AND AS NIGGER. If you don’t read the article, here is an example of the sort of thinking that it expresses: Imagine a scenario where an angry brown son comes home from college and confronts his successful engineer father and declares, “Father, you think of yourself as a man, an engineer, a Hindu, a Gujarati! Well, I think of myself as a sand nigger!”

I really don’t think that’s a step forward. Seriously people, this is pathetic. Look at this history of brown people in the US and you’ll see it isn’t anything like the experience of other “people of color.” The author of the above article states:

Currently, South Asians may not be a clear-cut case of “black” in US consciousness, but they are definitely “other,” which is one reason why Mazumder, as well as other intellectuals, believe that only if South Asians develop a broader consciousness of themselves as people of color will they be able to participate in a genuine struggle for social justice.

Why should South Asians develop a consciousness of themselves as “people of color” when we all know that most of us are brown, we see ourselves everyday in the mirror! And social justice? Where has that gotten the black community since 1960? Where is it getting the Latino community? Do we want our own curried Al Sharptons?

The author lingers over the fact that brown people have issues with their own identity and are terrified of being associated with American blacks, something that white people often do. Why wouldn’t white people do that? South Asians often have rather dark skin, like Africans, and most humans have similar features so why should whites notice that other aspects of phenotype mark us as non-African [1]? We don’t look that different. Granted, many white people like to express the patronizing phrase, “Indians are just like white people with dark skin,” which I suspect they picked up from brown guy with I-wish-I-was-whitey-complex [2]. There are good reasons not to associate with blacks in the United States, they are perceived as having low social status, and South Asians are if anything concerned about rank and order. ’tis human if a bit childish and petty.

But what does it really matter? Despite the fact that South Asians often suffer from “Oh you might be a nigger syndrome” they are well educated, have high incomes, and are entrepreneurial. It flies in the face of the assertion that what whitey thinks is the paramount issue and fact of human existence. Racism. Such a burden to bear, do South Asians want to define themselves as “people of color,” juxtaposed against the “white race,” the race of power and privilege? How idiotic does this look? Is the Indian doctor in rural Iowa treating white patients on Medicaid a “person of color” who is being victimized by the race-class relationship that whites impose on the “other”?

In my experience South Asians in the United States are fractured and clannish. Though united in their concern on immigration issues, Muslims & Hindus, north Indians & south Indians, professional & working class, do not often mix and form a united front against the “white hegemonic structure.” And where has that gotten us? The Washington Post reported a few months ago that as many as 50% of South Asians born in the United States out-marry. This is a very high rate for such a new immigrant group, and bodes well for future assimilation. Horror, oh horror! Of course it does not suggest a good future for the mobilization and actualization of a brown brigade in the racial legions.

What do you call your brown doctor? A sand nigger? Not if you want your meds on time.

[1] Other racial groups often blend and look similar to peoples of said racial group and confusions abound. Bushmen in Botswana assumed that Vietnamese workers were of their race, since they only understood the world as “black” or “Bushmen.” Columbus thought that the indigenous peoples of the Americas looked “Indian.”

[2] The author goes over I-wish-I-was-whitey-complex a lot in the article, and it’s worth reading, because there’s a lot of truth to it. Many browns wish their ass was a bit whiter way too much. As an avowed individualist, I’m not too concerned if my ass is blue, purple, brown or white, as long as I’ve got something going on between my ears and I’m well sated down under, but for some people, life exists in the context of their group affiliation. The above article criticizes the Indian fixation on wanting to assert their “Aryan” pedigree-but the author should qualify that such an assertion is not without fact, and the two peoples who unequivocally used the term “Arya” were the north Indians and Iranians. Yes, cognates exist in other tongues (“Eire”), but nevertheless, the Indo-Iranians of the satem branch of the Indo-European language family were the true Aryans, Europeans reappropriated the term because of Sanskrit’s supposed ancient lineage before the discovery of other more archaic Indo-European tongues like Hittite and the decipherment of Linear B as Greek. The author’s solution to I-wish-I-was-whitey-complex is to recreate a different identity, I-wish-my-ass-was-a-little-more-oppressed! My solution? Put your group affiliations in the background in a healthy fashion and try and focus on your individual strengths and achievements, rather than made-up shit about your ancestors. Additionally, understand that though injustice occurs, life sucks for everyone else on a variety of levels too, so try and make the best of it and reflect that focusing on your own life first is probably better for you (ergo, all yous become everyone in the group) than shifting your energies toward the mobilization of a sand nigger identity.


  1. Wha.. Last I heard, the mantra of India Indians in America was “this country has been velly velly good to me.” Now what have we done? How about varna and dharma and all that jazz? Your sane, sensible commentary is quite a relief to read. BTW, not to be patronizing, I don’t think many people mistake Indians for Africans unless they have astigmatism. I remember seeing some guys playing basketball in a park; at first glance, because they were quite dark, I thought they were black; but as the group broke up, the general atmosphere just seemed sort of subdued, with the players dispersing in an orderly fashion, chatting quietly, smiling shyly. I looked closer–sure enough, they were Indians, Tamils I guess, from the south. They were black, but they sure weren’t black.

  2. if the black guys can’t jump-they’re tamil….

  3. great post Razib… why can’t such common sense be drilled down into all immigrant children in USA… work hard, stay quiet and assimilate… don’t try to imitate the failures… imitate the successes… America’s heart is big enough and forgiving enough for everyone to succeed if they want to …. there’s no white man standing outside your door trying to keep you down…

    even if there are racist whites, and I have encountered one recently in a very negative experience… there are more than enough non-racist whites to compensate…. and everyone should experience a little racism once in a while – if it doesn’t kill you it only makes you stronger… and also remember that racism is not the monopoly of whites…. i find all races to be racist enough…

  4. Herein lies the paradox of being Indian. To African-Americans, they’re black like us. To whites, they’re just white people with a tan. To East Asians, they’re Asian too. To Natives they’re Indian too.

  5. I think much of the attempt to have Indians align themselves with the political agenda of black leftists is that it is the only way to get tenure at most universities. How many aspiring professors are going to be offered a post when the put forth the idea that Indians have assimilated well? But, I do sometimes get the impression that Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in the US are repeating the pattern of their UK cousins, and starting to self- segregate themselves.

    And, if we want to address the issue of interracial violence, I think a quick poll would show that if an Indian had been mugged or murdered, the assailant was generally black or Hispanic. The only prominent case I can remember where a white guy killed an Indian couple was about 12 years ago in Westchester County, NY. While strung out on drugs and booze, the son of a Chase Bank VP broke into the home of an Indian physician couple, and repeatedly stabbed the two. When the police arrived, they said it liked like a butchershop inside. Eleven members of the jury were convinced of the man’s guilt, but because one woman could not believe that a young man from such a good family could do such a thing, he was not convicted.

    I will say this though – if you disregard the criminal element, and focus solely on the average black person, I personally have experienced less fake flattery from them than from whites. If anything, I’ve found that blacks will confide in me issues and feelings they are often uncomfortable expressing to other black people, and certainly not to whites.

    In my opinion, prejudice against South Asians is not always demonstrated by what is done, but oftentimes by what is not done. Our complaints that affirmative action is unfair to us are unheard, news stories about how “oppressive” our cultures are towards women go unchallenged (take a bet which group has a higher percentage of college-educated women, white families or Indian American?), and that we are lumped in for special scrutiny with Arabs

  6. KXB, I’m just curious.. ref: your example about tenure.. who would not like Indian professors claiming that Indians have assimilated well?? the Whites or Blacks or Indians??

    I personally think that among higher SEC status Indians we have a lot of pride in our accomplishments and we do not seek to be given affirmative action.. nor do we seek to be clubbed in with lower performing groups…

    I would be very surprised if the Indian professors that I know expect other Indian professors to make spurious claims about where Indians have arrived at just to help them along with their tenure situation…. but I may be wrong and that is why I seek clarification from you..

  7. BTW, let me be the first to comment on today’s Affirmative Action decision by the Supreme court declaring AA legal… I think it is going to set USA back by about 50 years in terms of competing with a resurgent Asia and Europe…

  8. Marinara,

    I guess I should clarify – Indian social scientists with hopes for tenure would probably be more likely to parrot the old leftist ideas of the nature of race relations in the U.S. In other disciplines – business, engineering, etc. – such viewpoints will probably not be a factor. In my MBA program at George Washington University, my financial accounting, economics, and information systems management professors were all Indians, and my marketing professor was married to an Indian who also taught marketing at GW. And a quick flipping through of an issue of Harvard Business Review will usually have at least one article written or co-written by an Indian.

    I share your disappointment at the SC decision, but I think schools will be so gunshy of a lawsuit, that more schoole wills go the route of Texas and California.

  9. Not to mention that 9/11 has provided many within the south asian community with a ready-made mantle of oppression-becau-we-be-arab-like.

    Nice article, razib.

  10. sad sad situation.. apparently now Univ. of Texas is going to use today’s decision to restart affirmative action…

  11. I thinkt he ‘we-should-find-common-cause-with-blacks’ idea will run right into the wall of brown racism.

    South Asians are tremedously colour conscious ‘back-home’, and this carries over to North America. And without any residual white-guilt, south asians in America are free let their anti-black bigotry run unfetterred.

    A black man has a hard time getting a cab in NYC? Who do you think all those cab drivers are?

    (This is brown racism somewhat ameliorated among practicing South Asia Muslims — not ‘cultural muslims’ — who sympathize with Black Muslims. But only somewhat, and there is a fair amount of patronizing going on there)

    There’s no reason to give browns a free pass on racism. Browns are bigots too.

  12. Not picking up a black man in a cab – I wouldn’t call that racism. It’s not racial discrimination, it’s rational discrimination. The cab driver knows through experience that young black males tend to disproportionately burn fares. There’s also a higher statistical probability that he’ll be robbed, beaten, and murdered if picks up a black guy. Crime statistics would verify this. So what’s the cab driver to do if he must look out for his safety and livelihood first? Would you pick up a big black hitchiker? Calling Pakistani cab drivers bigots is unmerited in this case.

  13. When I lived in DC, the Ethiopian and Somali drivers would often not pick up young black men. Black women – fine, black guys in suits – fine, old black people – fine. But a guy dressed like a hoodie – wait for the bus.

  14. I haven’t as yet coverd all the mixed up material relating to this topic but I believe that south Asians in the Americas are a more or less insignificant heterogenous minority element that will be bred out sooner or later. Anybody disagree with me?