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June 23, 2003

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

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.

Posted by razib at 12:38 AM

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.

Posted by: MaryClaire at June 23, 2003 06:22 AM

if the black guys can't jump-they're tamil....

Posted by: razib at June 23, 2003 08:07 AM

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...

Posted by: marinara at June 23, 2003 10:33 AM

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.

Posted by: Sen at June 23, 2003 10:39 AM

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

Posted by: KXB at June 23, 2003 11:09 AM

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..

Posted by: marinara at June 23, 2003 01:45 PM

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...

Posted by: marinara at June 23, 2003 01:48 PM


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.

Posted by: KXB at June 23, 2003 02:11 PM

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.

Posted by: Suman Palit at June 23, 2003 03:43 PM

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


Posted by: marinara at June 23, 2003 05:54 PM

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.

Posted by: Ikram Saeed at June 24, 2003 07:41 AM

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.

Posted by: Sen at June 24, 2003 08:25 AM

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.

Posted by: KXB at June 24, 2003 08:56 AM

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?


Posted by: Fierce Dravidian at June 24, 2003 02:23 PM

Razib:"Yes, cognates exist in other tongues ("Eire")"

It´s a bogus ethymology that needs serious debunking.
"Eire" (old Irish "Ériu") is not at all related to "Arya, Iran". The scholar Julius Pokorny proved long ago that it derives (along with Welsh:" Yggerdon") from a postulated form:

"epi- weryo(n)) which means "the Island".

That is why Ireland was known among the Ancients as: "Hibernia, Jovernia, Hiberio and Ierne"

Posted by: eufrenio at June 24, 2003 02:42 PM

"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..."

Relative to America and the Pacific Rim, Europe has arguably far greater problems than US- these will be even more borne out in the next 25-50 yrs.
The greatest threat that the US faces in the next 25-50 yrs will be from China and, to a much lesser extent, maybe the rest of the Pacific Rim. I will elaborate why if you dispute any of this. We've discussed this greatly on this site.

Posted by: R at June 24, 2003 05:10 PM

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.

Posted by Sen at June 23, 2003 10:39 AM
Do you find that a lot of african-americans think of indians as "brothers" ? I've never encountered that feeling except among leftist "we all people of color" ideologues.
I encountered recently a young Indian woman at work who probably did think of herself as black.
She said that she had been raised among trinidadians (indian ones i suppose), that she liked black people's laid back, take it easy attitude and that she didn't have any indian friends because "those people are stuck up and no fun" .
She was sitting next to me and it didn't take long for my ear to hurt from her blabbering idiocy, lol .
I don't know, i just have a real hard time with people who glamourize and idolize what i consider to be weaknesses in my folk (lazy, easy going blacks, etc).
Anyways, indians , believe me :
You have nothing to gain from becoming "blacks" .
You know one thing that will happen if you become black ? Your children, born and raised in america will start doing extremely badly in school and will start blaming "cultural bias" and "racism" for their predicament, with the full support of professional activists, community workers and the usual victimocrats .

Posted by: ogunsiron at June 24, 2003 05:26 PM


the two types of indians who emulate black culture are

1) economically unsuccessful ones or oddballs like the person you described (muslims in the UK i read tend to take to black pop culture more than upper-middle class hindus).

2) very dark-skinned indians who could pass if their head was shaved.

Posted by: razib at June 24, 2003 06:06 PM

razib: yeah, like the Tamils in M'sia, most of whom have never even seen blacks except on TV --- baggy jeans, colorful shirts, backwards baseball caps, start lots of rap groups, comical Al Sharptonesque political leaders like Samy Vellu who argue against meritocracy ... the similarities are uncanny.

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

Of course, "developing a consciousness as people of color" or whatever nonsense just lead kids them into a lifetime of harming racial relations and seducing more kids into the same, when they could have contributed to the economy.

But, weirdly enough, at least among E. Asians, kids who grew up somewhat unassimilated, in very insular ethnic communities, seem less likely to spend their college careers complaining about white racism than the kids who grew up alongside whites.

Also, the only reason I even have work right now is cuz I didn't grow up fully assimilated with all my relatives embracing Americanization, and so can still read Chinese. (My job is in IT and doesn't involve selling to immigrants, and so would likely exist even if all the Chinese in America disappeared.) So basically society and the economy these days is structured so the incentives for kids like me run counter to promoting overall cultural unity ...

Posted by: Eric Lien at June 24, 2003 08:17 PM

I am black, from a country with a fifty percent indian population, my relatives are black and indian . From the responses everyone is portraying one aspect of being black , black encomopasses many things, classes, and social behaviors not just baggy pants and hip hop. There are all different kinds of black people

Posted by: girly at September 11, 2003 09:32 AM

I believe mobilisation can be very useful. Additionally, I used to believe in 'individualism' when I was 18 but I now realize that it is impossible. This is because I see less and less of 'accident' or 'randomness' and more and more of 'historical progression' in the creation of things. Thus I as an individual AM the product of the historical momentum upto my birth and also the racial composition that forms me.
On a more practical point, I believe anything that keeps the East Indian american community secluded from the mainstream is a great thing. This is because politically I believe Amerika has a short future and as an Indian nationalist I wouldnt want to see an influential group lose its allegiance to the home country in favour of what I see as the enemy.
The assertion that Amerikan whites are justified in classifying Indians as black is thoroughly indefensible. It bespeaks of great toleration for dullness and stupidity. I dont share this tolerance.
It is quite natural for Indians with their bourgeious values to have contempt for African Amerikans.
I really cannot understand how a person would apreciate the intermarriage of his kinsmen as a step towards assimilation...
Is there anything in White Amerika the acquiring of which can be considered a desireable advancement?

Posted by: Timurlane at October 2, 2003 05:56 PM

I am a first generation Nigerian who grew up and continues to live in North Edison, NJ, home of one of America's largest South Asian populations. I went to high school with all kinds of Indians, of which there were two types: the conservative, IT/ technical professional/ medicine -bent preppies, and the more casual liberals who joined theater club, got some B's and C's, had boyfriends/girlfriends, started garage bands, or were of working-class familial backgrounds. I knew many characters of the liberal crew who, when I hung out with them, would raise all kinds of weird racist invectives against white people. They would always express solidarity with not only Africans, but Native Americans, on account, among other unusual things, that our dark skin gave us strength and the capability of ease in extreme heat.
I also lived with a Pakistani in New Brunswick, NJ near Rutgers University, so I could get to class without commuting. This fellow, my age, turned out to be a drug-dealer, had three girlfriends - all South Asian, had posters of Tupak and Snoopdog on his wall, wore baggy clothes, smoked marijuana and had constant, loud sex. Every other word out of his mouth was "nigger." His roommate, an Indian, was on parole. It was a real departure from the conservatism I'd seen growing up, and this fellow totally exemplified the stereotype of an inner-city "black" gangsta. And, inasmuch as I am Nigerian, and Nigerians, like Indians, tend to be conservative, professional-oriented, educated immigrants, this fellow could be evaluated as "blacker" than myself.
If anyone out there is from Central Jersey, what's your assessment of this? My point is that, at least in the youth community, across all races and ethnic groups there exist all kinds of people in all kinds of professions. And especially in the case of "post-65" immigrants from South Asia or, in my case, Africa, we youth in the second, third generation who've spent all of our lives in America are going to deviate from the conservative "model minority" standard more and more as time goes on, doing such strange things as becoming artists and intermarrying. Our identities are tied more to America than to the lands from which our parents came. And the "aberrations" are not isolated cases; here in Central Jersey, and at Rutgers University where I am currently studying, I know South Asians
who have to interrupt enrollment every other semester to work, and who study "impractical" things like dance or linguistics. There are even chronically unemployed 26 year old Indian graduates still living with their parents. This is just to say it's also wrong to judge one's children just based on grades and the career they choose rather than their character, their personal fortes, their sensitivity, their creativity, and their humanity.
On a final note, I have to respond to the anti-black racism that's been previously posted on numerous occasions. I was born in North Jersey to Nigerian parents. Proudly, I am extremely dark-skinned. Yet, now in my third year at Rutgers, I earn a 3.919 GPA, a full scholarship, and membership in the Honors Program. I am a columnist at the college newspaper. I have been an instructor of English to other immigrants in New Brunswick. Don't be quick to associate blackness with backwards-ness, laziness, stupidity, criminality, and the rest, otherwise you foolishly alienate yourselves from those black folk with talent and excellence, and foster unneeded and dangerous hatred. Look at Kofi Annan, chief civil servant of the planet!

Posted by: Kalabari at October 4, 2003 06:02 AM