The new stereotypes

Both ‘Dilbert’ and ‘Doonesbury,’ two of the most popular comic strips in America, just ran desi topics on the same day. The new stereotypes: both kinder and more boring than the old.

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As usual, India and first-genners loom larger on the cultural radar, at least among these blunt instruments of cultural critique, than the second gen:

Absent… personal interaction with South Asians, people’s perception of South Asia itself determines how they treat us. [Link]

Click the pictures see the full strips.

132 thoughts on “The new stereotypes

  1. Why is it disturbing to combat stereotypes, if we are talking about false representations based on lack of knowledge? I’m not saying that all of these incidents are in and of themselves bad or that the people stereotyping are racists, or bad people. I’m just saying, that the more involved you are in your community, then the more likely the attitudes are based on a broader base of knowledge. What’s wrong with that? Oh, and as a woman, I don’t want to hear how beautiful all those South American women, are, ok? :)

  2. Why is it disturbing to combat stereotypes, if we are talking about false representations based on lack of knowledge? I’m not saying that all of these incidents are in and of themselves bad or that the people stereotyping are racists, or bad people. I’m just saying, that the more involved you are in your community, then the more likely the attitudes are based on a broader base of knowledge. What’s wrong with that?

    Absolutely nothing. But, apparently, people here are content to point out worse scenarios. If that’s the way you want to live your life, fine, but I’m looking to improve understanding and my community.

  3. Ang,

    you gotz to look at the big picture. if you see the sum total of “MD”‘s posts you’ll not be seeing a “bitter&brown” perspective. careful about seein’ what you want to see bro.

  4. careful about seein’ what you want to see bro.

    Razib, sis, I’ll be careful. Thanks.

    I don’t usually remember who wrote what in previous posts, but it’s not unusual to agree with a person on some topics and disagree with them on others. There’s no universal line of thinking, but hopefully, we each have some sort of systematic critical thought process.

  5. no, itz cool, my reaction is not too dissimilar from yours in regards to the behaviors and phenomena you point to. but, i also know that MD doesn’t have a bias toward (at least expressed on this weblog over the past year) the attitudes which generate the behaviors that you are concerned about. short blog comments can’t usually flesh out the real details and context of a person’s comments, but i am willing to bet that you and MD don’t disagree on jack if i read you right.

  6. but i am willing to bet that you and MD don’t disagree on jack if i read you right.

    Huh? Did you mean, you are willing to bet that MD and I don’t agree on jack?

    I was agreeing with MD, that yes, we can educate, combat stereotyping. Just in case, you think I was being sarcastic or something???

  7. I agree with MD completely. It is important that desis (especially 2-gens) get involved in serious aspects of American life (like politics and stuff, even local matters). This also involves Manish’ thing about having more SA profs in SA depts. Maybe some of us could take some time off being docs/lawyers/computer geeks and study some of that stuff instead :)

    Already there is a lot more awareness among people about SAs, simply because more and more of SAs are interacting on a daily basis with Americans. We should definitely avoid getting ghetto-ized, I especially dislike the idea of living in an “Indian” suburb or something. I think that the US gives me a rare opportunity to explore different cultures in one place, so why shouldn’t I use it, and contribute my own to the mix?

  8. I appreciate the data that must be behind razib’s observations and also, he’s just damn good with his arguements

    but i’m just not going to love someone because their skin color is evolutionarily perfect for me

    no arguement please

  9. also i know a bit about light-skinned desis and i’m really reticient to let the light-skinned priviledge among desis just go by the way-side. i’m not trying to dog anybody, but come on now

  10. Razib,

    naw, i think i was confused :)

    Now I’m confused, too, cept I’ll let it pass. Manic Monday. :)

    MD, I agreed with your comment about combatting stereotyping, in case there was any confusiion… or you perform surgery on me at anytime in the future. :D

  11. but i’m just not going to love someone because their skin color is evolutionarily perfect for me

    is does not imply aught (see naturalistic fallacy). biases due to biology, sociology or culture are not, in my opinion, “perfect” or “not perfect.” they need to be judged in light of one’s values. if you aren’t just restating the obvious, that is, you thought i was actually implying that people should be attracted to someone because of x, y, z, etc., then you read me wrong. additionally, the whole point of a lot of this stuff is you can’t help who you love, within certain bounds and biases.

  12. “would anyone be willing to entertain the possibility that some groups benefited vis-a-vi other browns because of british patronage? i am thinking of, for example, dalit soldiers who attained higher status because of their service in the british army, and who boldly walked into “high caste” areas of madras/chennai with their weapons and dared to the brahmins to kick them out. also, as someone of muslim background i am aware that many muslims were skeptical about transferring british christian rule for the rule of indian elites who would predominantly be hindu (ergo, pakistan).”

    Razib, that may well be so, but the problem is that the above view takes the colonial subject (I mean the subject of the colonial regime) as a given, and does not recognize that colonialism itself might have played a role in manufacturing such a subject and such a consciousness. Take the Muslim example. It is undoubtedly true that large numbers of Muslims might have, by the third and fourth decades of the twentieth century, preferred British rule to “Hindu rule.” But as vast amounts of research have powerfully shown, it is precisely in a post-colonial India that the question of the two-nation theory arises. To put it another way, the Western-style nationalist, for whom all nationalism is modeled on European models, and for whom “one people”, “one nation”, “one religion” are the signs uber alles of nationhood, is a product of nationhood. Colonialism’s own complicity in the manufacture of identities who were “protected” by colonialism cannot be ignored. I take just one example, but one the destructive impact of which was remarkable: separate electorates on a communal basis, instituted by the British in the early twentieth century. Under the scheme (in place till independence, and re-instituted in Pakistan in the 1980s) Hindus could ONLY vote for Hindus, and Muslims ONLY for Muslims; moreover, there were no seats reserved on the basis of any cross-communal categories (e.g. no seat reservation on the basis of Gujarati-speakers, or Marathi or Bengali-speakers, etc.; no seat reservation based on occupation). Can there be any doubt that such a system incentivized the manufacture of communal sentiment? If the politicians, voters, the very political reality that is produced by this system is skewed a certain way, I for one cannot accept the resulting preferences at face value. Specifically, while one can (and should) always interrogate foundational assumptions, the choice (where Muslims are concerned) between “British” and “Hindu” rule is itself a choice presented by the colonial prism.

    The Dalit example is also an interesting one. In particular, while there can be little doubt that Dalits fared far better in the armies of the East India Company than, say, in the realm of the Peshwas, a fascinating realm of study is the ways in which the British used the census, as well as disciplines such as anthropology, to standardize the caste system. As you note perhaps a weblog is no place for a detailed discussion, but I HIGHLY recommend the book “Castes of Mind” by Nicholas Dirks, which is in large part addressed to precisely this issue. One point Dirks highlights is how British administrators were very focused on classifying Hindus into the four-fold varna scheme of Manu even though, as their writings and records themselves testify, Hindu reality stubbornly refused to accord with the Dharmashastra (the exceptions were the groups the British could most easily place in the varna system: Brahmins and untouchables, both of whom had some sort of pan-Indian presence). The tensions came to a head with the first colonial census, with forcible British characterization of various jatis and groups as belonging to one or another varna. The result was the institutionalisation of a system where the varna system became the measure of social classification– anything else was just not recognized by the state. Thus if you were a Reddy or a Naicker or whatever, it was no longer enough to just be a Reddy or a Yadav or a Naicker etc., but one had to be situated in the varna scheme in order to count when it came time for giving out jobs, political representation, etc. The point is not that the caste system was created by the British (and as noted two ends of the varna system were rather recognizable in a pan-Indian context, namely Brahmins and untouchables), but that under the British caste became the primary organizing political and social principle of Indian society (just as religion became the organizing principle of a broader Muslim and Hindu division). Finally, there has also been much scholarship on the fact that what constituted untouchability (and more generally “low” status) varied from region to region, and even within regions. The Dalits of the regions of the later Marattha confederacy were among the most oppressed in Indian history; but the same may not be said of the “low” millions of Bengal. That “untouchability” is always unacceptable no matter what I accept as a sine qua non; but it is hard for me to accept uncritically the (self-interested) notion that acceptance of the colonial imperium was the only way out from the “dead end” of “native” tradition. I do not blame Dalits who accepted this choice, perhaps in their situation more could not be accepted; but the choice remains a false one.

  13. Mr Razib,

    How are you? Thank you for your very enlightening post about skin color.

    p.s. i like blondes. they never have mustaches you can see :)

    I don’t know but for some reason I do not find the shape of most blondes very appealing. There is something about the structure of Indian women, specifically their derriers, make them stand out. Blondes have a relatively flat frontal profile in general, although their lateral profile tend to have more depth compared to Indian women.

    Could you please enlighten us about this aspect?

  14. Could you please enlighten us about this aspect?

    i have no first hand brown point of comparison, so to speak. gentlemen who have sampled a wider variety than i need to comment.

  15. UM, i have a copy of “castes of mind” and have read it, in addition to other monographs on the topic. my interest in this area was piqued by the fact that indian “castes” do show substantial between-group variance in genetic structure. that is, the details of how varna-caste-jati might have crystallized during the british period, and the 1871 census, but the general framework was in place if you simply start from the data yielded from a genetic angle (with big caveats in a subcontinent the size of western europe). the reality is that if i go by the historical ethnographies i would have assumed that the genetic substructure within a particular region should be rather low (as is common in much of europe). the lack of quantitation of historical ethnography is problematic. i won’t bitch anymore about it because i’m not interested in solving the problem of quantitation in that field.

    as for “false choices,” i reject that contention in the final evaluation. the path of history was what it was. there were certainly interactional variables where the british model of colonialism generated many south asian identities in situ, but we have many examples of muslims “reforming” themselves across the world between the 17th to 20th centuries when they lost their positions of power or encountered expanding kufir polities (i.e., the manchu empire, for a non-european example, or the balinese kingdom during the 19th century for an obscure one). from those case studies i conclude that the british experience altered the magnitude of the vector, but not its general direction. the case with caste divisions is i think more amenable to alternative paths, but i don’t know what that would be. but be as that maybe, what would your counterfactual paths offer? i.e., imagine that india liberated itself in 1857, just as latin american did against the spaniards in the early 19th century. let me get a sense of what you have it mind so i can implicitly evaluate some utility functions. otherwise, you claim i make a false choice, but your keep to your bosom the infinitude of possibilities so that i can’t engage what you are implying.

  16. On the genetic data you cite: Perhaps I am misreading you: is the point that the lack of uniformity in caste practices (e.g. what untouchability meant as a practical matter in different parts of India) is determined by between-group genetic variance? Personally I think the relevant ideologies have a crucial role to play: for instance, between-group genetic variance would not explain why the position of Sudras (and in a most extreme way, Dalits) declined over the course of the Marattha kingdom (founded, it must be noted, by a Sudra). In the context of British colonialsm, the difference that made a difference was a political system that impressed the data into the service of a certain socio-political meaning.

    Re: Muslims “reforming” themselves: First, the plethora of “reformist” Islamic movements cannot be de-linked from the general encounter between “Islam” and “the West”, an encounter whereby virtually all “Islamic” lands in the Middle East and North Africa came under the sway of colonizing powers. Second, and more significantly, the two-nation theory is not in my view reducible to Islamic “reformist” movements (such as the Deoband school in India, most of the leading lights of which REJECTED the two-nation theory), but is heir to a different political trajectory, namely that of English liberalism (and also European nationalism more generally). The crucial figure here is Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan, founder of Aligarh Muslim University and a noted social reformer vis-a-vis Muslims (though not an Islamic reformer). Khan recognized that the logic of liberalism legitimated representative democracy, but invoked the other pole of liberalism–minority protections– to argue for the indefinite continuance of British rule. The logic of Khan’s position was fully worked out in ensuing decades, as the argument ultimately became that Muslims were in fact not a minority but a separate nation (an argument endorsed, by the way, by Hindu nationalists like Savarkar, Bhai Parmanand). The Pakistan movement falls squarely in the history of modern nationalism, not the sort of religious reformism one sees in Deoband, the Qadianis, or earlier in Wahhabism in Arabia. Nostalgia for the imagined halcyon days of glorious empires certainly played a role in cultivating support for the notion, but in the final analysis Locke, Mill, and the Raj go a much longer way toward explaining this mindset than notions of “kufr”.

    As for alternative futures: a utility function keyed to a counterfactual path seems suspect to me, but we come from different perspectives on that one. One alternative view (not really counterfactual), is suggested in the final paragraph of the link below: http://qalandari.blogspot.com/2005/11/entertaining-possibilities.html

  17. “i.e., imagine that india liberated itself in 1857, just as latin american did against the spaniards in the early 19th century.”

    PS– 1857 might already be on the way to too late. A better question to my mind is: what would India have looked like if the disintegration of the Mughal empire had not been followed by the Company raj? Would there be no untouchability in India? That notion is obviously absurd. But what one WOULDN’T have would be the overarching standardizing structure instituted by the Raj (I might note that not all empires operate in the same way; the Mughal Empire was in many ways far more oppressive than the Raj, but the former was not engaged in the sorts of standardizing practices, anthropology, and the re-constitution of subjects that so characterized British rule (and the rule of other modern colonizers like the French, Dutch, Belgians, etc.)). And certainly varna would have no means by which to become the organizing principle of Hindu social reality.

  18. re: inter-group variance. please note, i was not referring to functionally relevant alleles. i.e., i wasn’t explaining any social phenomenon based on the variance. rather, the substructure implies deep time endogamy within various groups. also, groups that are “high caste,” “middle caste” and “low caste” tend to cluster together. also, there is a lot of overlap. what i was trying to say is that if you read the historical literature (at least what i’ve read), i simply wouldn’t have expected that there would have been as much population substructure as there was. you get the impression of a lot of movement up and down the “varna” chain (if you want to back-project the concept as salient in past ages). substructure can’t just pop up within a few centuries….

    Re: Muslims “reforming” themselves: First, the plethora of “reformist” Islamic movements cannot be de-linked from the general encounter between “Islam” and “the West”, an encounter whereby virtually all “Islamic” lands in the Middle East and North Africa came under the sway of colonizing powers. Second, and more significantly, the two-nation theory is not in my view reducible to Islamic “reformist” movements (such as the Deoband school in India, most of the leading lights of which REJECTED the two-nation theory), but is heir to a different political trajectory, namely that of English liberalism (and also European nationalism more generally).

    look, tendencies like putting “islamic” in “quotes” in reference to north africa and the middle east is a bit much, isn’t it? in any case, i gave you the explicit examples of indonesia and manchu china for a reason. i won’t address the rest of your comment, a lot of it is correct, and i don’t really have a horse in this race. rather, i’ll just end by saying that i think the “false choices” contention rings hallow to a great extent. the world is as it is, not how it could be.

  19. MD Dear, first order of business – we both know that you’ll give em South Americans a running for their beauty :) On assimilation, its great and I strongly believe in that. Stereotypes exist simply because there is some truth to it, and the point I was trying to make is – get your point across, but don’t kill the truth even if it isn’t exactly you.

    and razib, its more than the rump thang :)

  20. South American & Eastern European beauties seem to be the flavour of the month these days…..

  21. Cocopuffs,

    I’m not sure if you’ve been following some of the other topics, but buddy you’ve got an offer of a date from a hot babe on the “East is East, West is West” thread ;)

    Apparently she’s waiting for your reply…..wink

  22. look, tendencies like putting “islamic” in “quotes” in reference to north africa and the middle east is a bit much, isn’t it?

    Not sure what this crack is getting at. The “quotes” were there because that is how a lot of Muslims (especially a lot of religiously devout Muslims) view those lands/countries, but that is not how I view them (I was thinking in particular of Egypt, Lebanon, and perhaps Syria and Iraq).

    the world is as it is, not how it could be.

    I do not disagree. But one will never appreciate just why the world is as it is, or what made it the way it is, if one never considers how the world might have been, or could be.

  23. the world is as it is, not how it could be.

    Well than why read or learn about history at all??

  24. Razib wrote:

    I don’t think “worshipping cows” is less rational than worshipping a dead man on a cross

    I could never imagin it !!! lol. I heard someone sniggering about Shivalingam. How amzing people forget the outer form and sceptics notice the outer form only. Lol

  25. Razib buddy,

    you did a taste test? how wuz it?

    Fire & Ice, I expect ;) Just kidding…..

    Anyway, I thought you were in a better position to comment on such matters — “Girl (or at least ex-girlfriend) in every port”, and so on ;)

  26. folks would say “oh your english is so good” (this is typically right after I tell them I am from India)

    Ofcourse its not condescending. It will really uncommon for a FOB to confess that English is his/her 2nd language and they may possibly not be as relaxed in it as native men and women of US. Its the effing slave mentality that just wont go safe tanning

  27. you know what i enjoy? i enjoy how often i go through comments on this internet site… and they are so profound…that i honestly have no concept what they are talking about.. it’s all very humbling.

    and i just sit there mouth slack…

    safe tanning