What is brown/desi to you?

I recently had a discussion with a columnist on Asian American issues about my own identity as a brown person who self-identifies as a conservative. It’s rather amusing to me that the mainstream media is far more curious about my rare intersection of identities (e.g., interest in my combination of atheism and right-wing orientation), than the preponderance of my online production in science, which is perhaps a touch too abstruse for the general public.

brown.jpgBut much of the back & forth hinged upon definitions. For example, I use the term “brown” regularly. But what does that mean? First, a word is a word, and anyone can “own” a word. I’m not the pope of terms like “brown” or “desi,” their meaning crystallizes through bottom up consensus. But my own definition makes recourse to the set theory concept of a union. That is, for me the identity is not a intersection of necessary preconditions, but a wide collection of identities which can be usefully bracketed together. So when asked why I considered myself brown, the reality that I’m racially a brown person, and will be until the day that I die. I could relocate to Japan, marry a Japanese woman and change my name, and become initiated into Shinto rites, but I’d still be brown in terms of my racial identity. For me the brown-as-race definition works well enough that I don’t need to think about it too deeply. But there other flavors out there. There are descendants of Ananda Coomaraswamy all across the United States. Many have the surname Coomaraswamy, but as their South Asian ancestry is sharply diminished they look like typical white Americans. Whether these people identify as South Asian or not, they sport a name which brings attention to the origins of one of their ancestors. You can actually find many of these people on Facebook, so if there’s an intrepid journalist who wants to write up a feature on this family it wouldn’t be too difficult. In a similar but more obscure vein a friend recently inquired about the Indian-sounding surname of one her customers from Philadelphia. To make a long story short it turns out that in the early 20th century an Indo-Trinidadian man seems to have married into a prominent family in Philadelphia’s Main Line. Today the descendants of this man still have a distinctive Indian name (with the transliteration tells which point to Trinidadian origins), though for all other purposes they’re Northeastern WASPs.

These are exceptional cases. The majority of American South Asians are Indian Americans of Hindu background with brown skin. Today. The intermarriage statistics for Indian Americans for the 2010 Census are not out yet. I would not be at all surprised if the ~45% ~25% outmarriage rate from 2000 was a short term peak, due to the relatively culturally isolated children of the immigrants of the late 1960s and 1970s reaching maturity in the 1990s. But whatever the exact figure, there is no doubt going to be a huge gap in outmarriage rates nonetheless between the immigrant Indian American community, which is still the majority in the USA, and those who were born or raised in the USA, who are a larger and larger minority.

This does not even touch upon the large number of children adopted from India and raised by Americans of all backgrounds. Or the hundreds of thousands of white Americans who have converted to Hinduism and identify as Hindus. The United States of America has a mythology of individuals recreating themselves anew. But another aspect of the story is that communities and identities are also refashioned anew.

52 thoughts on “What is brown/desi to you?

  1. Brown/desi to me is needing (not wanting) to rice and daal regularly. With fingers of course.

    • Brown/desi to me is needing (not wanting) to rice and daal regularly. With fingers of course.

      lol. food is definitely a major issue. though this seems localized, since rice is a staple more of the east and south. re: fingers, for some reason i never learned to do that. i always wanted utensils. when one of my brothers wanted to “reconnect” with his heritage he started doing that, though he gave it up eventually. my parents have given up eating with their hands because they worry about hygiene.

  2. I let people self-identify, so if someone thinks of themselves as “brown” or “desi” in my book, then that’s what they are. In college, I met a White girl with a Polish surname, who majored in South Asian Studies, studied abroad in India, was obsessed with all things Indian (political, cultural, economic, bollywood, etc). Sure you could call her an inside-out coconut, but the funny thing is, in certain ways she’s more “desi” than I am. So I think of “desi” as cultural, whereas “South Asian” is the PC term referring to my genetic heritage that I check off on a form at the doctor’s office.

    I can relate to the intersection of identity issues; people are often surprised that I’m agnostic in religion, and fairly critical of Islam, given my Afghan/Paki heritage. Most people in my demographic (fresh college grad, from NYC) seem to be overwhelmingly liberal, and are also surprised how conservative I can be about certain issues (but I’m no Republican)

  3. So I think of “desi” as cultural, whereas “South Asian” is the PC term referring to my genetic heritage that I check off on a form at the doctor’s office.

    that’s a pretty good dichotomy. south asian sounds “clinical,” which makes sense since i think it came out of academic ‘area studies’ as a way to mollify those who might be offended by being called ‘indian’ because of its association with the modern nation-state.

  4. To add to my last comment – one thing I’ve noticed, both in real life and from reading Sepia Mutiny, is that there seems to be differing opinions on Afghanistan. Depending on who (or what organization) you ask, it can be classified as Central Asian, South Asian, or Middle Eastern. Most Indians and Paks also don’t seem to consider it “desi” either. The only universal consensus on Afghanistan seems to be that it’s a shithole and no one wants to live there. It just goes to show how much of identity is self-made.

    • Most Indians and Paks also don’t seem to consider it “desi” either. The only universal consensus on Afghanistan seems to be that it’s a shithole and no one wants to live there. It just goes to show how much of identity is self-made.

      if it wasn’t so bad on HDI metrics there might be more tendency to assert affinity. as we’ve noted before explicitly south asian cultural influences such as hinduism were present in afghanistan, like the shahi kings. and genetically there does seem to be affinity between south asians and pathans, though not necessarily the other groups in afghanistan. so the nation is civilizationally trisected, between hind, turan, and iran, using the old iranian formulations.

      fwiw, there were some afghan refugees as my family’s masjid when i was a kid. it was multi-ethnic, and different regions clustered together during the big feasts and such. the afghans chilled with the brownz, not the arabs or other west asian groups.

    • Depending on who (or what organization) you ask, it can be classified as Central Asian, South Asian, or Middle Eastern. Most Indians and Paks also don’t seem to consider it “desi” either. The only universal consensus on Afghanistan seems to be that it’s a shithole and no one wants to live there. It just goes to show how much of identity is self-made.

      I believe that Pashtuns of Afghanistan are culturally and ethnically more similar to the Tajiks, whereas the Pashtuns of Pakistan are more culturally and ethnically related to the Pakistanis. Here in Boston, we have two restaurants very close to one another, and they’re both owned by Pashtuns. One is “Madina Market” owned by an Pakistani Pashtun, and his restaurant is “Indian” – at least that’s what the sign says on the outside. The other Pashtun owned restaurant is Ariana owned by an Afghani. The foods at the two places are very different. Moreover, I believe that Pashtuns, in general, are at the frontiers of Desi-Nondesi culture. Anything north or north west of Pashtunistan is NOT desi.

      Baluchis are desi. I believe that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was Baluchi as was Ramzi Yousef. However, people west of the Baluchis aren’t Desis.

      Tajiks aren’t desi either. They tend to caucus with the Iranians or Arabs (because they’re Sunni).

      Also, Hindus from Indonesia are not Desi. I don’t get the impression that they are. Moreover, I don’t really get the impression that Eastern Indians (from Mizoram or Nagaland area) are desis. They’re marginalized on Indian cinema, I think. They get asked strange, minority-oriented questions on India’s “Desi Idol” TV show. So, they’re politically desi but not ethnicially or culturally.

      Sinhalese are desis and so are Tamils from Sri Lanka.

      Some Nepalis are desis, and some are not. The ones practicing Buddhism – like the Tibetans – aren’t desis. That’s just my Rs.2.

    • except for cricket, with relatively nothing in the way of infrastructure, funding, coaching and ‘culture’ the Afghan national team regularly trounces Associate nations with undeniable talent.

    • “The only universal consensus on Afghanistan seems to be that it’s a shithole and no one wants to live there.”

      Wrong. All the Muslim religious fruitcakes want to live there to make the world’s only “Muslim” country.

      • Listen up, Desis: GO BRUINS.

        OK – the Bruins are all honorary desis as far as I’m concerned, and they never show up late. I heard that they do the head shake as they eat their daal called Boston beans.

        Oh yes, the Desis – from India and Pakistan – dominated field hockey like crazy. I don’t know, but maybe there were playing as if their onion ration was on the line.

        Coming back to Afghanistan: I’ve met a Panjshiri at Helmands restaurant who told me that “Uzbeks, Chechens, and Arabs of Afghanistan” have a purpose in Afghanistan, whereas the USA, UK, NATO do not. This guy was also a Tajik, which really surprised me. I know another Tajik who owns a pizza restaurant called Pinos (it’s an award winning pizza place), and he hates the UN peace keeping forces there. He also hates Pashtuns. How come the Tajiks are not doing anything to help out their own nation? Where is the Northern Alliance?

  5. ~45% outmarriage rate from 2000

    I’ve mentioned this several times before. You’re referencing the wrong part of the chart. It’s not your fault, it’s a poorly formatted chart.

    It says 56.7% of US Raised Indian men are married to US Raised Indian women. That’s not “outmarriage” since they might be marrying foreign raisedIndian women as well. You should be looking at the middle column which says that about 73% of US Raised Indian men are married to Indian women (either US raised or foreign raised)

    The outmarriage percentage was closer to 27%. Not 44%.

  6. “It’s not your fault, it’s a poorly formatted chart. “

    seems pretty clear and readable to me…

  7. It’s interesting that you say that “South Asian” sounds clinical – being of Bangladeshi origin, I find it rather inclusive. Perhaps that is because a lot of non-”brown” people don’t even know where Bangladesh is, but I think about it as also a unifying term that allows me to express my experience in solidarity with others – particularly those brown people like me who didn’t grow up in areas where they had few other Bengalis/Indians/Sri Lankans/Pakistanis to hang with.’

    Anyway, to answer the main question, I think that “brown” and “desi” is a comfortable in-group type of label that I would probably say amidst my other “brown/desi” friends, but would probably not use with others. Because there are other brown people in the world, no? South American people, Middle Eastern people, etc. It can be used inclusively that way too, but I don’t find it being used that way as often in other communities.

    Jordan A. Check out my blog: The Cowation for more of my opinions on South Asian identity and writing by/about South Asians.

  8. It’s interesting that you say that “South Asian” sounds clinical – being of Bangladeshi origin, I find it rather inclusive. Perhaps that is because a lot of non-”brown” people don’t even know where Bangladesh is, but I think about it as also a unifying term that allows me to express my experience in solidarity with others – particularly those brown people like me who didn’t grow up in areas where they had few other Bengalis/Indians/Sri Lankans/Pakistanis to hang with.’

    first, just so you know, i was born in bangladesh (though raised in the states). so i hear you. the main issue is that before 1947 we’d all be “indian” on the mainland (not sure if sri lankans would identify as such). my maternal grandfather was born in british india and was indian for most of his life (he was born in 1896). after 1947 he was pakistani, and after 1971 he was bangladeshi. so some of this is just historical happenstance. desi isn’t familiar as a word to non-browns, so you had to create a word acceptable to all. so “south asian” came into being. but it is as “homey” to me as the word “west asian” would be for iranians, turks, and mashriq arabs. accurate, precise, but clearly an artificiality imposed for useful intellectual reasons.

    Baluchis are desi. I believe that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was Baluchi as was Ramzi Yousef. However, people west of the Baluchis aren’t Desis.

    strangely, the baloch and brahui have a lot less “ancestral south indian” than pashtuns. if you went by genes alone they might not make the cut. though culturally i think you’re correct. but geography makes the baloch liminal; they’re at the intersection of south asia, iran, and the arab world (look at map and observe how close greater balochistan is to oman and eastern arabia, and it makes sense why there have long been omani arabs on the coast there, and baloch are also found across the straits of hormuz).

  9. Thanks for mentioning Coomaraswamy–if you were ‘fair’ enough during WWII the RAF would let you fly planes and a somewhat distant relative is rumored to have done the same spreading of seeds that Ananda accomplished but in the UK (so there’s one ‘desi’ pass)–my paternal grandfather had the same surname (but given the juxtaposition common going down the tree probably not a connection).

    I think it still comes down to appearance but “Indian” is now lagging behind “Arab” (other arab students at a local university) for most assumed and expressed description of my ethnicity. There’s a local artist who goes by the name of “Sundari Prasad” (who does that Vin Diesel thing where you’re supposed to guess what she is) but my guess is that even the most egalitarian and inclusive commenters on this weblog wouldn’t automatically say, “you’re in the club!” http://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/the-girl-with-the-skull-tattoo/Content?oid=1520363&cb=99b14a308d382536ed8f627f7c85f3ec&sort=desc

    and fb: https://www.facebook.com/people/Sundari-Prasad/686967813 (interests: Hariharan and Tamil movies!!!)

    • I think it still comes down to appearance

      well, obviously appearance matters. it’s determinative for me personally. but i think we need to be careful about not getting caught up in our own “brown paper-bag” test. this is especially true because a lot of people’s perception of what “brown” looks like is constrained to the region of their origin in south asia.

    • I apologize if I’m veering WAY off of topic, but Nandalal mentioned a cowardly Tamil king who, upon retreating, basically sold his family to the enemy and other humiliating acts. What was this war that you speak of? It was very interesting, but I can’t find information on this.

      OK – regarding colonialism: Colonialism is not only the control of a people’s resources, human capital, but also of their pscyhe.

  10. <<<…whereas the Pashtuns of Pakistan are more culturally and ethnically related to the Pakistanis>>>

    Don’t make the mistake of saying that to a Khyber-Pakhtunkhwite, unless the person is very polite or decent, you could suffer…Things are worse than they used to be about 10 years back. Pakistani Sindhis (funny because that is the same as saying non-Indian Indians!) long ago left the Pak project, Baluchis and KPs have followed with a vengeance. Getting riled up about “Punjabi dominance” Seraikis now want out.

  11. You are ethnically South Asian if and only if you can pull off the sideways head shake.

    • “You are ethnically South Asian if and only if you can pull off the sideways head shake.”

      TITCR

  12. @cronous – the elites of the muslim world hardly flock to afghanistan though…the fruitcakes seem to be concentrated in places like saudi arabia

    and genetically there does seem to be affinity between south asians and pathans, though not necessarily the other groups in afghanistan.

    Yeah I think you mentioned in another post that pashtuns have more ASI than balochis or sindhis? I agree Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbek, Uighurs are definitely distinct and non-Desi.

    @Mahesh – I disagree that Afghan Pashtuns are closer to Tajiks. There is a lot of ethnic tension between the two groups. Tajiks are a Central Asian people; culturally they’re closer to Iranians, and they speak Farsi. Afghan and Paki Pashtuns are very tribal, but culturally there is the Pashtunwali code, and they’re linguistically unified through Pashto. The urban populations of each country seem to be more distinct though; they’ll speak their national, rather than ethnic or regional language for example (Dari vs Pashto)

  13. Often, a more pertinent question can be “how do others see you”? For example, I’m sure if many Indians had known that the British merely saw all of them as inferior and a bunch of darkies, they might have been less willing to help the British loot their country.

    Perhaps solidarity should come from reaction to prejudice? In that sense virtually every brown person is a desi (and black people too).

  14. For example, I’m sure if many Indians had known that the British merely saw all of them as inferior and a bunch of darkies, they might have been less willing to help the British loot their country.

    i doubt the sepoys who were commanded by eurasian or british officers were under any illusions. after all, there was a de facto and de jure caste system of command and commanded. in fact, the south indians and bengalis who won the early battles had to face the same sneers and contempt from the traditional muslim elite and the “martial races,” whom they whipped with european weapons and organization (the rebellion of 1859 of course led to the shift the british army toward more “loyal” races).

    Perhaps solidarity should come from reaction to prejudice?

    many high caste hindus and ashraf muslims were reputedly shocked and repelled by the fact that the british recruited untouchables as soldiers in some circumstances. the past is pretty complex, but i guess when we want to we can to we can brush all that away and just settle for white-colored dichotomies which fit our contemporary narratives well.

    • Not talking about the sepoys. I’m talking about the people with real power – the rajas etc.

      Perhaps the high caste hindus and muslims were shocked at low castes being used as soldiers, so what? Do you think Britain did not have a class system at that time? Some might say it still does, just in a more subtle fashion. Even today, you would be hard pushed to find a country in the western world that does not have some form of class system.

      My point is selling out your country to get a leg up financially is a bad idea. I think the systematic looting, pillaging and subjugation of numerous colonies would bear that out. Most of them are still feeling the effects of that today, even the more successful ones.

  15. Tajiks aren’t desi either. They tend to caucus with the Iranians or Arabs (because they’re Sunni).

    Iranians are sunni, huh? Must’ve happened overnight. Or was that dodgy syntax?

    but i think we need to be careful about not getting caught up in our own “brown paper-bag” test.

    WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREED, particularly w/r/t outmarriage. The world now has a hefty enough population of desis mixed with damn near every ethnicity on earth, so rejection of desihood based on not looking “the part” is a choke-able offense.

    Deepika Padukone = desi Katrina “Kaif” Turquotte = firang

    And Kalki Koechelin? Clearly white exterior, but she’s more Indian than most 2nd gen (onward) Indians in the US that I know.

  16. “And Kalki Koechelin?”

    Just looked her up. Wow. Your point. Period, the end.

  17. My point is selling out your country to get a leg up financially is a bad idea. I think the systematic looting, pillaging and subjugation of numerous colonies would bear that out. Most of them are still feeling the effects of that today, even the more successful ones.

    two points. one, india as a nation-state didn’t exist in 1800. insofar as it did, at that point even the hindu paramounts were still nominally giving fealty to an indo-islamic dynasty which was substantially foreign in its origins, and proud of it. second, for individuals betraying whatever putative identity you have can be very lucrative. to not problematize the issue of identity, let’s offer a clear example: much of the south korean military leadership after world war 2 were pro-japanese quislings. they flourished, and some even became head of state. in contrast the communists if north korea were generally anti-japanese nationalists.

    Iranians are sunni, huh? Must’ve happened overnight. Or was that dodgy syntax?

    i think they meant that since tajiks are sunni but affiliate with other sunnis, which means arabs and turks, as opposed to fellow persians, who are mostly shia (many turks and arabs are shia too, but i think we know what the writer meant).

    1. Historically, the region east of the river Indus was considered Hindustan. So punjabis and sindhis and other south asian ethnicities to their east were considered indians/hindus/desis while pashtuns and balochis were not.

    2. Genetically it looks like the Onge component of the Harappa Ancestry Project is THE defining desi genetic marker. It is found in desis of all castes, communities, regions. So is the south asian component, the difference being that the Onge component is limited to the subcontinent while the south asian component has traveled extensively outside it.

    3. Linguistically, desis speak either an indo-aryan or a dravidian language.

  18. 2. Genetically it looks like the Onge component of the Harappa Ancestry Project is THE defining desi genetic marker. It is found in desis of all castes, communities, regions. So is the south asian component, the difference being that the Onge component is limited to the subcontinent while the south asian component has traveled extensively outside it.

    the onge component is correlated, but it doesn’t track the real component, which is “ancestral south indian” (ASI). in general onge underestimates ASI.

    3. Linguistically, desis speak either an indo-aryan or a dravidian language.

    i guess santhals should go back to where they came from!

  19. My point is selling out your country to get a leg up financially is a bad idea.

    Indians have been doing this for the longest time, and are still doing it. It is too easy to divide and rule India as handfuls of foreign invaders have shown time and again. Desis are only too willing to sell out to the foreigner, to hate each other using caste, color, community, language, religion, sect etc.

    The rajputs and brahmins sold out to the muslim mughals for selfish gain. The 1857 War of “Independence” against british rule was actually an attempt by brahmins and kshatriyas, allied with muslims, to reinstall the Mughal Emperor and eject the european christians from India.

  20. Perhaps the high caste hindus and muslims were shocked at low castes being used as soldiers, so what?

    So, how well did the caste system work out in defending India against handfuls of invaders?

    Considering that the overwhleming majority of hindus (~85%) are not high caste, and an even greater proportion do not belong to the kshatriya warrior caste, it is the height of stupidity to limit the pool of defenders of the nation’s territorial integrity to such a small number of hereditary warriors, who weren’t such great warriors anyway as they proved time and again. If anything they tended to be treachorous as in the case of the Rajputs.

    The muslims and christians had no such caste compunctions and hence rolled over the hindus with the greatest ease.

    It is also worth noting that the greatest desi empires were founded by low caste sudras.

    • “Indians have been doing this for the longest time, and are still doing it. It is too easy to divide and rule India as handfuls of foreign invaders have shown time and again. Desis are only too willing to sell out to the foreigner, to hate each other using caste, color, community, language, religion, sect etc.

      The rajputs and brahmins sold out to the muslim mughals for selfish gain. The 1857 War of “Independence” against british rule was actually an attempt by brahmins and kshatriyas, allied with muslims, to reinstall the Mughal Emperor and eject the european christians from India.”

      Still doesn’t make it right though does it?

  21. I’m sure if many Indians had known that the British merely saw all of them as inferior and a bunch of darkies, they might have been less willing to help the British loot their country.

    Come on, they knew it all right. The trick of dividing and ruling involved making some desis more inferior than others. Kinda like how the african house slave was made to think he was superior to the cotton picking slave in the America South. The trick is still working.

  22. Bodhidharma, let’s get back on thread. i apologize for moving it off in the first place.

  23. Bodhidarma,

    As I’ve mentioned on the colonialism post, part of the problem with Indian history is that we have so many people who comment on it, without actually properly studying it. You appear to be in this category.

    A basic study of Indian Military History, would demonstrate that hindu kingdoms were not “rolled over with ease”. Mohd. Ghauri lost the first battle of tarain and won the second by signing a peace treaty with Prithviraj in bad faith and then attacking his camp at dawn the next day. Should blame lie with Prithviraj for being so gullible?–Of course, but you can hardly call this being rolled over with ease. The Arab invasions of India failed. The Pratiharas and Rashtrakutas utterly trounced them to the point that Arab chroniclers themselves note that Abbassid caliphate gave up any further project of invasion, and the Arab emir of sindh only managed to retain his seat by paying tribute to both these hindu empires, which had actually pushed the caliphate to the other side of the Indus. Were there talented central asian generals like Ghazni and Babur who managed to succeed (as the latter did over Rana Sangha at Khanua with the benefit of gunpowder RMA)?–sure. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t ferocious resistance. Did some rajputs fail to perform their duty–sure, but all people are prone to dissension and subversion as the Byzantines recorded about Franks and Arabs and suffered themselves. And remember, in the Persian wars, greek phalanx units were employed on both sides.

    And as for christians, Wellington stated that his greatest feat wasn’t Waterloo but Assaye against the Marathas. And the dutch debacle at colachel against travancore tells another story http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Colachel

    Additionally, the pool of defenders was never limited to just kshatriyas. Soldiers were recruited from all castes when necessary, including vaishya and shudra, as Kautilya himself notes. You contradict yourself later when you correctly identify that great dynasties such as the Nandas and Mauryas were founded by members of the fourth varna.

    Your point about selling out is most applicable to the current crop that somehow managed to become the “political class”, “social elite”, and “intelligentsia”, when frankly, there is nothing classy or elite or intelligent about any of them beyond the ill gotten trinkets from the fraud they have committed.

    Anyhow, given that this thread is about identity, let’s just leave it at that to avoid threadjacking.

    • yep, i’ll delete follow up comments on the side-thread. or just close the thread altogether.

  24. If the Onge and South Asian components together define desiness genetically the santhals are 85% desi and 13% east asian

    why yes! thanks for referencing my post :-)

  25.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    brown                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      desiness. 
    
    1. A large percentage of desis, of all castes and religions, are black-skinned. Many others are closer to yellow. A few are even white or could pass for white.

    2. There are tons of browns who are not desis: in the middle-east, southeast asia, africa, the americas, the pacific islands. The majority of whites may be of european ancestry, the majority of blacks of african ancestry and the majority of yellows of chinese ancestry, but brown-skinned people are spread out all across the globe.

    3. Its rather superficial, and imitative of the europeans’ obsession with their white skin.

  26. Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy — had never heard of him, but if he and all his descendants married “out” then I’m not surprised they look all WASPy, because he sort of does himself. Can’t tell his shade of brown from the photo, but his features remind me of some British thespian I can’t place, or someone out of a portrait gallery of medieval English kings. Maybe Richard III.. I’m sure if he’d been caught smiling he’d have long teeth. And he was a Tamil? Well that counts out any Scythian influence.

  27. “That is, for me the identity is not a intersection of necessary preconditions, but a wide collection of identities which can be usefully bracketed together.:”

    Are you thinking more Jai Uttals, 2nd/3rd gen Hare Krishnas and New Agey moms giving credence to “chakras” or a general ‘fan-club’ theory wherein interest expressed in whatever is all that is required for recognition as a member by both out and in-group? If there are no gate-keepers, as I think you and I agree is ideal, should we simply apply the words as often and as freely as possible? (i do.)

  28. Are you thinking more Jai Uttals, 2nd/3rd gen Hare Krishnas and New Agey moms giving credence to “chakras” or a general ‘fan-club’ theory wherein interest expressed in whatever is all that is required for recognition as a member by both out and in-group? If there are no gate-keepers, as I think you and I agree is ideal, should we simply apply the words as often and as freely as possible? (i do.)

    well, the three are somewhat different. new agey moms are kind of pancultural dabblers. my point is that hare krishnas, whatever their race, are committed very deeply to a fundamental strain of brown/south asian culture, a sect of hinduism which grows out of the indigenous strains of indian religious expression. just because they are non-brown in racial and ancestral terms, there’s something fundamentally south asian in their cultural inheritance, which they presumably would pass on to their offspring. this is my experience with the few 2nd gen hare krishna kids i’ve met.

    as for words, they should be instruments to greater understanding. i think a word like “brown” or “desi” does illuminate something fundamental about both a white hare krishna and an indian adoptee raised in spain. even if they’re not typical.

    • this is fairly important to me, as I grew up in a community which is just as, if not moreso, than the Hare Krishnas populated by white folks invested in brown culture (and passing it on to their kids) but I think the line between “pancultural dabblers” (according to my own very specific experience) and the deeply invested to be very flexible (and the former irritate me far more than the latter) in how they approach whatever pieces of brown culture they find interesting–the dabblers and the lifers participated in cultural activities and worship in very similar ways and sometimes in the same physical spaces–but those who adopt the more fundamentalist route and live in a space culturally and/or geographically separated from mainstream society have fewer opportunities to ‘disengage’ from brown culture given their network of family and friends.

      i know i’m not supplying links to support this argument but I haven’t written my autobiography yet, so there’s hope.

  29. I know this post is a little off-topic, but upper-caste Hindus do not have a monopoly on selling out their country. Here is a quote from B. R. Ambedkar, a prominent Dalit activist, on the conquest of India by the British:

    Many Britishers think that India was conquered by the Clives, Hastings, Coots and so on. Nothing can be a greater mistake. India was conquered by an army of Indians and the Indians who formed the army were all untouchables. British rule in India would have been impossible if the untouchables had not helped the British to conquer India. Take the Battle of Plassey which laid the beginning of British rule or the battle of Kirkee which completed the conquest of India. In both these fateful battles the soldiers who fought for the British were all untouchables…
  30. I’m not sure how much evidence there exists for Dr. Ambedkar’s claims in that quote. I found a remarkable book online, published in 1817, on this subject named “An historical account of the rise and progress of the Bengal Native Infantry” – http://www.archive.org/stream/anhistoricalacc00willgoog#page/n21/mode/2up

    It was that Infantry which fought on the side of the British East India Company against the Nawab of Bengal’s forces and his French trained sepoys. It should be noted that both the English and the French hired and trained natives to fight on their behalf. None of the British accounts say anything about these sepoys being recruited exclusively from one community or another. They were essentially purchased mercenaries. The same infantry participated in a minor rebellion in 1764, seven years after the Battle of Plassey, because the material promises the British had made to them had not been fulfilled .

    • that link is appreciated! so nice to have commenters contribute information instead of just asserting.

      • “so nice to have commenters contribute information instead of just asserting.” -

        and yet you assert right here – “i doubt the sepoys who were commanded by eurasian or british officers were under any illusions. after all, there was a de facto and de jure caste system of command and commanded. in fact, the south indians and bengalis who won the early battles had to face the same sneers and contempt from the traditional muslim elite and the “martial races,” whom they whipped with european weapons and organization (the rebellion of 1859 of course led to the shift the british army toward more “loyal” races).”

        and here “many high caste hindus and ashraf muslims were reputedly shocked and repelled by the fact that the british recruited untouchables as soldiers in some circumstances. the past is pretty complex, but i guess when we want to we can to we can brush all that away and just settle for white-colored dichotomies which fit our contemporary narratives well.”

        “The same infantry participated in a minor rebellion in 1764, seven years after the Battle of Plassey, because the material promises the British had made to them had not been fulfilled .” – just goes to show that selling out is not such a good idea.