Sunday, October 04, 2009

The left-behind majority

I hear often that racism or casteism cuts both ways. That is, it affects the perpetrators as much as the victims. I have often wondered about that - how does majoritarianism affect the majority and how does casteism affect the forward castes?
Some clarity came when I was reading this excellent series of blogs by Joe Bageant, the American author of the book "Deer Hunting with Jesus". Going through the letters in his site makes it clear how assumptions of white superiority affects whites themselves.

You see, the majority of American poor are white people. The majority of social security recipients in America are white people. Yet, whenever people in the United States talk of a "welfare queen" what they typically mean is a reckless black single mother. At least that is the image they conjure up.
This has come to mean that debate about health care reform or "entitlement" programs have sought to revolve around subtle racial messages. When Republican voters in America protest "socialism", what they are protesting is really their money benefitting black people.
Yet, blacks are not the major recipients of welfare.
Thus liberals and conservatives in the United States are locked really in a fight about benefits to black people and Hispanics - with liberals accusing of racism and conservatives of socialism.
Meanwhile the white poor in America receive no attention.
You see my point here? It is as if the myths of racial superiority of the white people actually end up making poor white people INVISIBLE to the media and activists. While debating back and forth over racism, people have forgotten that not every white person is an investment banker with an Ivy League degree. For example, the trade policies of the past 20 years in America have devastated manufacturing jobs held by whites as well.

Back to my first statement above, THIS is how racism, casteism and cultural hegemony affect the perpetrators' cultures themselves. Racism ends up hiding the poverty of white people. Untouchability practiced in India hides the plight of middle and forward caste members with little or no land. It makes such members subservient to their own rich caste members.

That is, racism and casteism rarely benefit anyone other than the creepy people who directly make money out of such antagonisms.

In my own (although limited) experience, Casteism also forces forward caste members to confirm to social rules and career paths and peer pressures that they can neither ignore nor meet adequately. I have seen this in school and college - forward caste students were expected to perform extremely well by their families; expectations that these students could not meet most of the time.
Holding up caste based or race based differences does not help anyone.

In another view of this, take the majoritarian views of the Hindu nationalists or Hindi nationalists. Both these views end up covering substantial cultural differences in North India. Telugu actor Chiranjeevi once said that entire sub-cultures in North India (such as Bhojpuri) were being disappeared by the domination of Hindi. What Hindu nationalists are attempting is not a secret - their goal is to create a lockstep mono-culture throughout India. In such efforts, they end up causing the numerous sub-cultures that make up Hinduism to disappear - thus making Hinduism itself a colorless religion.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hindu nationalists get panned again... Here we have a dynasty that is comfortably couched in power, reducing India to a banana republic and we can't stop worrying about those pesky Hindu nationalists with their campaign for uniform civil code and other discriminatory demands, can we?

A much simpler illustration of your point would be to point out that the actions of Moslem extremists have caused Moslems to be branded, stigmatized and demonized all over the world. Instead, we go all the way to quote the formidable genius called Chiranjeevi about the plight of Bhojpuri in India.