Why I hate the term Brown

After seeing the amazing show Daughters of Destiny; I believe the catch-all term Brown is deeply offensive.

The reason being is that we are not all the same shade and it masks privilege. Dalit South Asians are black and need to embrace that term (I know there was a movement to that effect) to be able to articulate their separate racial interests.

This idea that being South Asian is somehow only a colour spectrum undermines the darker members of the community who immediately get overshadowed by the lighter and fairer spokespeople (the upper castes of all religions and regions) who act as interlocutors and Macauley’s children.

As an aside the amazing aspect of Daughters of Destiny is that Dr. George is Macaulaysing the Dalit children and threatening the upper caste hegemony of that space. Go to any private school, corporation or family business in South Asia and upper castes dominate it overwhelmingly. The Marwaris (Jain & Hindu) are still upper caste and they basically rule the (economic) roost. The Brahmins act as the intermediaries of that previous Western culture and the profound impact with which it is transforming India.

However just as I would find it absurd to listen to White Americans on race; these very same upper castes lecture about “Indian poverty” without any regard to their own structural privilege and how it contributes to it.

I’m aware of my own hypocrisy in this matter; I constantly troll about UP (Urdu-Persian) to a sometimes absurd extent. But I also remember to always check my privilege and shut up when there are more informed voices on the table. That’s why I’ll always fend off the upper castes/classes and their concerns/criticisms but try to find authentic voices.

I find it interesting that yesterday when Pakistan was playing Afghanistan; my blood boiled far more against those traitorous Peshawaris then it would ever do against India or Bangladesh for instance. It’s an interesting cognitive quirk.

The racial dimension would add nuance to any discussion. There are black Punjabi/Tamilians and white Punjabi/Tamilians so on and so forth. There would then be much clearer discourses within each community because castes would be conceptualised as distinct as races.

So a Dalit Muslim and Hindu would have a pan-racial identity and be able to have much more advocacy. There is strength in numbers and the Dalitisation of the Subcontinent is important.

It would probably lead to a severe pushback against the prevailing Sanskrit-Persianate hegemony of the upper castes/classes.

Interestingly enough I googled untouchability in Bangladesh and this is what I got (I find the wording very objectionable):

Meet the Harijans, descendants of the lowest of low caste Hindus brought by the British from Central India to keep Bengal clean. Harijans inhabit every town in Bangladesh barring the hill districts. Even in the year 2015, an apartheid system dating back millennia condemns these people to a life of humiliation and disgrace in many parts of the country.

In many ways Bangladesh’s striking homogeneity (excepting the Hindu minority) does have ramifications about national kinship. Do Bangladeshis identify more with one another because they are less structurally stratified and less influenced by the polarising High Traditions of the Sanskrit/Persianate sphere?

This could be one of the reasons as to why Bangladesh is the only nation to fully coincide with part of a linguistic region. I would not be surprised if in a decade or so Bangladesh has even more startling human improvement metrics. What was once the North Korea (as East Pakistan) could soon be the South Korea to West Bengal (even if WB has Kolkatta).

18 thoughts on “Why I hate the term Brown”

    1. @Saurav “Strictly speaking bangladesh is already South Korea to west Bengal”

      And West Bengal is already South Korea to UP-Bihar ??

      1. Well was that supposed to hurt or something?

        TBF any state in India is South Korea if you consider it to UP-Bihar

  1. “There are black Punjabi/Tamilians and white Punjabi/Tamilians so on and so forth.”

    The problem is that this identity is not very strictly heritable in India.
    A fair-skinned person can have swarthy kids and vice versa. And then there is also the matter of grooming and profession.

    Indians are too diffused to be cleanly separated into a handful of races.

  2. prats is right. this is why colorism in the black american community doesn’t lead to subdivisions of ‘red bones’ vs. ‘skill blondes’ in a heritable sense though there is some sorting with the ‘paper bag’ test.

    Dalit South Asians are black and need to embrace that term

    some of them do. as you imply earlier perhaps you should let them work it out, instead of being so passionate on their behalf ‘magian’? 😉

    tho i get where you feeling comes from. watched a doc a while ago. it’s pretty infuriating…

    1. Yes I’m both an insider and outsider to the Subcontinent.

      Life, alone, is sacred to me.

      I’ve been having a long discussion with V on this; I’m simply holding a mirror.

  3. I’ve been having a long discussion with V on this; I’m simply holding a mirror.

    that’s fine bro. but elite brownz holding a mirror to themselves in public is kind of a thing too 😉

    my experiences on twitter talking to dalits is often how matter of fact and unemotional they are. they’re consciousness wasn’t raised, they aren’t enraged, cuz it’s just their life.

  4. How do black upper caste people fit into this framework? There are pitch black Brahmins in TN with soft features, for example. They, too, face colorism issues, but on the other hand still benefit from their caste privilege when compared to black Dalits.

    1. yep. my pat. grandmother’s father was from tagore stock. they were rich black bengali brahmins. i suspected perhaps they were not real brahmins, but when i look at my dad’s genotype, he does noticeable brahmin-shift compared to my mom.

      1. In this case you now his cousin – Alokananda Miter from Tagore’s family who studied Serbian/Slavic languages for 30 years and found that modern Serbian and Sanskrit have 20% identical words and 10% very similar while Bangla has 11% of idetical words. Also, all Sanskrit words in English came from Serbian language because the distcance btw English and Sanskrit is at least 3500 years.

      2. “they were rich black bengali brahmins.”

        I just found out using gedmatch that my r1a1 is from being a bastard child of a brahmin (Nair via Namboothri). Would explain my bookishness and high intellectual ability of paternal side of family.

      3. grandmother’s father was from tagore stock. they were rich black bengali brahmins. i suspected perhaps they were not real brahmins

        do you know that tagore family was not considered “kulin” (pure) brahmins by the mainstream brahmin community of bengal? they were called “pirali” brahmins. the reason was, one of their ancestor had converted to isalm and took the name “peer ali”. apparently the pirali brahmins had maintained some connection with the muslim branch of their clan, and as a result were generally shunned by orthodox brahmins of bengal. therefore it is likely that tagore family did have some gene flow from non-brahmin groups of bengal.

        1. Tagore was not allowed to enter Jaganath temple in Orissa, which had really strict laws at that time on entry of “outsiders”, due to the same reason

        2. yeah i know. haven’t seen structure in bengali brahmins tho so no idea about non-brahmin gene flow. they’re 25% bengali 75% UP brahmin.

        3. Not just inter faith, Bengal also is perhaps one of the few states which did have some inter caste mixing even before inter caste became nominally acceptable. Have met Bengali OBC-UCs couples as well OBC-dalit ones. That too from a previous generation.

    2. @Hoju
      Yours truly is an example of pitch black Brahmins in TN with soft feature. I got nothing which could be called ‘caste privilege’ I wish I had a few to report ; none whatsoever. If you call family ambitions, and well-informed on opportunities , a ‘privilege’ , then it is a misuse of the word ‘privilege’ .
      Can you give a list ‘black dalits’ as opposed to ‘white dalits’ whose narratives we can check

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