The Problem With The Juggernaut Is Its South Asianness

For whatever reason, Facebook recently thought I might be interested in the subscription South Asian themed webzine and newsletter The Juggernaut. I don’t mind paying for media. I pay for The New York Times, Bloomberg, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. But why should you pay for The Juggernaut? Here’s a snippet from their about page:

It’s like your other email briefings. But browner. Join thousands and get the newsletter that curates the best global news on South Asia(ns) every Sunday. We also send updates on events, giveaways, our original reporting, and more. Unsubscribe anytime.

There are some good stories in The Juggernaut. I especially liked “Not Indian Enough” by Sabrina Malhi, a Guyanese American of East Indian ethnicity. This is a good piece of journalism because it shines the light on a topic and experience that’s underexposed, the liminality of being of Caribbean East Indian background. I learned a lot.

But the problem with The Juggernaut is that it strikes a pose as “South Asian,” which like “Social Justice” or “Family Values” is innocuous on the face of it, but connotes particular affinities, identities, and preoccupations, which are exclusionary of vast swaths of its potential audience. Back when the Sepia Mutiny blog was a thing I went to some meet-ups, and one thing that I noticed is that despite the focus on inclusive South Asian language on the internet, privately most people were conventionally nationalistic in regards to where their parents came from.

People didn’t talk about Desi or South Asian, they talked about Indian identity.

Since then the political and social cleavages have polarized. The Juggernaut is a pretty conventional distillation of progressive Diasporic poses. It focuses a great deal on marginalized elements of the brown experience and is lockstep with the global Left in a deep skepticism of Hindu nationalism.

There is nothing wrong with that. But it’s just one viewpoint and a viewpoint that seems extremely overrepresented among the Diasporic media class. There are potential readers who are somewhat outside of this progressive South Asian American exoteric box. I wish publications like The Juggernaut had enough viewpoint diversity to reflect and attract them.

1+

27 Replies to “The Problem With The Juggernaut Is Its South Asianness”

  1. I just read Malhi’s article. Certainly many things she writes about I have experienced myself. Being one of only a tiny handful of Indo-Caribbean kids in a predominantly white and (Subcontinental) South Asian diaspora community, having to explain what and where Trinidad is, having people speak to me in Hindi or Urdu (sometimes Bengali) and having to explain I don’t speak those languages. I think I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, but Indo-Caribbeans (and I’d include Indo-Mauritians, even though it’s not the Caribbean, but a similar experience) are often ignored, if not outright forgotten, in the story of South Asia.

    1+
    1. Most Indians, being cricket fans or having a passing familiarity with the game will have heard about Trinidad and its famous players (like Brian Lara). Probably wouldn’t be able to find it on a map though, unless they are map junkies.

      0
      1. Surprisingly enough, most brown people I’ve talked to have heard of Trinidad, and know that South Asian people live there. This could be just my own personal experience, though. Mostly it’s non-brown people who have never heard of it, or if they have think it’s mostly African people who live there.

        1+
    2. You are specifically from Trinidad? I have lived there for a few years, specifically in Port of Spain.

      0
  2. “People didn’t talk about Desi or South Asian, they talked about Indian identity.”

    India the inheritor of South Asia.

    ” I think I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, but Indo-Caribbeans (and I’d include Indo-Mauritians, even though it’s not the Caribbean, but a similar experience) are often ignored, if not outright forgotten, in the story of South Asia.”

    In the late 90s the Indian Govt started an event called “Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas” or NRI day

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pravasi_Bharatiya_Divas

    Even though earlier it only meant folks who are Indian citizens living abroad, recently it has started to focus more and more on people of South Asian heritage (primarily folks like u ,Indians from Africa, Indo-Caribbean, and S East-asian Indian) .

    Last time around, it also had representation from the Roma people , if i remember correctly.

    0
  3. “But the problem with The Juggernaut is that it strikes a pose as “South Asian,” which like “Social Justice” or “Family Values” is innocuous on the face of it, but connotes particular affinities, identities, and preoccupations, which are exclusionary of vast swaths of its potential audience.”
    To be fair, maybe this means the potential audience that espouses a pan-South-Asian-ness is growing, so that there is increasingly a market for it.
    Then it seems like (at least some parts, mostly in the diaspora) South Asian identity is starting to join the ranks of other “pan-ethnic” identities like say, the pan-African identity among the African diaspora or say “Latin American” identity, or (for that matter) “white”, where nationality is no longer the main marker but some either umbrella cultural grouping or racialized one.
    For some diasporas (e.g the African one, and especially the Jewish one which after all is the archetype of “diaspora”-ness), the branches of the diaspora are very aware of each other in a way that transcends nationality — eg. Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latino, African Americans are aware of a certain “black” image and reggae, hip-hop etc. are all seen as part of a greater “black identity” at least in the west. Kwame Nkrumah, Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X etc. are all seen as faces of this diasporic connection.

    The South Asian one, however, unlike, say the pan-Africanists which makes Ghanians, Afro-Americans and Jamaicans aware of one another, and the Jewish identity which makes Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi etc. be seen as one family, has not generally been as strongly tied together — Indo-Caribbeans, Indo-Fijians etc. are far less on the radar of Indians or Indian-Americans. An IT worker in Silicon Valley and a Indo-Fijian farmer may not be on each others’ radar. Most diasporic discussion/discourse focuses on NRIs or actual citizen Indians abroad, with any further generations removed seen as no longer “one of us” (unlike in the Jewish or African case).

    I recall Razib earlier mentioning on this blog that it’s just a matter of time and numbers that the “homeland” and its perspective on the internet/in mass media etc. will swamp the diaspora’s because there are a billion plus in the homeland and tens of millions of diasporans (many recent immigrants, others generations removed). In this way, it kind of reminds me of the rise of China overshadowing the traditional Chinese diaspora as the face of “Chinese-ness” in the 21st century (historically, southern Chinese, where the west in particular viewed “Chineseness” through a certain diasporic lens — Cantonese or Taishanese speaking, Hong Kong cinema, Chinatowns etc.).

    However, I feel like the rise of the homeland and homeland concerns shouldn’t detract away or de-legitimize those who seen themselves in the pan-“ethnic” lens in diaspora because for many (especially born and raised in the west and knowing nothing of the old country’s strife any more than most German-Americans would care about the struggle over the Alsace region historically or something and have a beef with their French-surnamed co-worker over it).

    The rise of say, Nigeria or the demographic clout of the African homeland doesn’t necessarily mean that now the billion plus Africans have more say about how those in the smaller African diaspora (even if its way bigger than most Asian diasporas in the west) like Americans, Brazilians and Jamaicans define “blackness”. I know that’s a talking point among the African diaspora. Will the same be true for “brown-ness”?

    Of course, you could argue the black diaspora identity, or the Jewish one, are no way comparable because there’s much more shared cultural cohesion especially involving the trauma of involuntary separation from the homeland, and thus identity consolidates around that much more strongly, but voluntary diasporas (e.g. the Italians, Chinese, Indians) who left their homelands, often as economic migrants, and either returned or assimilated to their host country if they didn’t, don’t have this shared rallying point about their identity.

    And that the black or Jewish diaspora just had more time to build a distinct identity of themselves while in the US (which thus was able to broadcast a stronger international diasporic-ness) that the Indian or broader South Asian diaspora could not before the rise of the late 20th or 21st century, so that the diaspora has less of an option to not hitch its wagon to the demographic clout and image of the homeland itself.

    1+
  4. i think broadly your argument makes sense. but i think the ‘south asian identity’ class which is focused on college-educated politically liberal 1.5 & 2nd brown westerners is too narrow to solidify due to

    1) intermarriage with nonbrownz (contrast with blacks and jews)
    2) massive continuous immigration from brownland
    3) the reality that so much of its touchstones are simply coconut values, by which i mean that on the big questions there is no daylight bwn prog brownz and pro whites.

    #3, an identify is not just a cuisine.

    1+
    1. I think another factor that I haven’t seen mentioned here is that Black and Jewish identity consolidated in a time when America (and the world) was a lot more segregated and overtly racist/discriminatory than it is now. In other words, South Asians / Browns don’t have a shared history of oppression or overt extreme discrimination to coalesce an identity around. This combined with the related trend of intermmarriage and socialization with whites means there will never be a meaningful South Asian block.
      Muslims are different because of the post 911 climate + exclusionary/supremacist thinking on the part of Muslims + Asabiyah + innate latent subconscious desire for demographic or political dominance that is encoded in Islam, and therefore are and will continue to be a solid block/a cohesive diaspoara at some level (although Arabs vs. Subcontinental etc are real faultlines and therefore the Muslim block will never be as cohesive as the Jewish one)

      0
    2. Fair point about intermarriage (and I think although intermarried couples do often keep cultural elements alive, it tends towards “symbolic” ethnicity), though secular Jews in the US also have high intermarriage.
      Perhaps, if you get a more assimilated, college-educated upper class liberal brown identity that’s analogous to secular American Jews, but regular continued immigration from the brown homeland (there’s also the question of how long the sustained massive immigration will last) as well as more working conservative enclaves (e.g. let’s say in NYC, Toronto, Chicago, London etc.) that result, you might have a bifurcation of desi identity (like the secular Americanized-and-integrated with mainstream Jews vs. Orthodox/Conservative/Israeli more recent immigrant Jews). Perhaps the liberal upper class desis will be WASP (do people still use that term?) in values but have symbolic/tokenistic ties to the working class/more conservative/less assimilated/traditionalist desis and their enclaves who may be replenished by immigration for some time (or remain endogamous/close-knit) such as attending cultural events once in a while, speaking “on behalf” of the community etc.
      Hard to tell also since we do not know how long immigration and/or connection to the homeland will last (Fijians, Guyanese etc. kept some if not all of the old country culture alive due to demographic heft but perhaps many desis simply turn into indistinguishable Americans, Brits, Canucks and Aussies, with a bit of symbolic ethnicity here and there, like their kids’ show-and-tell for cultural heritage events?). Also, not quite all the diasporic analogies fit — Jewish and Black identities have shared commonalities of struggle that are unlike. European immigrants in the US like Italians/Irish don’t quite fit because of the contemporary racialization angle and peak time of immigration. Perhaps East Asian immigration might be similar (indeed there are parallels with both being voluntary immigrants, many assimilating into the white upper class, with some more working class in big immigrant gateways), though there are still some differences (e.g. like that study about leadership showing browns seem to be assimilating actually faster than East Asians).

      0
      1. though secular Jews in the US also have high intermarriage.

        jewish intermarriage was 10% in 1960. it’s shot up in the past 60 years, but the american jewish identity was formed btwn 1900 and 1950. basically, ‘south asian american’ arose at a time when social barriers were way lower. it ‘never hand a chance’

        0
  5. On (2) massive migration has titled the spectrum towards Desi Conservative-ness overall. The earlier generation of pre 90s were more educated, liberal, Upper class. So its no surprise that their children grew up to become mirror images of what they would have been in India anyway. The Saikat Chakrbarti et al.

    The recent immigration is more mixed, more middle class and conservative. You can track the success of US wing of India’s liberal (Congress) and conservative (BJP) party and track which way the winds are blowing.

    0
    1. Why do many of those in the homeland (in some circles they call it the “sourceland”) seem to think that diasporans’ own politics in their host country are merely mirroring those of the old country — that’s some element of it, but not the be-all and end-all? On the other hand, you have situations like Razib describes where desis’ own politics are in fact totally complete mirrors of the people they are adjacent to in the host country, often white (e.g. desis with progressive white suburbanite neighbors will be progressive suburbanites).

      I think both have some grain of truth.

      For instance, the politics of early 20th century pro-union, left-wing socialist, American Jews was argued partly to be an “import” from their old country, the Russian Empire. But also partly a result of their own experiences stateside, working in garment factories

      .

      0
  6. If the South Asian identity was about our shared commonalities, in food or movies or music, then it would all be fine. However, what I have observed is that the South Asian identity is used to launch SJW style attacks on India or Hindus or the Indian identity. So long as the South Asian identity is defined in opposition to the Indian identity, many Indians will turn away from it. However, if it were a feel good celebration of commonalities then Indians of all ideological persuasions would join the party.

    1+
    1. “South Asian” or “desi” is used specifically to appeal to people who may not be Indian–Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. If a group specifically labels itself “Indian”, others may feel excluded.

      I know some people here have a visceral opposition to the term “South Asia”, but it is just a neutral geographical marker.

      0
      1. There used to be an organization called the Friends of South Asia in the bay area. (perhaps they still exist). They consisted mainly of old Indian uncles and a few not-so-old Pakistanis.

        They made a point to protest every act of Intolerance in India or by anyone Indian. Once there was an accusation of molestation by a teenage Pakistani girl against a colleague of hers who happened to be an Indian boy. The Friends stood outside the place of employment with placards. (Later it turned out they had been friends but she felt compelled to pretend it was non-consensual for fear her parents were about to find out). Another time there was a proposal that a street called Persian Drive (no one knows why) should be renamed Temple Drive (a Hindu temple happened to be there). Some Persians started a protest against it alleging the proposal was made by “Hindu rightwing Nationalists”. The “Friends” joined in. The temple authorities quickly backed down. During the aftermath of the Godhra fire, the Friends were in a tizzy of protesting hysteria.

        OF course, all through this time, Pakistan underwent all sorts of things – a military coup, political assassinations, terrorist acts on Indian soil etc. etc. Pakistanis were also found to have conducted terrorist acts on American soil. The Friends were never bothered to have any position on any of it.

        No wonder their numbers never increased. 🙂

        5+
  7. However, what I have observed is that the South Asian identity is used to launch SJW style attacks on India or Hindus or the Indian identity.

    there is that in The Juggernaut tbh.

    “South Asian” or “desi” is used specifically to appeal to people who may not be Indian–Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. If a group specifically labels itself “Indian”, others may feel excluded.

    yes. but this is a magazine that relies on subscriptions. unlike england 90% of the ‘south asian americans’ in the usa are indian americans. also, the pak/bang ppl who are more desi identified are a subset. there is a large minority that is more ‘muslim’ oriented and wouldn’t care/read stuff about ‘south asians’ (this is especially true of pakistanis).

    2+
    1. Presumably, the magazine wants to appeal to those Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who are more “desi” identified–nothing wrong with trying to expand your audience.

      0
      1. Presumably, the magazine wants to appeal to those Pakistanis and Bangladeshis who are more “desi” identified–nothing wrong with trying to expand your audience.

        it’s a very small audience. but yeah, that’s the reason ‘south asian’ as a term was created.

        are you part of that segment? i know sarah haider is. basically it’s the more secular nonreligious portion usually

        0
        1. Yes, I identify as South Asian.

          I thought that the term was created by the State Department though.

          0
          1. yeah it’s created in area studies. but it’s been ’embraced’ by secular liberal brownz.

            it’s like ‘asian american.’ the term was created by the census to replace ‘oriental’ and various nationality groups. but it’s been embraced by asian american activists, especially chinese/japanese/koreans.

            0
        2. Well, is South Asian or “Asian American” any more artificial than black, white or for that matter, Latino/Hispanic, also made by the US government? Clearly these are all US government terms, but they do reflect how people see others.

          If you see a blond guy, you’ll say “white”, not Polish first, if you didn’t know the surname. If you see a Nigerian, people will refer to her as “black”.

          If you see a brown-skinned person with an Indic-language surname, and you don’t know what’s the national origin (or even if the national origin matters, maybe they are generations removed from South Asia, whether in Britain or in Trinidad) what’s wrong with saying South Asian?

          People have no problem saying “white” or “black” though these lines were (and often brutally) imposed on its group members against their permission (e.g. one-drop rule), or “European” and “sub-Saharan African” lumps together many nations and draws the line based on racial genetics or appearance, the term “Middle Eastern” is eurocentric, people still use it, Latin American was popularized by Napoleon and caught on, so why is “South Asian” so “problematic”?

          Also for some reason, Americans don’t and never seemed to care greatly about disaggregating black or white groups (even during the time when Americans cared a lot about what type of white — Slavic, Mediterranean, Northern Europeans etc.) but really did care about disaggregating Asian groups while controlling immigration history and counting residents (and did care going back to the 19th and 20th century as evidenced by Asian groups getting labeled by nationality like “Chinese”, “Japanese” and even in the earlier 20th century, “Hindu” for what’s now broadly called South Asian).

          Also, setting aside US-derived ethnic or racial terms, is “South Asian” honestly that much more artificial than other terms for world regions or people who descend from large world regions?

          I don’t see the beef over say, East Asia, even though it, like South Asia is dominated by one big nation, China whose neighbors such as Japan and Korea like to define itself in opposition to it, just like India’s. I don’t see calls for East Asia as a term to be abolished due to downplaying or underemphasizing the Sinosphere or Chinese sphere of influence.

          0
          1. “I don’t see the beef over say, East Asia, even though it, like South Asia is dominated by one big nation, China whose neighbors such as Japan and Korea like to define itself in opposition to it, just like India’s.”

            I don’t know about the US but in India the term is opposed by a section of the more based readership because it’s seen as an erasure of Indian contributions and an attempt to ride on our coat-tails.

            The term itself seems benign so that most people not actively involved in these discussions don’t mind using it. You’ll start seeing it become more popular.

            The general rule of thumb is that when there’s a good news from a non-Indian, you highlight their ethnicity while you shove Indian achievements under ‘South Asian’.
            Similarly, you highlight the nationality when there’s a bad thing done by an Indian and hide it when done by a non-Indian.

            Ex- Calling it ‘Asian’ grooming gangs in UK when everyone clearly knows who is responsible.

            Or highlighting caste problems specifically among Hindus but when it comes to gender discrimination, you suddenly call it ‘South Asian’ culture ignoring the fact that Indian women in general have much more rights than than Pakis.

            This happens often enough that you can spot a clear ideological agenda here. The teams are usually along predictable lines.
            Left liberals+Indian Muslims+Indic Pakis+disaffected Canadian Sikhs vs Indians who want to dissociate with Pak.

            Maybe there is even some amount of opposition to it in the US because a large chunk of Indians there are first gen.

            IMO Indians in India should ignore all this and just focus on developing the country. Once we are economically powerful enough, we’ll start to dictate the terms.

            4+
          2. “South Asia” is not just about India and Pakistan though. It also includes Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and (by some definitions) Burma and Afghanistan. It makes sense in a regional studies context when you want to explore issues that go beyond specific countries.

            Anyway, it is an established term in academia. Universities offer degrees in “South Asian Studies” and not “Indian Studies” and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

            0
  8. Muslims are different because of the post 911 climate + exclusionary/supremacist thinking on the part of Muslims + Asabiyah + innate latent subconscious desire for demographic or political dominance that is encoded in Islam, and therefore are and will continue to be a solid block/a cohesive diaspoara at some level (although Arabs vs. Subcontinental etc are real faultlines and therefore the Muslim block will never be as cohesive as the Jewish one)

    you don’t know what you are talking about. the big faultine is native/black vs. immigrant. a lot of black american muslims are not big fans of immigrant muslims. but yes, intereethnic divisions are big too. the bangladeshis and arabs have grips with each other in hamtrack.

    the final thing is 40% of muslims outmarry. it’s not that cohesive in the states. and a lot of muslims are like ilhan omar. hijabi is the streets, hoejabi in the sheets.

    0
  9. Thanks for posting – I was somewhat curious about The Juggernaut after thousands of ads on FB…

    0

Comments are closed.