Reactions to caste piece in UnHerd

It’s out, America’s fake caste war.

Quick thoughts

– The piece is illustrated with a photo of Aziz Ansari, an atheist from a Tamil Muslim background. This shows you that caste-in-the-West is a racial issue, and non-subcontinental people will view it as such.

– Some people of Caribbean and other Diasporic backgrounds are complaining that I ignored them. Yes, I did. This is focused on the overwhelming majority of Indian-origin people in the US, who are mostly immigrants from India.

– Some Indians are complaining I don’t talk about caste in India. Yes, I don’t talk about it except as a baseline or starting-off point because this is about Indians in America.

– Some upper-caste people are complaining that I make them seem privileged and submitting that there are poor temple priests who are Brahmin. These sorts of objections disabuse me of the notion that upper-caste people are more intelligent because this is a stupid point. Upper caste people who complain about their persecution in India and how “actually they’re underprivileged” get tiresome for a whole host of reasons, and I wish you people wouldn’t engage in the oppression Olympics, but I guess it’s just too tempting. Do some math. There are even good Indian statisticians.

– Some people are complaining that Indian Americans who are immigrants are often conscious of caste, and they care. I don’t disagree with that, though it varies (guess what, someone who is an extremely caste-conscious Hindu is probably less likely on the whole to immigrate to a whole new country where beef is the luxury meat of choice). My point is that the structural institutions and norms that allow for the salience of caste identity and privilege are just not operative in the US. To a great extent, this is true in places like Guayana too, and there the Indian-origin population is more than an order of magnitude larger than in the US. Gujarati Patels might have enough critical mass to create a marriage market that’s endogamous, but few other groups do.

– Some people are saying I’m totally denying discrimination. I’m not. I’m just pointing out that anti-Dalit discrimination is rate-limited in the US because there are hardly any Dalits here. The 1% of Indian Americans who are Dalits are more likely to interact with Indians than the average person, but there are many (most) situations where they’ll interact with non-Indians who don’t know/care.

– Finally, over time the native-born Indian population is going to get much larger. This will change the balance of cultural power within the community, and so the saliency of caste will decline even further. I know several people who are even in mixed religious (Muslim/Hindu) marriages who are raising their children “spiritual.” This sort of thing in America is much rarer in India, but “communal” identities in the US that are salient are white, black, etc., not the particular religious ones.

7 thoughts on “Reactions to caste piece in UnHerd”

  1. “ Some upper-caste people are complaining that I make them seem privileged and submitting that there are poor temple priests who are Brahmin.“

    LOL. This trope is so old that even Brahmins in india are no longer using it. Guess NRI Brahmins have to catch up.

  2. So I think a few things are true.

    1. Caste is a big deal India
    2. Caste is not a big deal in America.
    3. Race is a big deal in America.
    4. American Hindus are mostly brown
    5. Caste or more accurately Varna / jati is complicated
    6. Hindus are a very small minority in America, practicing Hindus even smaller.

    Basically making caste a big deal in America means it will be used as a social attack vector against brown skin people.

  3. The only time I can really think of caste coming into play is marriage.

    I saw your statistics on marriage, but I am not sure looking at the NYTIMES wedding section for common indian surname is very representative.

    We know there is tremendous out-marriage on native born Indians, much less so from immigrants.

    Within native born community, arranged marriage can be down through family networks (ie caste) or something like Obviously strong caste influence there.

    Within my own networks you see a lot of marriages to whites, a lot of “arranged” marriages to other native born indians mediated by caste, and for the real losers a bride from the motherland.

    I can’t speak for other indian groups (basically Caribbean, some South Africa and Fiji) but I know they complain they are frozen out of marriage networks. From what i understand caste will melt away in a few generations, but you’ll retain caste like features (dislike of unclean work) for a long time.

    I’m not sure that something like Shaadi really counts as “caste” — many times what Indian parents are looking for in an alliance is less shared relationships and more that they will get along with in-laws on an equal level.

    In Malayee Nair circles for instance, marriages to Butts, Shetty, and even Mangalore catholics would be acceptable as they see each other as equals. Kind of like getting an Acura or Lexus versus a BMW.

    1. Most US caste endogamy is probably more specifically jati endogamy. Different motivations. I doubt a Gupta favours an alliance with a Komti Shetty based on vaishya status. They’d each probably prefer similarity in language and dietary habits over varna. I’ve seen a few cross-region brahmin marriages where the commonality was acknowledged with warmth, but also seen as unintentional. Either way, this is ethnic behaviour. I’d like to see the endogamy data for Pakistanis, who seem more likely to arrange something with a common jati from the motherland, like Arain or Jat , ect.

  4. Within native born community, arranged marriage can be down through family networks (ie caste) or something like Obviously strong caste influence there.

    your exp. may differ but most indian americans who are 1.5 and 2nd who marry other browns don’t seem to have arranged marriages from what i see. tho there is often a shaadi phase. most of them don’t seem to marry in the same jati, though there are exceptions for jats and patels.

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