Caste discrimination in the US, again…Brown University bans caste discrimination throughout campus in a first for the Ivy League.
These stories are strange and silly on some level. But they are serious on another level. Multiple young brown American men have told me that they have been asked about their caste by white colleagues, usually social justice-oriented women. More recently, I was having beers with a friend who works at Google, and he mentioned offhand “I heard caste discrimination is a big problem in American tech.” Context on him: he’s American-born, his father is from China, his mother is a white New Englander, and he’s not religious, but he’s center-right politically.
Very few people in America know anything about caste. So they rely on a small group of activists to inform them. Additionally, the American elite is very worried about structural oppression, and jati-varna certainly fits that bill. So they are attracted to regulating and eliminating it.
– Most Indian Americans don’t care about caste, and 1.5 and 2nd generation are very fuzzy on it
– Most Indian Americans who are 1.5 and 2nd generation do marry other Indian Americans, but they seem to marry outside of their caste
– Very few Indian American Hindus, about 1%, are Dalit. About 20% would be “OBC” in India, and 80% are “upper caste.” So there aren’t many “low caste” people to discriminate against
– Very few Indian Americans exist in a predominantly Indian milieu, so caste as a discriminatory framework can never operationalize
The final issue is that of course, the ancestors of Indian Americans on the whole did benefit from literal structural privilege in a broad sense, even if they came from a poor or uneducated background. Usually, on a relative scale, the people who arrived in America had resources or skills compared to the average Indian. In agreement with Greg Clark, I think this human capital persists; Indian Americans are not regressing back to a very lower socioeconomic median. Instead, they are becoming part of the American overclass.
I believe that the new salience about caste in America has less to do with caste and more to do with grappling with a dark-skinned nonwhite population that clearly has high levels of persistent and structural human capital advantage. American elites, and especially white American elites, have a very difficult time intellectually conceiving of the idea that nonwhite people can overcome discrimination and succeed because of the privilege of high endogenous human capital.