Western Asians are Western

The above diagram really hits at something important. Back when I was commenting on Sepia Munity, or as I read The Aerogram, I always come back to the reality that many people of Asian heritage who grew up in the United States or Europe are culturally Western.

Therefore, fundamental aspects of Asian culture were always refracted through a Western lens. When I read The Aerogram I know what I’m getting: the story will end with a progressive (Western) “final thought.” The types of Asian Americans who write this type of journalism are politically progressive. Those of us who are Asian American, and not progressive, do other types of work.

Not that there is anything wrong with this…but there is often a tendency to not take non-Western culture on its own terms. People of Asian origin in the United States are identified as fundamentally and deeply Asian because of their faces in their native environment, the West. They are ambassadors and exemplars of Asiatic ways. But over the years these people forget that Asians living in Asia see them, rightly, as Western. They have no authority from authenticity, the authority is given to them by non-Asian Westerners who don’t know sari from salwar.

“Woke Asians” are actually simply “woke,” and so they have internalized a world-system where it is bad whites/colonialists against good PoC. When Asian values, Asian practices, don’t fit into the narrative, the prosecution brings the case against Asians for being insufficiently authentic, of being distorted by hegemonic “colonialist” paradigms.

The sin of “oppression” is universal, not particular.

0

Crazy Rich Asians is not social work


I have not watched Crazy Rich Asians. Perhaps I will for my cultural edification. Unlike some people, I don’t care too much about “representation.” This isn’t for ideological reasons…I just have weak group identity/identification, and on an implicit level, I probably think I’m a unique enough person that no other is going to “represent” me in the media, ever. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

But the reality is that the Western Asian cohort in the cultural space is dominated by the aggrieved chattering class. So there is this piece in The Guardian, Where are the brown people? Crazy Rich Asians draws tepid response in Singapore. It references another piece, ‘CRAZY RICH ASIANS’ IS NOT A RADICAL WIN FOR REPRESENTATION.

About the author of the second piece:

Sangeetha Thanapal is an artist and writer working on the intersections of race, gender and body in Asia and Australia. She is the originator of the term ‘Chinese Privilege,’ which situates institutionalized racism within Singapore. Her fantasy fiction and political writing have been published by Djed Press, Brown Girl Mag and many more.

First, about “representation.” I put it in quotes because in a social justice context the word means something particular. For example, “representation” of South Koreans means Sarah bane-of-goblin-kind Jeong. Not, an evangelical Korean missionary in the Middle East. In the academy, “representation” means a good regional, racial, and gender proportionality. Not, reflecting the political and religious variation in the population.

Crazy Rich Asians are Asian, but not the representational kind of Asian. Sangeetha Thanapal though is a representational Asian: she’s cosmopolitan, educated, and woke. Ironically, her South Asianness is almost incidental. Kind of a wrapping around the real substance of her ideological affinity to a certain tendency which spans all shades.

The second issue are the specific particulars to Singapore and the relationship between East Asians and South Asians, or more generally, “Chinese” and “Indians.” It is a simple fact that Chinese people are racist against Indians for being dark, for India being a poor an underdeveloped nation, as well as differences in comportment and social mores. It is also a simple fact that Indians are racist against Chinese people, who are perceived to be strange-looking dog-eaters who lack deeper values than the acquisition of money and power.

If you want to represent the true dynamics of the Chinese and Indian relationship in Singapore, then you need to represent the racism and segregation which is mutual. Of course, there are other dimensions as well, such as the growing number of mixed-race Chindians. Unless that is, you want to “represent” your nonexistent utopian vision?

Which brings me to the big issue about objections to Crazy Rich Asians: the critiques are reductive and simplistic, even if they utilize layered and verbose textures. Singapore is dominated by a Chinese ruling class, and there is racism against minorities. But a massive influx of highly educated professional Indian immigrants in the past few decades into Singapore is why Indians now earn a bit more on average than Chinese in Singapore. But this summary is misleading too, and masks the diversity of the South Asian population, from well-off Indian immigrants to manual laborers from Bangladesh, as well as the long-established Tamil community which is itself socioeconomically diverse.

Finally, there are some things that Thanapal and others bring up as “Chinese privilege” which I don’t see as a privilege. Singapore is a mostly Chinese city, in a region where Chinese economic power is ascendant. It is entirely reasonable that the city-state should be given preference to English and Mandarin Chinese as the dual languages. Thanapal’s Tamil language is not hard-wired into her being like her dark skin and curly hair. Tamil can continue to be maintained in the traditional Tamil community, but in Chinese dominated city-state it seems reasonable that Tamils should learn the lingua franca of the majority and adopt it as their own. Mandarin can be a fine first language even if your hair is blonde or your skin is black.

Chinese Indians speak Indian languages, and when they speak English they naturally have an Indian accent.

I’m not saying my viewpoints are the “right” ones. But, for various reasons my viewpoints are not not “represented” in the mainstream international media. And I’m not the only one who feels this way. So there, I said it.

0

Hinduism was not invented by the British (or Muslims)

I’m reading a book titled The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global Intellectual History. It’s works within the postcolonial framework. Unlike a lot of postcolonial scholarship it isn’t bluster and rhetoric riddled with basic historical errors. The author presents a lot of interesting facts. But, as I’ve said elsewhere I disagree with the thesis of the book, which is that modern Islamic identity can be understood primarily through its interaction with European colonialism.

This isn’t to say colonialism doesn’t matter. It does matter. It’s just that Muslims are not inactive substrate upon which European agents operate. Muslims, and Islam as a civilization, has its own life, orientation, and self-conceptions, which exist somewhat apart from Europeans, and the West (I say somewhat because it is hard to understand the modern West and Islam without their coevolutionary dance over the centuries). Colonialism did not create the idea of the Muslim world de novo, it operated upon the idea of the Ummah which predated the modern West, and in fact emerged in tension with the ancient late antique Near East and Turan in the 7th and 8th centuries AD.

But this post is not about Islam. From the comments:

The big tragedy during the unmitigated disaster that was the partition upon the Hindus, many realized was that while there was a thing known as Ummah, there was no such thing as the Hindus. There are Muslims, but they are actually the largest plurality. There was no such thing as the Hindus. There was the Brahmins. There was the Namashudra. There was the Punjabi. There was the Thakur…

This to my mind is a much stronger position to defend than the ideas above in relation to Islam. To a great extent modern day, Hindu nationalism seems to be about creating an analog to the Dar-ul-Islam and Christendom for Hindus, many centuries after Muslims and Christians. But, I do think I disagree with this. It seems clear that Megasthenes, al-Biruni, and Faxian all had a sense of Indians, or Hindus as we were all called then, as a distinct, albeit variegated, people.

Hinduism as a particular confession with a creedal orientation is a relatively recent affair. Perhaps you can date it to Adi Shankara. Or even as late as Arya Samaj. That doesn’t matter. Hinduism as a distinctive civilization of Indians, with consistent particular unifying beliefs, is very ancient and dates to antiquity.

One might object that this only applies to the twice-born varna. But the Maurya were like of sudra origin. And South Indian polities welcomed Brahmins, who they clearly saw as part of their civilization, albeit different and apart.

Of course one might change the goalposts with some semantics. I myself liked to be clever and would say that Hinduism was invented by Muslims or Westerners a few years ago. But thinking more deeply, I think that that was just a stylistic pose by me, attempting to burnish my heterodoxy, as opposed to reflecting the first order substance.

Addendum: Genetics is now making it clear to me that the matrix of “Dravidian” and “Indo-Aryan” proto-India were closely connected and emerged around the same time, probably in tension, conflict, and interaction. Religious ideas we’d term “Hindu” probably didn’t exist 4,000 years ago, but the openness of South and North India to engagement and cultural exchange in the historical period is not I think coincidental, but reflects primal commonalities derived from the tumult in the centuries after the decline of the IVC.

0

V. S. Naipaul has died

Like many I have only read Naipaul’s nonfiction. His genius, as a literary intellectual, was to distill intuitions and observations that many of us have, but compress them into more economical and clear prose.

But, in my opinion, literary intellectuals’ genius lay not in uncovering new things, but unmasking what we already knew. Therefore Naipaul never presented me a startling insight that was totally novel, and much of his analysis I later rejected upon deeper study and thought. And yet if the question is the answer, then his prose definitely opened many mental doors.

Of course, others can speak to his fiction.

0

Genetics is not about “dunking” on Hindu nationalists

I need to weigh in real quick about something I’ve been noticing: geneticists don’t do genetics because they are excited about debunking views promoted by some Hindu nationalists and other Indians of a variety of political stripes. In fact, most non-Indian scientists (as in people who don’t live in India) are not totally savvy to the political and social context in South Asia, and so are not aware of how their results may be taken.

Unlike some scientists, I tend to take a dim view of those who assert we need to be careful about how results are going to be interpreted. Science is science. Interpretation is society. Therefore, I don’t particularly care if someone’s cherished views are refuted.

That being said, I have seen on Twitter and elsewhere exultation by anti-Hindu nationalists about new genetic findings, where individuals are wrong in many details of the implications. In the general broad sketch, they understand some implications, but they clearly haven’t paid attention to the science closely, nor do they comprehend it.

There are many examples of confusions and misimpressions. Here is one: the idea that “Vedic civilization” is exogenous to South Asia. I think we need to be very careful about this because I think one can make the case (and this is my position) that by the time most of the archaic mythos of the Indian Aryans crystallized these people were already highly Indianized. To put the political implications on the table, they were much more assimilated in their elite culture than the Muslim rulers of India or the British ever were (and let’s be honest, these are the comparisons people care about).

Rough back-of-the-envelope calculations on my part suggest that ~15% of the total ancestry of all South Asians is steppe derived. That is, about 50% ANI, which is 30% steppe (70% Indus Periphery). Is this a lot? Or not a lot?

Interpretations differ.

1+

Why I don’t accept the para-Munda hypothesis


There has been a discussion of Michael Witzel’s ideas in the comments below. Long familiar with his thesis that a Munda-like language was dominant in the northern Indus valley and in the Gangetic plain, I have also been long skeptical of it.

The reason for me is simple: I have leaned to the position that Munda are intrusive from Southeast Asia. Over the past 10 years my confidence in this proposition as grown. Let’s review

1) They speak an Austro-Asiatic language. Most Austro-Asiatic languages are in Southeast Asia and seem to have spread from the north to the south

2) The Munda have genetic signatures on the Y chromosome and some of their traits which are distinctive to East Asians and totally unrelated to any other South Asians. These genetic signatures are not found in South Asia outside of the Munda areas, and northeast India (i.e., they are not present in the Indus or Gangetic plains).

3) The most common Y chromosome of the Munda seems to be from Southeast Asia. That is, Southeast Asian lineages are basal and more diverse than the ones in India.

4) Genetic data from ancient DNA indicate that Austro-Asiatic people did not arrive in northern Vietnam until 4,000 years ago. To me this, this implies they arrived in India well after 4,000 years ago.

5) We now suspect that Indo-Aryans arrived well after 4,000 years ago to the Indus valley. The Munda and Indo-Aryans could not have met in that region 3,500 years ago in any reasonable scenario.

Let’s assume that Witzel and others are correct that the early Indo-Aryans and the languages/toponyms of the Gangetic plains do not show Dravidian influence. How could that be? It could be that in the northern Indus valley a non-Dravidian language was dominant. Consider Burusho, a linguistic isolate. Mesopotamia was long divided between a Semitic north and a Sumerian south.

Second, the genetic data seem to suggest that some Indo-Aryan groups have more AASI and more steppe than groups to their west. North Indian Brahmins vs. Sindhis are an example. To me, this is indicative of the possibility that the Indo-Aryans pushed past areas where Dravidian languages were dominant, and only AASI hunter-gatherers were flourishing. The lack of a Dravidian substrate is because the AASI groups the Indo-Aryans encountered were not Dravidian speakers.

 

0