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26 Responses

  1. Valoniel
    Valoniel July 12, 2013 at 1:47 pm |

    You say “political blackness”, and I hear the echo of “political lesbianism”.

    …How about No.

    I appreciate the intention, but this isn’t “re-appropriation”, it’s just plain outright appropriation.

  2. macavitykitsune
    macavitykitsune July 12, 2013 at 1:56 pm |

    This post leaves me feeling really conflicted. I agree with A and D pretty solidly, but I can’t, I simply can’t agree with your position of political blackness for desis.

    Full disclosure: I’m a Tam-Brahm, recently immigrated to Canada. And this is where my intense discomfort with identifying as “black” comes in.

    A) I don’t look black. I’m not read as black. Hell, half the time I get read as Spanish or South American, not desi at all. As a result, I don’t get profiled like black women do. I don’t deal with the sexual, intellectual stereotypes they do. I don’t face the level of racism my black friends encounter, not even living in the heart of Alberta, Canada’s Redneck and Proud province. I don’t see identifying as black as anything but an act of appropriation, of claiming to be hurt and marginalised and silenced in a way and to an extent that I simply am not.

    B) I think that the intense anti-black sentiments in desi communities is actually an excellent reason to not identify collectively as politically black. Desi cultures have oppressed black peoples (they exist in south Asia, too, ftr) for centuries. Way before white people. Hell, before Alexander and his ilk happened along, south Indians were already being called “rakshasas” and “savages” by the “Aryan” north Indian peoples. (Lucky me, I have hue privilege, so I don’t still get called that very often. My dark-skinned Tamil friends? Hah!) Desis don’t have a right (unless they are ethnically African themselves) to ally themselves with a race they have traditionally acted in shitty racist ways towards. I personally feel that, as a high-caste medium-brown-skinned desi, identifying as black is every bit as egregiously racist as any white girl in dyed dreadlocks “talking ghetto” and letting her “inner N-word” out to play, or dressing up in “Native” costumes and headdresses. Desis have been too oppressive of black people for too long to simply waltz in there and expect to be cuddled. (I recognise that the Venn diagram of “desi” and “black” exists, but I’m not actually talking about the people with actual black ancestry.)

    More importantly, as generations of ethnic South Asians (and others) continue to grow up in a white majority, Western environment, clinging to a ‘South Asian’ background will become more difficult to preserve. Loss of language, culture and religion all mean that we will have to find a new identity. This must be a collective ‘black’ identity

    C1) Why? It’s not like there’s a lack of real south Asian culture to be found, via a handy-dandy new thing called the Internet. There are books and movies and meetups and blogs and a hundred thousand ways to rediscover your identity, without glomming onto someone else’s under the label of “re-appropriation”. And I for one reckon that even one community NOT appropriating black culture would come as a refreshing change to black people.

    C2) If our culture is, as you posit, so weak that a few decades of voluntary immigration and residence in an alien place can destroy us entirely, then maybe it’s not worth keeping. Black people hung on to their cultures through centuries of slavery and horrific brutality, and reclaimed what they lost the second they had the chance. Indigenous Americans of all stripes didn’t get wiped out by five centuries of concentrated genocide and oppression. But you think forty years of not being able to buy murukku at gas stations is going to turn us all into coconuts? I mean, seriously, do you not recognise the insult of that?

    In any case, I don’t think desi culture is in any need of saving via all of us turning into some sort of black-targeting political chestbursters. Certainly not desis with hue privilege and a history of being awful to black peoples.

    1. Priya
      Priya July 16, 2013 at 1:10 pm |

      Er, Mac, I don’t know how familiar you are with the experiences of diasporic Indians in Africa and the Caribbean, but the relationship between Indians and Africans is not simply a case of Indian oppressor/African oppressed in all places and in all contexts. I oppose attempts to lump all PoC together, because it narrows the space in which it’s possible to talk about racial tension between different groups of PoC. Indian-on-African racism definitely exists (and, believe it or not, so does the converse), and labelling everyone of a brownish hue as “Black” serves to obscure that.

      1. macavitykitsune
        macavitykitsune July 16, 2013 at 1:32 pm |

        Er, Mac, I don’t know how familiar you are with the experiences of diasporic Indians in Africa and the Caribbean, but the relationship between Indians and Africans is not simply a case of Indian oppressor/African oppressed in all places and in all contexts.

        I’m not very familiar with non-south Asian desi/African interactions, no, except the Ugandan violence against desis. And I apologise if my comment seemed to indicate a universal power flow, despite my attempt to clarify that by saying I was only talking about subcontintental desis, not those with ancestral/cultural African ties. Cosigning your comment for everything!

  3. amblingalong
    amblingalong July 12, 2013 at 3:46 pm |

    Fuck. This. Entire. Post.

    1. Jill
      Jill July 12, 2013 at 5:11 pm | *

      Consider this a request to make comments constructive instead of just “fuck this.”

      1. amblingalong
        amblingalong July 12, 2013 at 5:19 pm |

        If you’re not black, you’re not black. You don’t get to claim you’re black out of some bullshit sense of political solidarity. My identity is not your political tool. My oppression is not a nifty talking point.

        The author of this post is advocating making ‘black’ a catch-all term for people with minority racial identities; in other words, appropriation and erasure. She is openly racist and actively oppressive.

        So to reiterate, fuck this entire post.

        1. Jill
          Jill July 12, 2013 at 5:22 pm | *

          All fair points. Thank you for expanding upon your initial comment.

        2. trees
          trees July 12, 2013 at 6:05 pm |

          I’ve encountered this “political blackness” in the UK, South Asia, and among some Caribbean-South Asian people in the States. I hadn’t considered it appropriation, but rather an attempt at solidarity and an effort to make sense of their experiences in the West. There’s definitely a diversity of ways of being “Black”. While a very different issue, this makes me think of a story from a few years back of an African American journalist from Louisiana who discovered through his DNA test results that he had zero percent African ancestry. The results didn’t effect his self-identification. I couldn’t find the story, but I did stumble upon this: Black Like I Thought I Was
          The surprising outcome of a DNA test proves a man’s race while throwing his blackness into question.

        3. shelley angelie
          shelley angelie July 12, 2013 at 6:57 pm |

          hey, please see my comment below where i’ve explained the term political blackness. think there might be a UK/USA/Canada divide here?

          im not claiming that SA’s are ancestrally black, and i’d counter your calling me racist, ‘black’ is a term that we use in the UK that loosely translates as ‘POC.’ It’s probably outdated and needs updating for sure, but right now that’s a work in progress.

        4. trees
          trees July 12, 2013 at 7:22 pm |

          hey, please see my comment below where i’ve explained the term political blackness. think there might be a UK/USA/Canada divide here?

          Yes, I do think it is a UK/North American difference is usage.

    2. rain
      rain July 12, 2013 at 6:00 pm |

      Whoa. Whatever happened to coddling, “the process of pointing out where a potential ally is going wrong, being friendly and patient instead of snarky or angry, despite the validity of anger and snark, and even if the friendliness is faked. ”
      Don’t you think that would be a more effective strategy?

      1. amblingalong
        amblingalong July 12, 2013 at 8:44 pm |

        Effective strategy to do what? I don’t know the writer, she isn’t particularly useful to any of my political goals, and I don’t need anything from her.

        Did you actually read the post you’re quoting from?

        1. rain
          rain July 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm |

          Seriously? You go from a post arguing against being angry and hostile, and jump right to, “Fuck. This. Entire. Post.” , and don’t see that you did just that? I guess your advice was just for other people, eh?

        2. amblingalong
          amblingalong July 14, 2013 at 5:53 pm |

          Seriously? You go from a post arguing against being angry and hostile, and jump right to, “Fuck. This. Entire. Post.” , and don’t see that you did just that? I guess your advice was just for other people, eh?

          So you didn’t, in fact, read the post you quoted. I strongly suggest you do so, if you want to continue this conversation; do you need me to to repost everything here, or do you think you can manage to find the originals?

          To recap: I never argued against being hostile or angry. In fact, I To explicitly said I thought it was often valid/useful. I simply said there were also times when being patient was also a valid/useful tactic.

          I didn’t feel that this was one of those times, because the ally-ship of a random teenager isn’t that important to me.

      2. rain
        rain July 16, 2013 at 9:49 am |

        So you didn’t, in fact, read the post you quoted.

        Obviously, I did.

        But anyway, okey dokey.
        Fuck your fucking hypocritical, goalpost-shifting, oppression-enabling posts.

      3. A4
        A4 July 16, 2013 at 11:19 am |

        9. Kinds. Of. Win.

    3. MH
      MH July 16, 2013 at 1:05 pm |

      While I won’t cosign the original reply, I will toss in that this makes me a tad uncomfortable. While the author of the piece has tried to clarify that there is a history in the UK of using the term “political blackness,” I’m not sure that in any way makes it more justifiable. If the point of her article is to redefine one term (ABCD) because it doesn’t quite fit, I’m not sure there’s any logic to just continuing to use “political blackness” just for convenience/expediency. Honestly, it smacks of laziness wrapped in convenient excuse to me.

      As macavitykitsune writes above, a Desi’s experiences are not the same as the experiences of a person of African decent. I believe that to be true even in the UK (though I’ve only spent limited time there). Indeed, as macavitykitsune points out, the British catalyzed and fine-tuned the colorism that was already going on in Asia. While they may have outlawed slavery sooner than the US, that doesn’t mean their race problem really went away any quicker.

      I appreciate allies anywhere I can find them. However, it feels a bit less like an alliance when the friend trivializes my own experiences. I thank the author for her thoughtful consideration of what it means both to be an Asian and a POC in a predominantly white environment. However, I’d push her to consider a bit more carefully whether the grouping of all POCs together as “black” could potentially result in a masking effect on the POCs who are actually of African descent, especially given that the number of Asian-descended Brits is higher than the number of African-descended and the problems facing Asian- and African-descended populations in the US are overlapping but certainly non-identical.

  4. shelley angelie
    shelley angelie July 12, 2013 at 6:53 pm |

    hey so i think there’s been a little bit of confusion here.

    ‘political blackness’ in the UK where I live is more like an old term loosely equating to ‘people of colour.’ it’s not about claiming an african/caribbean ancestry, it’s just about recognising that we are not a part of the white majority.

    in response to the comment about maybe ‘culture (if so easily diluted) is not worth keeping,’ sure, the Internet is there and it’s great. I myself grew up with very little cultural influence, as my parents were great believers in assimilation. But, I do think that maybe our culture isn’t quite being diluted, more adapting to a new generation of hyphenated-identities, here that’s ABCD’s, or it might be British Asians etc. I read that as us needing to find new ways to balance our identities, accepting that we’re no longer ‘just’ Indian/Pakistani etc, but that we straddle both cultures, and most importantly, that is no bad thing.

    hope that clears some stuff up, thanks for the comments/criticisms!

    1. Willemina
      Willemina July 13, 2013 at 1:46 am |

      Be strong, an acquaintance from New Hampshire I was in the UK with nearly got the shit kicked out of him for telling a humorous anecdote about a run to the packie store. Package stores are the state run liquor shops of New England, in regular England…well, you get the idea. The Atlantic is very wide.

    2. MH
      MH July 16, 2013 at 1:21 pm |

      As I mentioned above, I’m not sure the difference is as wide as you think. Yep, “political blackness” is certainly a term not widely used in the US. However, I’m not sure that the African-descended folks in the UK have part-and-parcel signed on to this usage. Obviously, some African people were a part of that initial movement. The fact that someone else may have appropriated a term quite some time ago (when you were probably too young to know that much about it or not yet born), does not mean that its continued appropriation is desirable. It also doesn’t mean that it achieves the best outcomes, just because it was done in the past. I mean, if we were just going to stick to doing things a certain way because they’d already been done that way, then your whole article would be pointless, right?

  5. Donna L
    Donna L July 12, 2013 at 7:35 pm |

    In using the term “ABCD,” is the author of the article suggesting that Desis who actually do live in the USA or elsewhere in North America should also identify as politically black, despite the fact there’s clearly a big difference between the UK and North America in whether that’s considered an acceptable, non-appropriative concept?

    I’ve never particularly appreciated it when people who aren’t Jewish say things like “we’re the Jews of [insert particular country or region],” so I can certainly empathize with amblingalong’s reaction.

    1. trees
      trees July 12, 2013 at 7:53 pm |

      In using the term “ABCD,” is the author of the article suggesting that Desis who actually do live in the USA or elsewhere in North America should also identify as politically black, despite the fact there’s clearly a big difference between the UK and North America in whether that’s considered an acceptable, non-appropriative concept?

      I don’t know. I think the term does kind of work in the US for some South Asians from the Caribbean (some folks I’ve known from Guyana and Trinidad for example).

      I’ve never particularly appreciated it when people who aren’t Jewish say things like “we’re the Jews of [insert particular country or region],” so I can certainly empathize with amblingalong’s reaction.

      I don’t think that’s at all what the author is saying. I too hate that bullshit expression. “Black” seems to be used differently in the UK versus how it’s used in North America.

  6. karak
    karak July 13, 2013 at 1:58 am |

    OP, I think you hit a weird nerve, “black” in the US has a clear indication of “largely slave-descended people of African ancestry”. I’ve seen papers make a clear delination between modern African, Carribean, and Latin American immigrants and the old population of people already established in the States; I’ve read arguments about if these are very different or highly related communities.

    My friend is Pakistani, and he describes himself as “brown”, a catch all term for PoC, especially those that don’t neatly fall into the black/white/southeast Asian race schema so prevalent here in the States.

    When he talks about his community, he talk about “us Brown people” or “being a Brown person” to both refer to the color of his skin and the ambiguous nature of his race classification.

    On another note, musing on linguistics, I’ve heard “black” used to refer to the native people of Australia, which is something that really threw me the first few times I read it in a fiction book (and I picked up the vibe that it is old fashioned, or rude, or associated with racism? IDK? Any Aussies with the energy to inform today?) I would under no circumstances refer to anyone not of African descent as “black”.

    1. tigtog
      tigtog July 13, 2013 at 3:17 am | *

      karak, many indigenous Australians still refer to themselves as “blackfellas” and to (most of) the rest of us as “whitefellas”, and if you are a known friend they don’t tend to mind you using that terminology with affection and respect. Different regional groupings have different formal and slang terms for their own indigenous ethnic groups too, with many variations on who can acceptably use which terminology to whom (the ‘skin group’ intra-nation subsection/moiety social system found in many Central/Northern/Western indigenous societies has nothing to do with skin colour, but complicates terminology greatly surrounding kinship and social expectations regarding allowable marriage partners, and then complicates everything yet again by sometimes bestowing ‘skin names’ on outsiders).

      As for describing Aboriginals or Torres Strait Islanders just as “the blacks”, it used to be common and socially acceptable amongst whitefellas a few generations ago because of our British heritage (the colonial Brits generally used “blacks” to describe members of any ethnicity darker than Arabs/Polynesians, and were often quite proud of their precise discrimination between castes/tribes/nations etc regarding which were and were not “blacks”) before our media became globalised and our culture absorbed many of the USAn sensitivities about language usage surrounding race, so nowadays it is definitely considered gauche (although of course that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen). Aussies still have way too many slang racist slurs for indigenous and other people of colour, though – if it’s not a word that comes up on primetime/premium US dramas then anything problematic about using it doesn’t seem to float into vast swathes of the nation’s consciousness at all.

      We grew up moving around a lot with my dad’s job, and lived in a few country towns around NSW as a result. There’s a shit-ton of recent racist history that Australians mostly prefer to ignore, a lot of de facto segregation and dehumanising discrimination still going on, and a shameful denial of access to standard education and medical care in remote (and just remote enough to get away with it) areas. At the same time many dedicated people of all skin colours are reaching out to each other across this historical divide and working small wonders in reconciliation and equitable health/education/justice delivery and more, slowly but surely.

    2. (Bfing) Sarah
      (Bfing) Sarah July 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm |

      Yeah, I have heard other POC use the term “brown” when referring to POC (including themselves) that are not black/African-American/Caribbean-American.

      I’ve seen papers make a clear delination between modern African, Carribean, and Latin American immigrants and the old population of people already established in the States;

      Probably off topic, but yeah. There can be huge cultural differences and huge differences in how people within those groups see themselves, to my experience anyway.

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