Category Archives: Ethnic Studies

Journal of Peasant Studies – Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India

This book review should appear in the upcoming edition of the Journal of Peasant Studies. I cannot publish the whole bit here even though it is my work, since I signed over licensing rights but it should be available through your college databases.

I don’t know whether I will have time for more book reviews in the future or if it is an endeavor that I am any good at, but it was worth experimenting and I am not too displeased with the results. (The Publisher ain’t complaining; why should I)?

Review: Vinayak Chaturvedi, Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India, University of California Press, 2007.

by Prerna Lal

Small excerpt:

The untold narrative of peasant classes marginalized from the promise of the postcolonial nation-state is a popular subject of research and criticism among subaltern scholars seeking to pose ruptures and discontinuities in the hegemonic history of Indian nationalism.

In Peasant Pasts: History and Memory in Western India, Chaturvedi embarks on this project after a chance discovery while pouring through archives on the agrarian economy of Gujarat: he discovers notes by the district magistrate about the historically-celebrated Patidars forcibly extracting labor from the Dhalara peasants in Kheda. Upon further investigation, Chaturvedi discovers that the Dharalas were considered a ‘criminal class’ by both the colonialists and Indian nationalists through the passage of the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 and given their treatment, it came as no surprise that the Dharalas opposed Patidar-led nationalist politics along with colonialism.

Enamored by the prospects of an untold history of peasant pasts, the central thesis of this scholarship revolves around the actions, practices and discourses of the Dharala peasants before the emergence of an Indian nation-state. Chaturvedi claims that the Dharalas were political in their own right and their opposition to Patidar nationalism allied with Gandhi did not denote that these peasants lacked an understanding of politics or an inability to imagine political community. On the contrary, through rigorous fieldwork and archival study, Chaturvedi lays out a fragmentary and episodic history of the Dharala peasants that establishes their broad political discourses, complex understandings of political community, and subsequent resistance to both colonialism and nationalism.

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TOI Article – 'Why Blacks outrace Whites'

This was supposed to be posted in the “Olympic season” but better late than never.

Why Blacks Outrace Whites

I think any study that starts with the central assumption that there is some great tangible genetic difference between a “black” or “white” person is bound to leave out other possible socio-cultural, geographical or evolutionary biology explanations. I have friends and family who tend to believe that “blacks are faster and stronger” due to the high concentration of successful black track and field athletes (and all ‘Asians’ are smart and good at math and so on) and the mainstream media does not help to question such beliefs and binary modes of thinking. This is dangerous since it serves to cement a ‘difference’ between ‘racial’ groups that does not exist.

Race is socially-constructed, hence there has to be an alternate explanation for why a certain ‘racial’ group seemingly performs better. All things being equal, there is more genetic variation between two people of different heights than between someone with dark skin as opposed to someone with fair skin. Inputs and other studies welcome — I think this merits further research on my part post-exams. Enjoy the read (full article here):

In the last three decades, athletics, like all sports, has become more and more globalised. Athletes from many small countries are participating in international competitions, and technologies are more freely accessible, although at steep costs. In this levelling of the playing field, the rise of black power has stunned the world once used to seeing only whites on the podium. What is behind this polarization? Is it in the genes or is it the desire to win?

It has come under huge scrutiny by scientists and sociologists in the past decade. Over 200 scientific studies have been carried out and many more are going on. The association of skin colour with a genetic structure suited for athletics has not been established. This is more so because among the black athletes, there are two very distinct categories — those from East Africa, who dominate long distance running, and those of West African ancestry who dominate sprints.Most athletes from the Caribbean and North America belong to the latter category as their ancestors were taken to the New World as slaves between the 15th and 19th centuries. The average West African weighs 30kg more than average East Africans, who are small with thin legs and arms.

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American Muslims Not What You Think – Breaking from Stereotypes

There is this great Pakistani song titled “Yeh Hum Nahin” meaning “This is Not Us” as in “We are not Terrorists”–a truly great message. Here is a subtitled version:

Anyway, I was reminded of that song as I discovered a surprisingly good editorial in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this past weekend. It pretty much asks Americans to discard the stereotypical images of Muslims, especially American Muslims, as robotically praying people.

In television land, it always seems to be prayer time for Muslims. Every mention of Islam evokes rows of men bowing toward Mecca, rising and falling in robotic unison.

So pervasive is this image that many Americans think Islam alone defines the attitudes and actions of all Muslims, even those in the United States. By extension, many fear that all Muslims are a threat to U.S. democracy. We see this manifested in the hostile reactions to the persistent — and false — rumor that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

These attitudes cripple our debates over immigration, law enforcement, education and foreign policy. They also hide the fact that U.S. Muslims are a constituency up for grabs in the November election. Electoral swing states such as Michigan, Ohio and Virginia all have significant Muslim populations. And on some hot-button cultural issues, Muslim Americans could potentially be a strong ally to the Christian right.

If that seems improbable, think again. As a professor of sociology who studies U.S. Muslim assimilation patterns, I have analyzed numerous nationwide polls of American Muslims on a variety of topics, ranging from their satisfaction with American society to their opinions on U.S. foreign policy to their attitudes on abortion and the environment. U.S. Muslims are a diverse, well-informed group; in fact, they are the most ethnically diverse Muslim population in the world. They come from more than 80 countries on four continents. Most are not Arab. Not all are immigrants. None are Barack Obama.

One-fifth are U.S.-born black Muslims (mainly converts), and a few are U.S.-born Anglo and Hispanic converts. The vast majority of Muslim immigrants have lived here 10 or more years, and they resemble the general U.S. population in their socioeconomic status. Most are employed, a quarter have a bachelor’s degree or higher and a quarter earn $75,000 a year or more.

U.S. Muslims are also like most Americans in another important way: They are not uniformly religious. Nearly half — 46.7 percent — attend a mosque seldom, never or only a few times a year. About one-fourth go weekly, and one-third go more than once a week, proportions similar to those of U.S. Christians and Jews. Like these other groups, U.S. Muslims range from ultra-conservative to ultra-liberal and from devout practicing believers to secular, non-practicing, in-name-only Muslims. More Christians say they pray daily — 70 percent to 61 percent — than do U.S. Muslims.

Like most Americans, U.S. Muslims are generally not activists. Just as regular church and synagogue attendance correlates with higher political activity for U.S. Christians and Jews, so does regular mosque attendance for U.S. Muslims. Even among the devout, however, there’s a sharp distinction between being a good Muslim and being an Islamic fundamentalist.

The elements that tell us how U.S. Muslims will behave politically are the same ones that predict the political attitudes and involvement of other Americans. People with more education, higher incomes, more group consciousness and more feelings of marginalization are the most likely to be politically active because they feel they have more at stake.

Many U.S. Muslims are immigrants and not yet eligible to vote. Only 63 percent are registered voters, compared to the U.S. average of 76 percent. But they are slightly more likely than most citizens to have contacted a politician and, like other racial and ethnic minorities, are a bit more likely to be Democrats.

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Scary New World? Minority to Become Majority in 2040s

An older and more diverse nation by mid-century – Report released by the Census Bureau

minorities to overtake majority

What predictions can we make from a majority-ethnic minority population in the future?

More liberal politics? Increase tolerance of difference? An end to white privilege, institutionalized discrimination and racism?

IT tells us nothing. Women are the majority-minority and yet that fact is not reflected in electoral politics, the gender make-up of Fortune 500 CEOs or reimbursement of the ‘second-shift‘ for that matter. A sheer majority in numbers cannot make much of a difference without institutional power and/or support.

But it is clear that a majority-minority population cannot be ignored:

But the mere numbers require that Latinos move beyond low-wage and low-skilled jobs, said Mark Salling, a demographer at Cleveland State University.

“When they are a third of the population, you can’t ignore them,” Salling said. “I don’t care if they’re citizens or not, you can’t ignore them.”

The Center for Immigration Studies did not pass up an opportunity to use the projected figures to trump up their hue and cry over immigration:

“The point here is what does it mean for the quality of life, the quality of the environment – profound questions,” he said. “It’s not the weather – this isn’t happening because Americans are choosing to have large families. It’s happened primarily, not entirely, but largely because of a federal program, immigration – that is, the toleration of illegal immigration and very generous legal immigration.”

What they failed to mentioned is that the percentage of people that would require social security and medicaid in 2040 would necessitate a larger percentage of the working age population than currently projected. We either need to redo our health and pension plans, ensure that people don’t live past 64 or allow more legal immigration.

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Filed under Ethnic Studies, Immigration, Racism

Assimilation makes you fat and other facts – Reject "Assimilation" Part 2

In the study, researchers examined information on more than 13,000 New Yorkers from all five of the city’s boroughs, who voluntarily had their height and weight measured. The data, collected at community-based health centers and hospitals between January 2000 and December 2002, was used to calculate each person’s BMI.

For Hispanics, whether the neighborhood is largely English speaking or not is an important predictor of body size. The less English spoken in a neighborhood, the less weight gain occurs, according to researchers, whose findings appear in a recent issue of the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

“Simply put: the longer an immigrant lives in the U.S., the heavier that immigrant becomes. Scholars theorize this weight gain as due, in part, to acculturation ­ the adoption of U.S. diet and physical activity habits,” said Park. “Although in the popular imagination, acculturation is thought to be a positive factor for immigrants, in many arenas of health, acculturation has been shown to have a negative effect.”

The new study supports earlier research that found that weight gain is most consistent and significant among Hispanic immigrants to the U.S., who face a particularly high risk of obesity and attendant health problems even when socioeconomic status is taken into consideration.

The link to the study can be found here. I wish journalists would clearly cite the actual source of study because oftentimes it takes a while to search and find it and only the most interested users bother to go to the source of information.

I can actually attest to this sparingly, since the study only seems to hold true among Hispanic immigrants and I am not. I gained about 40 pounds since I started residing in the United States without any changes to my height or level of physical activity. I have shed about 15 of those down to 115 in the past year after getting more health conscious, but the point is that Americans do consume foods with higher calories. And the more we “assimilate,” the more we tend to consume “American foods” on the go instead of ethnic, home-cooked meals which are generally and broadly-speaking, healthier. I don’t think the morale of the story is that we should hide out in our own ethnic enclaves–but that mirroring American consumerism and diet is the wrong way to go.

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Supporters of cultural assimilation beware–Encouraging and pushing for assimilation i.e. “English-only” can be contradictory. According to the research of Tomás Jiménez, an assistant professor of sociology at UC San Diego:

That efforts by opponents of illegal immigration to stamp out the ethnic identity of immigrants and their descendents, and to emphasize assimilation, backfire… Nonimmigrant Mexican-Americans who were already largely assimilated feel a closer connection to their Mexican identity when they see it as under attack.

“People who feel the country is fractured by ethnicity may be doing more than anyone to harden ethnic identity,” he said.

The study holds up when compared to conflict theory. When a minority culture faces attack from the dominant culture, it resists or pushes back.

While we are on the topic of assimilation and “illegal immigration,” is it not strange that the biggest proponents of assimilation are also the ones that prevent avenues for immigrant assimilation–Studies show that being undocumented is a barrier to assimilating.

As Duke University economist Jacob Vigdor explained in The Washington Post: “If you’re in the country illegally, a lot of the avenues of assimilation are cut off to you. There are a lot of jobs you can’t get, and you can’t become a citizen.”

Therefore, if we want our immigrants to assimilate, should we not ensure that they have the necessary institutional support to do so? Otherwise, it is ridiculous to expect migrant workers to speak American-English.

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One last note. Americans DO NOT speak English but a bastardized version of it. Over the past decade, my English has actually deteriorated. I used to be a spelling bee champion and nowadays I let the Firefox browser correct my spelling. Same goes for my grammar. It is not correct to say “Who are you going to the movies with?” but rather “With whom are you going to the cinema?” Besides the error of ending in prepositions, I use way more passive language than I used to — we used to be graded down for “passive usage.” Most Americans have no idea as to what that means! Anyway, I am no fan or supporter of any “pure language” theories so the deterioration of English does not bother me. What does bother me is this:

http://www.bradblog.com/Images/Protestor_EnglishOfficalLanguage.jpg

Lets learn to speak English first, eh?

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Filed under Ethnic Studies, Immigration, Racism

Immigration Buzzword – Reject "Assimilation"

+++++I hail from the Fiji Islands; My favorite food is Chinese; I root for Italy and Juventus when it comes to football; I am disappointed when India loses a major cricket tournament; I love Pakistani music with Jal as my most favorite band; L-word star Jennifer Beals is my idol while I think Indian soapstar Anita Hassanandani is the most beautiful woman in the world; my best friend lives in Australia; ‘God Bless Fiji’ is the only national anthem I can recite, barely; the Bay Area is my home and Chicago is my favorite city. My likes and dislikes know neither borders nor boundaries+++++

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During my incredibly short time as a pro-migrant blogger, I have seen many articles on calls for new immigrants to assimilate, deriding the more recent wave of transnational identities, and studies that show immigrant assimilation rates, just to name a few.

From a personal perspective, as someone who was born and brought up in the Fiji Islands, I was taught that we must not expect or encourage “assimilation.” In fact, the word has negative connotations in my country of origin, helped by a social studies curriculum that puts plularism over assimilationist integration from an early age. So it is baffling to me, when “assimilation” is seen in a positive light in the United States, almost uncomfortable in fact. Assimilation is synonymous to losing cultural identity, which I find completely unacceptable, especially when it is touted as a prerequisite for U.S. citizenship.

Sociologist Robert Parks maintained that assimilation was inevitable in a democratic and industrial society after undergoing the “race relations cycle” (contact, conquest…assimilation, fusion). Park has been criticized for not giving a timeline as to when assimilation is complete. We have absolutely no way of ascertaining when assimilation has occurred if we go by Park’s theories.

On the other hand, Milton Gordon has a seven-part subprocesses of assimilation theory, going from cultural acculturation to structural assimilation (integration) to marital assimilation. By no means is this theory solid–individuals and groups can jump around the subprocesses and not follow it in any certain order.
Sociologists think that contemporary immigrants would undergo segmented assimilation. See this for more.

Unlike what Parks or Gordon let on, the process of assimilation in itself, is not LINEAR, which is a very important point to take into account. When different cultures inter-mingle, they borrow characteristics from one another–If the United States was a case of an “assimilationist society,” we would all have the traditional English breakfast of bacon and eggs and scones for snacks. But we enjoy our various ethnic foods, different dressing styles, and the ability to curse in several different languages.

We must seek PLURALISM not assimilation.

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http://www.apnaonline.ca/images/Edpic/notes/fiji2b.GIF

On this $2 note from Fiji that I carry around in my wallet, we can see from left to right: a young Muslim boy, an older Chinese man, an indigenous Fijian, a Rotuman woman–probably representative of other Pacific Islands as well, and an Indian woman.

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Filed under Ethnic Studies, Immigration