Published 13 May 2017
Whiteness refers to the specific racial identity, and in the context of European countries and America – to the related privileges as well. Speaking broadly, white identity is the person’s internal perception of their external features and traits, more precisely – of ‘physical’ whiteness and the norms and beliefs imposed by the group with the same physical characteristic. White privilege, in this sense, plays and important role in both national and global contexts, in the first meaning – because whiteness is a prevailing characteristic, so that those who possess it belong to racial majority; in the latter context – because of the social and political history of white population, which had dominated over the world for thousands years.
Cultural diversity has today become one of the most prominent sociocultural directions in the United States (Murray, 1991), because of the two tendencies in the contemporary social policy. First of all, multiculturalism was recognized as one of the most important sociopolitical course of America’s development, in addition, immigration regime has become much more lenient over the last two decades, so that the inflow of the members of other nations is increasing from year to year. On the other hand, “multicultural or liberal notions of difference are also, at one and the same time, fuel for a rhetoric of dislike or even hate. One always can read a narrative of differentiation either way, depending upon one’s largest political and social sensibilities. And unless one can imagine a world composed of nothing but liberal sensibilities, the result of this virulent “whiteness” and “coloredness” continues” (Murray, 1991, p. 59). This means, already existing in the United States white identity affects non-white immigrants, especially South Asian Americans.
S.Mazumdar in the article about South Asians in the America provides an in-depth analysis of the conceptual, mythological and philosophical background of whiteness and connects the outburst of racism and discrimination against non-white population with the development of the so-called ‘neo-Darwinism’ (Mazumdar, 1989) that explained the survival of the fittest from societal position: due to the fact that American and European empires were the strongest and the most influential, white race was viewed as superior. Later in the 19th century, the theory of Aryan race came into being and reinforced the previous notions of white privilege, as the contemporary scholars assumed that white (Aryan) people actually, who originated from South Asia, were actually an entity that should have been viewed as separate from indigenous population due to tremendously differing physical characteristics.
The scholar also states that because of the white absolutism, South Asians in the United States are often confused with other racial minorities, more importantly, react to such comparisons emotionally, due to the ancient
Aryan myth that makes them feel colonized people, who still can assimilate into the ‘white’ population. Furthermore, due to the caste system the regulates social life in India, South Asian Americans need to distinguish themselves from the other racial minorities: “ In this process of seeking to reiterate caste and religious identity, which is packaged as preserving cultural identity, the immigrants find it necessary to distinguish themselves from all other ethnic groups. Since their skin color automatically sets them apart from the white majority, efforts are focused on differntating themselves from other minorities” (Majumdar, 1989, p.51). With regard to the fact that South Asian Americans as well as the objects of their material culture (Hindu temples) are often attacked by vandals and racists, the members of this ethnic minority group often begin to neglect or forget their racial identity in favor of the so-called mainstreaming that includes American cultural and social activities, American customs and, more profoundly, prejudiced approach to other minority groups in attempt to gain a feeling of involvement into the use of ‘white privilege’.
Shah and Kukke in the article “Reflections on Queer South Asian Progressive Activism in the U.S.” (2000) analyze the so-called queer movement South Asians participate in. Basically, such organizations are designed for gay South Asian men, as this culture is known for its traditionalism in sexual identity and its intolerance to divergent sexual orientations. More precisely, such individuals need to learn to manifest their sexuality in the ways, which would be both convenient for themselves and socially approved. Moreover, the scholars state that due to numerous obstructions to adequate self-perception (in terms of racial, gender and class identities) in the United States, such South Asian Americans need to more reflective discussion of their sexual orientations, as they belong to two minority groups at the same time – ethnic and sexual. The authors also draw the major differences between “queer” and “progressive” South Asian Americans, as the latter group is notable ignorant to the needs of sexual minorities, belonging to this ethnic group, whereas “” add queers and stir” approach, utilized by SASA organizers backfired tremendously because of the outright hostility exhibited by the participants” (Shah and Kukke, 2000, p.135).
“Progressive” South Asian Americans seek to combat political, social and institutional discrimination against their group, yet they have unconsciously prejudiced approach to sexual minority group that exists within their own. This means, there exists certain extrapolation of discrimination: being discriminated by the white population, South Asian Americans use this pattern of biased attitude when dealing with South Asian homosexuals. Nevertheless, the authors offer rather positive than negative prognosis for the cooperation between the two groups, as the concept of progress should not be limited to purely social context, but rather extended to the ideas of equality in terms of gender and sexuality.
Haney-Lopez in his overview of Thind’s court case describes the status of South Asian Americans before World War II. The plaintiff required naturalization as a ‘free white’ (he was identified as ‘Caucasian’, a person of Aryan background), but the Court didn’t satisfy his petition, referring to the time-honored social perceptions of race. As the author states, “After Thind, the naturalization of Asian Indians became legally impossible: Asian Indians were, by law, no longer “white persons”. Even worse, many Asian Indians, like Thind himself , lost the citizenship they believed secure. In the wake of Thind, the federal government began a campaign to strip naturalized Asian Indians of their citizenship…” (Haney-Lopez, p. 91). This means, South Asian Americans always sought to approach to ‘legal whiteness’ (through naturalization), as it provided a number of social opportunities (career, housing and so forth), but they had been long deprived of these facilities (up to the end of the 1960s), although the strong fixation on the need to acquire ‘whiteness’ has survived up to the present day.
To sum up, South Asian Americans encountered a number of troubles when developing both external (social and behavioral) and internal (self-perception, gender and sexuality) white identities, as they needed to struggle with the unquestionable white privilege, imposed through American bureaucracies and court system. At the present day, they still face the manifestations of racism and are increasingly more eager to assimilate into the white majority.
- Haney-Lopez, I. The Prerequisite Cases, pp. 49-53; 79-109.
- Kukke, S. and Shah, S. Reflections on Queer South Asian Progressive Activism in the U.S. Amerasia Journal, 25 (3) , 1999/2000: pp. 129-137
- Mazumdar, S. Racist response to Racism: The Aryan Myth and South Asians in the United States. South Asia Bulletin, 9 (1), 1989: pp. 47-55
- Murray, D. Forked Tongues: Speech, Writing and Representation in North American Indian texts. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991.