How do we talk about caste as Indian Americans?
There has been much conversation about the hollowness of savarna Indians joining to decry Blackness and police brutality in the US while they stay silent or ignorant on the ongoing atrocities around caste and islamaphobia. And the critique is well-placed and very valid.
And as upper-caste South Asians, we must examine our inclination to use the ways we are harmed by white supremacy or even our solidarity with Black liberation movements as a way to deflect from the ways we uphold and ignore our top position in the South Asian caste hierarchy and the harm we cause by ignoring it.
But how do we raise this hypocrisy without detracting from a much-needed, global movement for Black lives?
How, as a upper-caste people, can we acknowledge and uplift the very real histories of solidarity between Black and Dalit liberation, that us as savarna South Asians cannot and should not be a part of, undermine, or coopt, while also naming that caste and race exist simultaneously and separate from one another in both South Asia and the US? That is to say anti-Blackness, a part from or maybe related to casteism, exists in South Asia towards South Asian people (siddi people) of African descent as well as visitors or immigrants of African descent (understanding that dominant caste people are likely historically and currently the biggest perpetrators of it). And that it also exists here in the US in among all non-Black South Asian communities regardless of caste. We also see how Indian caste and South Asianess interacts with Blackness in caste systems in the Caribbean (ie, Indian people, across caste, were privileged over people of African descent, partly as a tool to divide and conquer).
And especially as South Asian Americans who are all benefitting, to varying extents, from settler colonialism, Black liberation struggles, and a favorable position in the US racial caste system, how can we both ramp up our accountability in dismantling caste while dismantling anti-Blackness and other forms of racism here?
We can't hide behind a label of "person of color" when it comes to Blackness and we can't hide behind a label of being "brown" or "south asian" when it comes to caste or islamaphobia.
The path forward must center the leadership of Dalit-American activists and Dalit scholarship in general and also the scholarship and leadership of indigenous and Black people, but as Suraj Yengde and Thenmozhi Soundararajan have both shared that savarna activists do not need to be in Dalit spaces (or Black and indigenous spaces) in order to do this anti-caste and anti-racist work.
Understanding and reading about caste in a South Asian context is important and vital in this journey, and it's incomplete for people who are born here and whose identities and culture have been shaped and evolved here. But when 90% of US South Asians (according to a 2003 statistic) come from upper-caste backgrounds and our relationships and culture even in the US is likely overwhelmingly warped and informed by casteist view, how do we forge a path forward that's conscious and just?
Is it appropriate and possible to have a multiracial conversation about caste?
How does caste need to be talked about differently for those in India, those who have immigrated here, and those who are born here to Indian parents or ancestors?
Can the same conversations about dismantling our complicity in anti-Blackness, settler colonialism, and classism/model minority myth happen with our conversation around abolishing caste?
Do these conversations need to necessarily be segregated or can they be had in our existing multiracial communities in addition to with the South Asians in our lives?
How can a book like Wilkerson's "Caste" that is about US Blackness and a US caste system, but mentions caste in South Asian, be relevant to people Indian of descent and help us understand caste as people who are American too, even if we're not the audience? Because isn't caste global?
EDIT: I hope this event below will clarify some of these questions I'm chewing on