Sunday, August 15, 2010

discomfiture on identity politics, intersectionality, caste and my friend Nick

After writing the previous post on Joby John and caste, I felt quite uncomfortable. What bothered me was my reference to "their" candidate. The "they" being the Dalit/OBC blogosphere. My reference to "their" meant that I had willy-nilly accepted the framework of identity politics, in such politics individuals think solely in terms of their community identities.

I also participated in an interaction over at fishpond which lasted a couple of days. When a commentator sarcastically referred to me as the "enlightened one" (!!), all because I did not toe the 'party line' that the 5 lakhs votes represented caste mobilisation, I decided to call it quits.

After reflecting for a few days, I was reminded of Kimberle Crenshaw's pathbreaking work on intersectionality, how different factors like race, class and gender intersect to create inter-locking forms of discrimination but law and the legal process is used to thinking in linear terms about discrimination (a good example is the question - when a African-American woman is discriminated against, is she discriminated because of gender or because of race, ignoring that it could be because of both).

In Joby John's case, was it a case of intersectionality - his caste and class operating together, among other factors like his geniality? But since class is more palatable to the general public, it blinds observers like me, causing us to think in linear terms? I should emphasis however that nothing in the original post at fishpond or the comments was about intersectionality. Unfortunately, it degenerated into "how can you (an outsider) claim to speak about marginalised 'lower" castes? ( is this not a form of identity politics?)
I am conflicted about this.

Edited to add the section in brackets

[The middle class 'upper' caste Malayali is famously very uncomfortable about caste. The non-Hindu Malayalis are indifferent to caste as long as it does not affect them and when it gets into their territory, they are as prejudiced as the 'upper' caste Hindus are. There is no white guilt here, if anything, 'upper' caste and middle class non-Hindus try to heap guilt on the subaltern castes for supposedly sullying the utopia of merit that Kerala would have been but for affirmative action aka reservation. In such a context, the packaging of a poor 'lower' caste person as someone emptied of his caste identity and depicted only as poor becomes important in a reality show like Idea Star Singer. The middle class Malayali heart would sympathise with a poor singer but not with a subaltern singer who is proud of subaltern identity and does not mind wearing it on his/her sleeve. This was what I was trying to say over at Fishpond.]
I also really wish my friend Nick (not his real name) about whom I blogged before was here. He was very astute about stuff like this. Nick once told me something very interesting. It went along these lines, "You can say that larger society has accepted us (as in African-Americans) when it is no longer looking for exceptional African Americans, when it is ok for us some of us to fail and it is not taken as emblematic of anything."

[Lastly, it is also worth noting the consumerism involved. SMS is "smart MONEY service" for the channel]

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