“I read the most important book I've read till date”, I tooted about “How to be an Anti Racist” by Dr Ibram X Kendi. And I can't stress enough how true it is. I'm a recovering casteist who is trying to shed years of conditioning to see everything through the prejudiced eyes of caste and communities. I slip up even now with slurs that are of a discriminatory nature, prejudice etc. Because like an addiction, being an anticasteist needs to have self awareness, self criticism and self examination to make sure I don't slip up when I find old habits trying to come back. When racism tries to pull back the progress I've made to shed those tendencies. For us humans “have been programmed to respond to differences between us with fear and loathing.” I'm going to be using racism and casteism interchangeably during the rest of this write up because both are inherently means to hold on to the existing power dynamics and spreading the beliefs around inferiority of certain communities over the others in order to maintain status quo with no progress towards social justice, and equity.
Let's start with an agreement of what racism and antiracism means. Any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior to another is racist. Racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas. An antiracist treats and remembers individuals as individuals. Antiracism is a powerful collection of anti-racist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by anti-racist ideas.
The first thing to understand that we can't be neutral in our stand against racism. We can't be in denial of it either. The opposite of racist isn't not racist. It's antiracist. We can't pretend that not believing in caste can make it go away. Not at this point in time at least. And the first thing any casteist would do is be in denial. They'll claim they have Black or Dalit or Muslim friends, so they aren't really discriminating when they are talking about certain communities being tied down by their own behaviours and not as a consequence of what the policies have forced them into. When we fail to see racism, we fall into racist passivity and colour blindness and can't fix the problems that exist and are the causes of these vast inequalities that exist within our society today. The construct of race neutrality detrimental because it leads to the victim complex that the nationalists hold by creating an impression that any policy protecting or advancing a minority is reverse discrimination. We've seen that play out with any kind of minority movement including feminism, trans rights etc.
This is the consistent function of racist ideas—and of any kind of bigotry more broadly: to manipulate us into seeing people as the problem, instead of the policies that ensnare them.
Caste inequity is when two or more castes aren't on par. When policies produces and sustains these inequities, the only course of balancing that out is anticasteist policies that reduce these differences to produce equity and then sustain them in the long run. We are at a stage where we haven't reduced the inequity at all, so to talk about going to the next stage where we pretend it doesn't exist at all is absurd and unfair. And when we talk about policies, we have to talk about written and unwritten laws that govern people. This includes a Dalit collector being given lesser responsibilities despite their proven track record, people bypassing their colleagues or their superiors because of the latter's assumed inferiority due to circumstances of birth etc. A very good example of policy failure is standardized tests. The issue with it is that they are mostly about technique and not really a test of the capability of an individual. The ones who can afford to get trained for these specific set of tests perform well in them, and that's usually the ones with the societal privilege.
People are in our faces. Policies are distant. We are particularly poor at seeing the policies lurking behind the struggles of people.
A major, flawed in my opinion, argument that comes up whenever we discuss caste is the reservation system and how its is reverse casteism. The argument Dr Kendi makes here about this that I agree with is that propagating existing inequities and allowing the dominant race to continue amassing wealth and availing power is vastly different from temporarily assisting an underrepresented group to uplift themselves to restore parity. Of course, there are going to be the abuse of the system by some members that group, but that can't be used as an argument to deny entire groups any kind of representation. Importantly, it's possible that those abusing the system don't contribute in any meaningful way towards change, so they are as casteist as the ones making the argument about the abuse. Better representation would ensure better inclusive policies. We have to standardize opportunities available to all.
As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in 1965, “You do not take a person who,12 for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘You are free to compete with all the others,’ and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”
The other important issue at hand is celebrating the differences between the races instead of homogenizing as Indian or American. This is an assimilationist idea where the downtrodden only need some instructions on how to act. The segregationist idea at the other end of the spectrum is to identify them as animals or termites or outsiders (these are actual words used by some of our politicians) who are in teachable. Our role as antiracists is to ensure that the policies are for creating equal opportunities because we know that racial groups are civilized. We shouldn't strive to be the ideal “citizen” in terms of how we dress, speak a language etc, but be our own individual who sees everyone else as individuals instead of tagging them as “not Indian enough” or “not Hindu enough” etc.
To be antiracist is to view national and transnational ethnic groups as equal in all their differences. To be antiracist is to challenge the racist policies that plague racialized ethnic groups across the world. To be antiracist is to view the inequities between all racialized ethnic groups as a problem of policy.
We have to stop calling them micro aggressions or prejudiced behaviour and instead call the acts we do when we see people of colour as abuse because it causes distress to the people affected by it. Clutching a bag when you see a black, getting uncomfortable when you see a person wearing a skullcap etc are acts that cause immense stress to those who are only practicing their culture or are born thus. That need not be associated with their behaviour and we have to remember to consider them as individuals and not as a generalized group where everyone exhibits the same behaviour.
There is evidence to prove that poverty and crime are correlated, yet we try to hold prejudice against marginalized groups because there is more crime rate within them as a consequence of the policies that have kept them poor. The only ones who win with racism are the powers at the top. They have to keep people fighting between each other on the basis of such differences to maintain power and create an imaginary enemy who must be kept down at all times. I'm going to go on a tangent and talk about the Light eyes from The Stormlight Archive series who are considered to be the higher caste who ensured that the Dark eyes always believed themselves to be inferior in order to keep their power. When Kaladin, who was a slave got super powers, they still tried to not give him his due, and it took an antiracist Dalinar to do so. Back to real life, most Brahmins aren't interested in changing the situation because it means they have to share the power and opportunities with everyone else, which puts a fear in their minds that they won't enjoy the privileges they have enjoyed over the centuries anymore. They created the cultural standard and put themselves at the top of the hierarchy. Using civilization, purity etc as euphemisms for racism, they impose this hierarchy. As anti-racists, we should equalize cultural differences among the different groups. and when we see cultural differences, we only see them as differences and not as superiority of one over the other. Going back to a constant theme, we should think about individual behaviours and not group behaviours. Culture is a group tradition, but it doesn't mean every individual of that group shares it, nor should it be uniform for all groups.
When we critique someone, we have to critique them for what they are. If we are critiquing a student, we have to critique them for their lack of motivation, discipline etc. We shouldn't critique them as a Dalit student. Society doesn't critique an irresponsible upper caste student as a representation of that student's entire caste.
When we believe that a racial group’s seeming success or failure redounds to each of its individual members, we’ve accepted a racist idea. Likewise, when we believe that an individual’s seeming success or failure redounds to an entire group, we’ve accepted a racist idea.
Dr Kendi equates racism to cancer. As a survivor of this aggressive disease, he tells us that like cancer, we have to treat the root cause, which is surgically removing the tumour instead of merely treating symptoms. As antiracists, we have to constantly look for policy improvements to rid society of this malicious ill which is threatening to consume us all. As an Indian, I believe that we are at an advanced stage, yet miracles have happened, and we, as anticasteists have to try our best to get us into remission and ensure we can stay there for long.