Tag Archives: othering

On National Tragedy And Personal Identity: Reflections On The Shootings In Wisconsin

by Guest Contributor Amit S. Bagga

As a preface, I encourage you to read this edited excerpt from Harsha Walia’s response to this incident on the Racialicious blog:

“To my Sikh sisters and brothers: this incident is yet another reminder of what it means for us to be racialized as Others and as eternal
Outsiders…We cannot see and name ourselves as ‘accidental’ victims of Islamophobia, which suggests that somehow Muslims are
more “appropriate” targets of racism…Striving to be more desirable within an oppressive system–that is built on our social discipline and compels our obedience–will never set us free. What will set us free is our collective liberation and thriving as the proud brown people we were meant to be.”

I am a Sikh. Or at least half. With his hair shorn. Yeah, it’s kinda nebulous. This has been my refrain for as long as I can remember. I’ve been as attached to “my” Sikh identity as strongly as a stray hair hanging out from the back of a poorly-tied turban (though not my father’s, let me assure you. No stray hairs there).

South Asian social mores would dictate that a child (a son, no less) born to a Sikh father would undoubtedly raised a Sikh. He would don a little bun wound into tightly-wrapped cloth (joora) atop his head, murmuring Guru Granth Sahib verses alongside a set of twangy, off-key pajis and, at least in the US, being shipped off to various camps to memorize, recite, and maybe–just maybe–internalize something. Well, that was not the case with me. In fact, for a variety of reasons, some intentional, most not, the development of my identity as a Sikh was not quite “marginalized,” but certainly somewhat subverted, and I was reared a good Hindu boy by a mother suspended somewhere between Punjabi goddess worship and post-colonial, urban, middle-class Brahminism.

The world in the 1980s. The Golden Temple incident; Indira Gandhi has been assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards; Hindus and Sikhs are busy killing each other in the streets of Delhi; we live in a Bronx neighborhood where outsiders, despite this being New York City, are not particularly well-liked. So, the decision is made: he will not wear a joora and, as such, the Sikh bit a fell to the side. Though the decisions may not have been conscious, Punjabi was eschewed in favor of Hindi, and Guru Nanak eschewed in favor of Durga. To be fair, I learned how to recite many verses and went to the gurdwara and sat through langar, as well as the many in-home readings of the holy book, that both sides of my family, despite one being Hindu, decided to keep–but it wasn’t quite the same. At the end of the day, the Sikh-est thing about me was my middle name–and, well, the manifestation of that which pulses in all Sikh blood–the ability to two-step to a little bhangra. Continue reading

Us and Them

by Guest Contributor Missives from Marx originally published at Sociological Images

A month or two ago I commented on the New York Times Upfront magazine for high school kids. I recently came across their latest, which features a cover story titled “What We Eat.” The story is really just an interesting collection of photographs of families from nations all over the world, but with each family sitting with all the food in their house, like this family from Kuwait:

kuwait1

However, although the title of the article inside the magazine is “What We Eat,” the title listed on the cover of the magazine is “What They Eat.” The picture selected for the cover is not one of the family photos, but is, instead, a photo apparently selected to elicit the maximum negative visceral response possible from American kids:

what they eat

So the cover separates an “us” and a “them,” and shows the American high school students how gross and weird “they” are.

Check out the issue that preceded this one by just two or three weeks:

gun

Here American high school students learn that people around the world with dark skin are violent, dirty, and poorly dressed.

No wonder American kids grow up to be American adults whose voting habits reflect the view that American foreign policy should be paternalistic.

Note from Sociological Images:

This reminds me of some of Catherine Lutz’s and Jane Collins’s arguments in their book Reading National Geographic, in which show how that magazine represents other cultures in ways that reinforce the idea of the non-Western world as the Other. These images would be a useful accompaniment to the book and a discussion of how we represent people from other countries and what those representations justify, obscure, or challenge.