Minorities of the whole world in American academic institutions.

I am writing this post aimed at an audience who are not from India and wants to interact with a person from India and have little idea about do’s and don’ts about social dynamics in that country as I did in an exactly opposite sense when I moved to States from India. Although I am primarily considering that audience from the USA, it can be generalized for any other country. In the USA, the color of one’s skin is a significant factor in deciding who will be categorized as majority and who will go into the minority category. Please keep in mind; I said it is a “significant factor” & not “THE factor”. It is a somewhat binary system, i.e., white Vs. non-white. A similar social hierarchy exists in India in addition to one’s skin color. And that is the cast system. It’s a kind of spectrum instead of a binary system. On the highest end of the spectrum, those people exist who were employed by doing the “noble” works in the castle of the ancient kings, i.e., accounting, religious affairs, chef, white-collar jobs, etc., recognized as “Forward Classes by the Govt. of India” currently. And on the lower end of the spectrum, people are categorized into another category who were involved in doing the “dirty” works for the king, i.e., king’s mistress, sewage/toilet maintenance, etc., recognized as “Backward Classes by the Govt. of India”. And just to give an idea of social dynamics, even today, in some parts of India, the Backward Class people are called “untouchables” as slang because a person from the Forward Class does not feel “comfortable” shaking a hand with a person from the backward class. And in between these two categories, an almost semi-spectrum exists. But let’s, for the moment, just focus on the endpoints to make the story easily digestible. There is nearly a significant correlation between the Castes and the skin color, while it is not exclusive. Still, it holds true for the majority of the time, i.e., the lighter the skin color a person has, the higher the chances that (s)he belongs to the one of the Forward Class and darker the skin color then higher chances (s)he belongs to the Backward Class.  

Next time, if you are in a higher position in academics and want to give an opportunity to a person from India, please consider the person’s background in addition to the qualification. Because a person from India will be viewed as non-white in the USA and will be given the opportunities reserved for the minorities here, while that person is really a majority from where (s)he is coming and lived like it their whole life. And (s)he will never speak out about it and will quietly accept the opportunities that (s)he does not deserve because those are reserved for people who lived their life as a minority (no matter in what part of the world) and (s)he very clearly knows what (s)he is doing. Since the people in the USA do not know about the cast systems of India so this will keep on happening and hence this post. And non-Indian-Americans will fall for it because skin color is the primary factor here, and Indian-white-skin=American-non-white-skin. Next time you hire a Ph.D. student, post-doc, research scientist, etc., from India in your lab; please be curious to know that candidate’s background from this perspective and if you want to score some extra points under your “underrepresented categories are encouraged to apply” initiatives.

And following is a little note for the people who belong to the Backward Class and moving to the States and have to deal with the people from the Forward Class in high positions, which is usually the case since most of the successful Indian-American people belong to the Forward Class. Since you have to deal with them, there are a few points I want to tell that I hoped somebody would have told me when I moved to the States: 1) Comes in terms with your background, never fool yourself into believing you will not be marginalized in the Free World based upon your caste. 2) If you have dark skin color, then you will be marginalized by the non-Indian-American and Indian American both, and if you happen to be one of the few who are from the Backward Category and still have light skin color, then you will be marginalized by your own people i.e. Indian Americans. Because unfortunately, they will always make sure you never forget your background when you stand in front of them because **they know it**. Do not let these 2 points leave your mind until the day you die. I am a Backward Class Ph.D. candidate at my work surrounded by Forward Class people from India, and I am writing this not from any point of hate, none so ever. For the American audience, that experience will be like a black person surrounded by white colleagues at work. I believe every white colleague will encourage that black person to share their experiences and support him/her wholeheartedly, no matter whether the experience was negative or positive. And there will be lots of things that people will do without even realizing how hurtful it can be for that black person. For example, I am a first-generation Ph.D. student in my extended family, and my family says it with pride that somebody from **them** is not only going to college but earning a Ph.D. degree. And when I told this with an identical sense of pride to one of my colleagues, the reply was, “why your parents will let you go to college if they didn’t go themselves” and walked away while smiling. At that time, I didn’t take it to my heart because I thought I was one of them because caste-based institutionalized marginalism does not exist in this country, and it was light-hearted humor. But now, if I look back in hindsight, it impacted my mental health, and I hope writing it here will help me. I am sharing this one experience to be cathartic to somebody like me reading this if this ever happened to you, and you shall be prepared for such interactions if this didn’t happen to you yet. Again, do not reply with any kind of hatred when such interactions occur. Just hear it and move along with your job and use it as constructive motivation, and share it with your “Tribe” down the line, if anything.    

Please be considerate while reading this post that English is not my 1st language, and sometimes I use the wrong words to convey my message. And I need your help to fill the gaps while reading this if something does not come across right. And if somebody is reading from my workplace, please be informed it is not hatred but a helping hand for another person like me who will be entering the academia since we know the human brain tends to pose better mental health if more relatable experience exists out there in the world. And this is one of my relatable experiences for my “Tribe”.   

And again, the main aim of this post is not for any kind of hatred towards anybody but educational posts for the American people (especially academics) to make them aware of this point of view. A recent visit to India by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was primarily focused on this issue[1].

I wonder what “caste systems” exist in other countries in addition to skin color and money. If you are from a country other than India and USA, please comment down if you know a similar social hierarchy in your country. Thank you for your time and efforts in reading this post; with love.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/nov/20/twitter-ceo-jack-dorsey-criticised-for-upsetting-hindu-nationals-india-visit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s