An Analysis of “RW” Hindu Reactions to Hindu Solidarity with American Race Struggles
After reading some of the strange and disturbing responses from Hindus and some Hindu Americans to the storm of outrage sweeping across the United States about police brutality and racism, I believe that some introspection is necessary. Why do we react the way we do about racism towards Blacks? Is it truthful and appropriate? Do our reactions help our battle against Hinduphobia?
It seems to me that there are three kinds of responses emerging from Indians in America. People who identify as “South Asian” or “Desi” (rather than Hindu American) are understandably at the frontlines of condemning racism, showing solidarity with the Black community, and also connecting American racism with casteism and colorism in our own community. The second response comes from some people who identify as Hindus openly but also share a sense of pain and outrage about anti-black racism. The Hindu Students Council (HSC) for example, was very clear in putting out a touching shraddanjali message to George Floyd and also including a picture of a tilak-sporting protestor standing for black lives. Other scholars and activists at the forefront of anti-Hinduphobia work also spoke out in strong support of black solidarity.
The third sort of response is what I wish to analyze in some depth today. This sort of response also comes from people who identify openly and boldly as Hindus (although they often use the term “RW” or “Nationalist” interchangeably too), and is a somewhat troubling one. This group of Hindus seems to believe that the concerns of the first two groups described above are unilaterally incorrect. Their beliefs range from what would be universally condemned as anti-black racism to a more complicated sort of bargaining (often with their own selves and in their own heads) with the black community about what they would give Hindus in exchange for Hindu “support” for them.
I acknowledge that there are many more positions and views in our community than these three, but the surprisingly intense display of anti-black prejudice and denial about the existence of racism (even while arguing that Hindus face racism in the form of Hinduphobia) requires a closer study if we are to truly advance anti-Hinduphobia as a valid moral, intellectual and political struggle.
My approach in discussing these examples below (chosen from public posts and reactions over the last few days on social media) is not to debate these beliefs or to try psychoanalyze them (since that is not my domain of expertise). What I hope to do is to highlight some intellectual limitations in our own community at the moment, some unseen biases in how members of our community are dealing with an issue of urgency and intensity, whether they agree with the scope of its urgency or not.
There are, in my view, two major biases in the way RW identifying Hindus are talking about racism in America. The first bias has to do with the nature of social media as form of communication. People have a tendency to respond quickly and often unthinkingly, leaving a trail of what might even be professionally punishable offenses against their own selves. That is however a wider problem.
The more relevant sort of bias or limitation one can notice in these strange, grudging sort of comments about blacks from some “RW” Hindus is a total inability to think or speak of issues outside of what might be called tribalistic calculations. They do not, for example, care to engage with the issue of whether what happened to George Floyd was a frightening injustice or not (regardless of how much of the protests or riots one wishes to condone).
That is the most troubling omission. How does someone leap away from the sight of a man being choked under a knee in full public view (like many others before) and start a negotiation about what Hindus must be given by Blacks for a drop of sympathy? This sort of evasion is so bizarre frankly it seems like every RW online warrior is suddenly in active negotiation with the Black Panthers for Hindu welfare, or on a taping of a reality show based on President Trump’s book The Art of the Deal or something.
I am not sure if this narcissistic disconnect from social reality too is part of the bias inherent with social media, or if it’s just a routine expression of the way in which they have come to think about Hindu life and politics, as sheer tribalism with no interest in some core notion of truth.
I understand of course that my criticism might lead to my position being seen as the more “unrealistic” one, a liberal or radical one (I can almost hear Supertramp’s The Logical Song in my head now). After all, don’t the Democrats show again and again that they prefer to advance Pakistani interests and not Indian ones? What about Bernie’s comments on Kashmir, and Ro Khanna, and all the rest? Is it not foolish for Hindus to “support” anyone but Trump?
I understand. But the point is we are not having a debate on who to vote for. The debate is only about the appropriateness of Hindus in America seeing what is happening and offering even if only in thoughts and spirit, a moment of understanding and love for those who are facing a tougher reality than most of us. If Hindus cannot do that, and feel obliged to enter into imaginary deal-making for “support” then there is something really awry in our thinking.
I say this though without being judgmental. I have written so much about the ignorance of those who have sought to deny us our truth that sometimes it is necessary to understand where our own limitations come from. I think that many of the callous “deal ya no deal” comments are coming from Hindus who have very little exposure or understanding of our position in America; either Hindus who are not in the US but assume they know the world thanks to the internet, or Hindus who have been in the US but have lived and worked almost entirely in little Indian bubbles.
Again, I say this without judgment but only as a sociological observation. Without a certain degree of privilege, of cultural capital and social capital, one tends to find one’s self as an immigrant in small pools of familiarity, without the real life experience and intellectual training to really pay attention to the lives of people outside those bubbles. And this tribalism, of course, is also amplified by the tribalistic nature of social media noise-making. So we have the RW Hindu community’s position on race at this time going something like: there is Right Wing and Left Wing. There is White and Black. There is Hindu and Muslim. We are in Team Trump. Others are in Team Muslim. Go Right Wing.
It is tempting to dismiss all this as a caricature for Hari Kondabolu or Hasan Minhaj to write scripts with (and believe me they will), but the looming reality that the tribal RW Hindus don’t perhaps see is that regardless of whether they support President Trump or the “Leftists,” they have strayed into a land of zero tolerance to racism with their ignorance and callous indifference to the pain of Black America. Even President Trump, their hero, did not deny or dismiss the reality of what had happened to George Floyd and announced an investigation very quickly. He may get called a racist and worse, and he may tweet and say and do a lot of things that get his critics justification to call him so. But even he did not violate the norms of what is considered the bottom line on acknowledging racism in this country (and what is considered acceptable dissent from “LW” drama), the way his RW Hindu fans have.
These nuances though are of course lost on many in the internet Hindu RW community, though perhaps it does not see itself as worse for its loss in any way. We support Modi and Trump and they protect us back, is perhaps how they see the whole thing. And why should we risk our jobs and lives by taking the side of the blacks against the whites (see the quote below on how Indians should be loyal to Whites). We are here to improve our lives and we must work hard and follow the rules and send our children to good colleges and keep them out of trouble….
I outline this reasonable-sounding American Daydream of the immigrant because the last point I wish to discuss here has to do with the children of these RW Hindu immigrant parents. I was moved by a very poignant message a parent posted urging other parents to tell their children to stay out of getting involved with protests. There was so much fear in that comment, and I understand where it comes from. The sense of anxiety you have in a new land, the sense of anxiety you may have about what you had to leave from, coupled with a sense of duty about those for whom you do it all, work hard, suffer the racist slights you do know come at you…
As an educator I felt so sad about the fact that Hindu parents in America don’t seem to realize that the “protest” and “antiracism” activities they think they should keep their children away from are actually coming from the very same establishment they are goading their children to climb into with their achievements, their SATs, spelling bees, service CVs, Ivy League admissions and all. Hindu parents don’t seem to be aware that often it is their children’s own schools, in whatever high mortgage posh school district they have bought and slogged into, that is taking their children out on the streets to shout “No justice no peace!” or maybe even “Impeach!”
More privileged or smarter parents with the cultural capital and savvy know it and don’t get alarmed about it. But the rest, they spend half their lives pushing their children into the very “Leftist” world they rant about and condemn the other half of their lives. That is the world of the jobs, careers, the world of the mainstream where anti-racism is more respectable than racism (and some of those jobs may well be from employers willing to pay well for fighting Islamophobia, racism and so on, unlike the Hindu Americans who ain’t got no jobs for anyone to fight Hinduphobia). They don’t see it.
And when their children see that the mainstream world into which they are educated and eventually employed and rewarded defines their parents’ views and opinions about race, class, American politics and such as somehow being a result of their Hinduism, guess which direction their lives will eventually head in as far as being Hindu is concerned?
Anti-Hinduphobia is a lifelong project, and a multigenerational one. It is not solved by attending one Howdy Modi circus and then coming back thinking ‘we have made a deal with great white chief’ so all izz well. The deals of the online RW Hindu Nationalist are mostly all in their own minds, but the consequences of those deals are of course seeping out into the real lives of their own children, families, and the Hindu community as a whole.
To sum up, we have to recognize, whether “Blacks will support us” or not, that we have to support truth in each moment we live, each word we write, and each lesson we teach our children. You cannot be a good example of a Hinduism your children will think is worth fighting a thousand battles for if you are killing truth itself, and all the love this world and its people need from us too. If Hindus cannot find that love then we must really look to our gods and gurus again to relearn it and to spread it where we are. The point is not just whether you agree with “Black Lives Matter” or not (of course they do) and whether “they” will say “Hindu Lives Matter” (of course they won’t because you have not done the work at all to ensure it and no one even knows about it).
The point is only one thing now for you and for the world today.
Hindu Love Matters.