QUERY: Caste and race ( Sat, 9 May 1998 10:43:54 -0500)

[Josef J. Barton <texbart@merle.acns.nwu.edu writes:]

Laurence Glasco's recent posting on the Dalits of India raises several interesting questions. I would like to pose two. They have to do with the promise and pitfalls of linking caste and race. On the promising side of this comparison between caste and race lie two stark reminders. For one thing, the categories of race, like the hierarchies of caste, point to the extraordinarily deep reservoir of feelings of taboo that again and again, in both American and South Asian history, shape relations among peoples. And, for a second thing, the enduring idea of race, like the long-lived notion of caste, demonstrates how brutally resistant significations of difference are to intellectual and political attack. A long line of distinguished American scholars has drawn on these conceptual convergences to bring into sharp relief the caste-like features of American racial structures. Some work in the 1930s and 1940s, such as John Dollard's and Allison Davis's anthropological studies of caste and class (Dollard 1937;

Davis et al. 1941), and especially Oliver Cox's remarkable book on caste, race, and class (Cox 1948), drew on the analogy between caste and race. More recently, to take just three examples, appeals to the analogy inform Ira Berlin's splendid study of free African-Americans in the slave South (Berlin 1975), Charles Flynn's important account of post-emancipation Georgia (Flynn 1983), and Fon Louise Gordon's new book on Arkansas(Gordon 1995).

My first question, then, has to do with the promising side of linking caste and race. How has this analogy played a role in comparative historical scholarship on racial hierarchies? In several recent essays, for instance, George Fredrickson has called our attention to the distinct advantages of such comparative historical study (Fredrickson 1988; Fredrickson 1997). But in my search for suggestive ways of linking caste and race in recent historical scholarship, I can find few examples. One striking advance is the fascinating current scholarship collected in Martin Klein's volume on slavery, bondage, and emancipation in Africa and Asia, which contains brilliant pieces by Dharma Kumar and Gyan Prakash (Klein 1993). Have other such suggestive collections appeared, especially collections that might explore the fruitfulness of this analogy in the study of North America?

On the liability side of the analogy between caste and race there lie very different appeals to legitimacy. On the one hand, in the instance of caste, the continuing importance of traditions of ritual impurity maintains caste structures; on the other hand, the powerful role of modern ideologies of biological determinism legitimates racial hierarchies. In drawing this contrast, of course, I may very well reflect my distant acquaintance with recent scholarship on caste. Bear with my amateur standing for a moment, for the sake of getting to my question. Ever since the publication of John Higham's Strangers in the Land (Higham 1955), Winthrop Jordan's White over Black (Jordan 1968), and George Fredrickson's The Black Image in the White Mind (Fredrickson 1971), historical scholarship on United States racial ideologies has emphasized their modernity, most evident in the appeals of racial ideologues from Thomas Jefferson to Madison Grant to pseudo-scientific authority. Such searches for scientific legitimization, as George Stocking shows, deeply infiltrated many emerging disciplines of intellectual life (Stocking 1982; Stocking 1992) and, as David Roediger's work demonstrates, found wide popular acceptance (Roediger 1991; Roediger 1994).

My second question, then, has to do with hazards of the analogy between caste and race. How has recent historical scholarship borne on the relative importance of modern ideologies of biological determinism in the maintenance of racial hierarchies and caste structures? As the terrifying popularity of The Bell Curve demonstrates, contemporary North American racism continues to appeal to pseudo-scientific authority. Have similar appeals to pseudo-scientific legitimization shored up the caste structure of India, especially after Mohandas Gandhi and his generation subjected its supposed ritual foundations to withering attack in the second decade of the twentieth century?

Josef Barton Northwestern University

Reference List

1. Berlin, Ira. 1975. Slaves without masters; the free Negro in the antebellum South. 1st ed. ed. New York: Pantheon Books.

2. Cox, Oliver C. 1948. Caste, class, & race. New York: Monthly Review Press.

3. Davis, Allison and others. 1941. Deep South a social anthropological study of caste and class. Chicago, Ill.: The University of Chicago press.

4. Dollard, John. 1937. Caste and class in a southern town. New Haven London: Pub. for the Institute of human relations by Yale university press H. Milford, Oxford university press.

5. Flynn, Charles L. 1983. White land, black labor caste and class in late nineteenth-century Georgia. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

6. Fredrickson, George M. 1971. The Black image in the white mind the debate on Afro-American character and destiny, 1817-1914. 1st ed. ed. New York: Harper & Row.

7. . 1988. The arrogance of race historical perspectives on slavery, racism, and social inequality. 1st ed. ed. Middletown, Conn.:

Wesleyan University Press.

8. . 1997. The comparative imagination : on the history of racism, nationalism, and social movements. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press.

9. Gordon, Fon Louise. 1995. Caste & class the black experience in Arkansas, 1880-1920. Athens: University of Georgia Press.

10. Higham, John. 1955. Strangers in the land; patterns of American nativism, 1860-1925. New Brunswick, N. J: Rutgers University Press.

11. Jordan, Winthrop D. 1968. White over black: American attitudes toward the Negro, 1550-1812. Chapel Hill: Published for the Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, Va., by the University of North Carolina Press.

12. Klein, Martin A. 1993. Breaking the chains slavery, bondage, and emancipation in modern Africa and Asia. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

13. Roediger, David R. 1991. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. London & New York: Verso.

14. . 1994. Towards the abolition of whiteness : essays on race, politics, and working class history. The Haymarket Series. London ; New York: Verso.

15. Stocking, George W. Jr. 1982. Race, culture, and evolution : essays in the history of anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

16. . 1992. The ethnographer's magic and other essays in the history of anthropology. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Re: QUERY: Caste and race ( Sat, 9 May 1998 12:57:23 -0500)

[Allen Glicksman <aglicksm@thunder.ocis.temple.edu writes:]

Barton I think has hit the nail on the head when he asks about the relation between the justifications for the caste system and the ideologies that perpetuate racism. Barton's question seems to be - does this distinction make comparisons between racial attitudes in the US and caste ideology in India different enought that comparisons must be made with some caution.

In a caste system there are those who are at the bottom of the ladder and who are treated in horrible ways. The demand that these people get better treatment is part of any humane worldview. But it is also true that these lowest of the low have a place in the the system. In racialist ideology, the premise often made is that the "inferior" racial groups must be cast out (sorry - no pun intended) from society either by expulsion or by extermination. American Indians were expelled from parts of the South, and certainly some movements to have African Americans move to Africa were warmly greeted by leading white racists. The fact that the Jews were identified as a race by the Nazis was not unrelated to the "final solution" the Nazis developed for the "Jewish problem." The day to day misery of someone in a low caste is often indistinguishable from that of a member of a group deemed "racially inferior." But on a societal level often the thinking about such groups differs based on the reasons that the group has been assigned an inferior status.

In addition to Barton's excellent bibliography I would add Louis Dumont's classic work, Homo Hierarchicus, an essay on the caste system. It was published in an English translation by Univesity of CHicago Press in 1970 with a revised edition in 1980. This work, in the tradition of Emile Durkhein, explores the social and cultural basis of the caste system and is related to the argument I made above.

Allen Glicksman

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Re: QUERY: Caste and race ( Sat, 9 May 1998 16:02:23 -0500)

[Laurence Glasco <lag1+@pitt.edu writes:]

Barton and Glicksman have raised very good points. They are difficult to answer because, as Barton mentions, scholars have made only passing references to similarities/dissimilarities between the two systems, without any sustained comparative study. I would add David Katzman's study of Detroit to the list of US researchers who see a similarity.

One thing we need to distinguish is between the caste system, with a graded set of inferior/superior relations, and the groups called untouchable/scheduled castes/harijans/dalits. These technically are 'outside' the Hindu caste system; so far down that they have no recognized place of honor and around whom there is a type of 'cordon sanitaire' in which all others will ave nothing to do with them. So their plight is similar to, but also quite distinct from, low-caste Indians. And there are many of them-about 200 million!

I think the religious ideology has been overstated as a source of their plight; I asked them about just getting out of Hinduism, converting to some other religion, and they said they do; in fact most of India's Christians are Dalit converts, as are Buddhists. Many others convert to Islam. In the Dalit settlement I visited there was a Catholic church (donated by Austrians!) and a mosque, as well as a Hindu temple. But they said that conversion makes no difference. They are called 'neo-Christians' and shunned by caste Christians; I didn't ask about the Moslems or Buddhists but I gather the same applies there as well. Untouchability transcends religion. Similarly in terms of wealth. Most are desperately poor. But in Washington, DC, I visited the home of a wealthy Dalit physician who is very active in Dalit politics fighting untouchability and who is extremely bitter. Untouchability transcends class; he is simply a rich Dalit!

A key difference in Indian caste is that one cannot leave one's caste and experience true upward mobility on an individual basis. Instead, the castes (and there are hundreds/thousands) vie to move up as a whole. Untouchables, however, can not move up, regardless of how wealthy they become, or how they change their customs and behavior.

The similarities with race in America are staggering. A Dalit student at the U. of Wisconsin, in fact, is doing a dissertation comparing the US civil rights movement and the Dalit movement for human rights.

In terms of readings, Dumont is the 'bible' but I find him very dense and in that anthropological tradition of writing prose that is often impenetrable. I find an old book by Harold Isaacs, India's Ex-Untouchables (1965) the easiest introduction for an American. Two recent investigators who are very good, and readable, are Gail Omvedt and Elinor Zelliott. Michael Moffatt recent anthropological study of a Dalit village in SOuth India is very readable and important.

Viramma, a recently published autobiography of an untouchable woman in South India, gives a very personal and wonderful introduction to the Dalits as people rather than just as victims.

Laurence Glasco

University of Pittsburgh

Re: QUERY: Caste and race ( Mon, 11 May 1998 07:38:26 -0500)

[Lorraine Coops <3plc2@post.queensu.ca writes:]

In response to the discussion of the role of religion and caste-I think it is important to remember that caste is a social/societal not religious/spiritual construct. Therefore, although caste is inextricably linked to religion, it also operates separate and apart from Hinduism.

Although 19th century Protestant foreign missionaries in India didn't condone the caste system, and expected their converts, regardless of the level of their caste, to abandon that social system, however, at the same time, the missionaries also recognized the overarching and all encompassing role that caste played within Indian society, and thus ran separate "caste" schools in order to draw in students. both Christian and Hindu.

Lorraine Coops, Adjunct Professor, History Department, Queen's University

Kingston, Ontario, Canada 3plc2@post.queensu.ca

Re: QUERY: Caste and race (x Slavery) (2) ( Mon, 11 May 1998 11:11:52 -0500)

1) Christopher Lowe <clowe@bu.edu writes:]

The query by Josef Barton and responses by Allen Glicksman and Laurence Glasco were cross-posted onto the "slavery" listserv, where I saw them.

The debate raises the question which way the comparison runs. Barton's initial query is framed in the usual way for U.S. concerns: is race in the U.S. like caste? Can we use comparisons to the persistence of caste to understand something about the how race works in the U.S.? Underlying this framing usually is an assumption that caste has a deep persistence of a fairly unchanging sort, and a perception that race in the U.S. might be similar. I think if you looked into the intellectual history of the comparison in the U.S. you would find people turning to it in seeking to explain the failure of hopes either in liberal reason (e.g. Dollard) or rising class consciousness (e.g. Cox) to overcome racism. Notably that work arose in the depths of a period of severely reactionary racial ideology and it may be an index of how bad things are getting in our own time that it is emerging again.

However, Barton's own query and Glicksman and Glasco's responses seem to pose the possibility that there are basic problems with this framing. In particular, Glasco makes the case that caste today cannot be attributed to religion. He seems to be saying that means that its religious character must therefore also have been overblown in the past. Perhaps I am misreading his point, but if not, I am not convinced. An alternative possibility is that caste is becoming less stable and more race-like.

What I mean by this is that if we look at the intellectual history of racial ideologies in the U.S. (and antecedent colonial territories), the content and justifications of racial distinctions, and the locations of boundaries, are not really very stable or persistent. What is more persistent is some sort of cultural commitment to racial concepts, though always highly contested and disagreed upon in detail.

It seems to me that from this point of view caste may be becoming more race-like. Whereas it once was rooted in religious justifications for social orderings intensely ascribed across the social spectrum, as aligned with divine ordering of the universe, it is now apparently being detached from those origins and turned into a more individualized and varied sort of prejudice. As in the case of racial ideologies in the U.S., individuals look about for other reasons than religion to justify to themselves ideas and perceptions they have that cause them problems and cause them to cause other people problems.

As will perhaps already be apparent, I am somewhat skeptical that caste will directly help us in understanding race as a social process in the U.S. I think Barton's original observations about the modernity of racial construction in the U.S. are right on the money. They might be extended in several directions: the link of elaborating racial ideas to justifying slavery in early days; the problematic relation of racial and religious ideas from the beginning, and the emergence of powerful conceptions (contested by other powerful conceptions, of course) that first slavery and later racialism were sinful; and the shift to scientistic efforts to define "races" and justify racial discrimination individually and oppression socially. All of this seems quite unlike "caste" as stereotypically understood in the U.S.

Where the comparison and contrast may prove fruitful would be in a) asking what is the persisent social utility of distinctions justified by ostensibly inherent, ineradicable, inherited characteristics attributed to individuals defined as members of a group defined by allegedly having those characteristics (yes it's circular) for liberal capitalisms busily undermining integrated structures of ascribed social orders and moral economies to free market forces in land and labor, and b) moving to higher order generalizations about processes of social distinction.

And, as suggested earlier, I think the intellectual history of the comparison itself may be an interesting object of study in the wider history of U.S. racial ideas. I suggest it may prove to be an index of liberal "progressive" despair for some thinkers in the face of Jim Crow society and lynching, for other thinkers of discovery of the limits of certain forms of marxist ideology in accounting for and thereby guiding response to racialized forms of social oppression, and conversely as an index of the influence of anti-communism in those periods and sections of U.S. intellectual life driven by commitments to exclude class analysis a priori as even one element in multi-causal explanations.

Chris Lowe

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2) Allen Glicksman <aglicksm@thunder.ocis.temple.edu writes:]

Lowe's comments are very interesting. They made me think about Digby Baltzell's use of the term "caste" in The Protestant Establishment. In that book, Baltzell argued that what had once been an "upper class" in the United States became a caste as it refused to admit rising members of the business and professional elite because they were Jewish, Italian, etc. Here the term "caste" is used to define membership in a class based group by blood line (here Anglo Protestant heritage). The term "race" itself has a complex history in the United States (as I am sure all of you are aware), and at the time the upper class becomes caste like the races being excluded include the Irish, Jews, etc. We have adoped a number of terms like "caste" because they help describe complex social phenomena, but at the same time they loose their original meaning or at least the context from which they were drawn.

Allen Glicksman, Ph.D. Voice:(215) 456-2981

Senior Research Scientist & Goffman Fax: (215) 456-2017

Scholar of Jewish Aging Studies E-Mail:aglicksm@thunder.ocis.temple.edu

Polisher Research Institute http://thunder.ocis.temple.edu/~aglicksm

Philadelphia Geriatric Center

5301 Old York Road, Philadelphia PA 19141-2996 USA