“In California,” NPR reported in May, “accusations of caste-based prejudice at the workplace and on college campuses are growing louder.” One student, a member of the Dalits or so-called “untouchables,” the lowest echelon in the millennia-old social, economic, and political system of India, claimed to suffer caste discrimination from fellow South Asian students at Cal State, East Bay.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported earlier this month that the Hindu-nationalist movement has spread from India to the diaspora community in the United States, including Silicon Valley. A woman scheduled to give a talk at Google on Dalit History Month was labeled by some employees as “Hindu-phobic” and “anti-Hindu.” The talk was subsequently canceled despite appeals to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who comes from an upper-caste Indian family. “Many Indians have moved to the United States to work in tech companies, and several Big Tech CEOs are of Indian origin,” the Post notes. “Some employees allege the patterns of discrimination [found in the caste system] have been replicated within Silicon Valley companies.”
This is not a new phenomenon. The Atlanticreported on it last year, as did the New York Times. The Washington Post reported on it in 2020, and NPR reported on it in 2018.
We shouldn’t necessarily be surprised by the importation of the caste system. After all, our country’s elite institutions increasingly disparage assimilation into American society. Indeed, they often argue that immigrants should be permitted, if not encouraged, to retain their cultural identities. And, they argue, American citizens (and employers) should make all necessary adjustments to accommodate, and even learn from, these other cultures.
The caste system, though officially abolished only a few years after Indian independence, remains ubiquitous in Indian society. It would be difficult for recent Indian immigrants not to bring some vestiges of that system with them to the United States, whether intentionally or not. Especially when eight in ten Indian-Americans who identify with a caste claim to be of an upper one.
This presents a problem for those (typically on the left) who adhere to the narrative that white, “Eurocentric” culture is uniquely or preeminently racist and prejudiced. And when it comes to the Indian caste system, you can’t blame colonialism or imperialism, given that the Indian socio-economic and political system predates not only the British Empire, but Christendom, and even what we now understand as Europe.
Indeed, the globe is filled with examples of “persons of color”—a useless, fabricated concept if ever there was one—oppressing or abusing other “persons of color.” I lived in Bangkok, Thailand for three years, and the Thais are notoriously prejudiced, not only against black, mostly West African immigrants, but even other Southeast Asians, including minority ethnic groups who have been in the country for centuries. Many Thais despise and mistreat the Cambodians and the Burmese, many of whom are economic migrants working on the margins of Thai society. Some detest the ethnic Malays living in the country’s Muslim-majority southern three provinces.
But that’s just one example. How about the majority Han Chinese and their treatment of the ethnic-Turkic Uighur population, which many are calling genocide? Arab culture has a long history of antipathy towards black people, importing many of them from Africa as slaves. The Sudanese government sponsored ethnic Arab militias called “Janjaweed” to commit genocide against black Africans in Darfur. Rwanda had its own genocide in the 1990s as a result of animosity between two different groups of black Africans, Hutus and Tutsis. Some Latinos with Spanish ancestry mistreat black Latinos with African ancestry. In our own country, black Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to commit a hate crime (often against Asian Americans). A survey of racism, bigotry, and class discrimination around the world makes the United States look tame by comparison.
This illuminates another uncomfortable truth for those who label America a nation of unparalleled “systemic racism” perpetrated by white Americans against various racial minorities. Namely, the steady demographic decline of white America will not bring an end to racism, prejudice, or bigotry in this country. Those sins against charity, I’m sad to say, inhere not in melanin but the human person, in all of his vulnerabilities and fallenness.
Sure, the fewer white Americans there are as a share of the population, and the less represented white Americans will be in various elite institutions in our country, and the fewer people there will be who can trace their ancestry to slavery, westward expansion, or other crimes, real or fabricated, committed against “persons of color.” But it is both naive and dishonest to pretend that those who replace them will not have the ancestral baggage of bigotry or racism—if they do not possess it themselves, as apparently do some Indian-American Brahmins.
The problem, it would appear, isn’t with America, or even white Americans, but with humanity. Prejudice has been a part of the human condition for millennia. Some scholars believe that Moses’ siblings Miriam and Aaron’s derision of Moses’s (likely black) Kushite wife was motivated by racism. Their punishment with a skin disease that made them “white as snow” (Numbers 12) may then be a most ironic divine punishment. Scholars argue that the Greeks and Romans harbored ideas we would today consider racist. Han Chinese were committing acts of genocide against Asian ethnic minorities almost 2,000 years ago.
The story of the exporting of Indian caste discrimination to American academia and business suggests that perhaps the problem lies not in “Eurocentrism” or “white supremacy” but in the sinful human condition. It also suggests that the solution to racism and bigotry will not be found in scapegoating “white America,” which is no more sinful than any other tendentious, politically concocted demographic category.
In truth, it is the racialist ideology of wokeism, with its obsession with absurd racial categories and victim narratives that is aggravating identitarian conflicts in this country. Assimilation to a common American identity worked very well for generations of immigrants, from Irish to Germans, from Cubans to Mexicans, and from Vietnamese to Koreans. Each of those groups has been allowed to leave its imprint on America while imbibing the principles and culture that have been with us since before the Revolution. But some things must be left at the door. An anti-republican caste system, among other cultural idiosyncrasies, is one of them.
Casey Chalk writes about religion and culture issues for The American Conservative and is a contributing editor for the New Oxford Review. He is the author of The Persecuted: True Stories of Courageous Christians Living Their Faith in Muslim Lands (Sophia Institute Press).