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« Katarxis #3 Is Now Online | Main | Magazines »

September 11, 2004

Desiblogs

Michael Blowhard writes

Dear Blowhards --

I'm getting used to the term "Desi," which -- if I understand it right -- is a term for anyone of South Asian descent. Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis -- they're all Desis. Corrections appreciated if I've got this wrong, of course, as long as everyone understands that I'm just a passe old man who's doing his valiant best to keep up with a bewildering new world.

There's another handy term I like a lot too: Desiblog, which means a blog written by a Desi. There are a ton of them out there, many of them aburst with personality, brains, and humor. Some of the people behind my regular blogstops are Desis -- GNXP's Razib and Godless, for instance, as well as the charming and insightful Neha Bawa. And my litblogger of choice, the droll and sophisticated Kitabhkana, is another Desiblogger.

Recently I've been enjoying a few Desiblogs that are new to me too. Sepia Mutiny is nothing if not incisive, and the succinctly named Desiblog posted recently about bhangra aerobics. I've been getting a huge kick out of following Dancing With Dogs' feisty and on-the-ball Shanti. Don't miss Shanti's recent rant about why she doesn't like calling herself a feminist, as well as the fun and uninhibited commentfest that follows.

(Thanks to GNXP, where I found many of these links.)

Best,

Michael

UPDATE: Razib has put some more info and thinking about the Desi thing into a GNXP posting.

posted by Michael at September 11, 2004




Comments

It sure is amazing how things evolve.

Desi

Thanks for the update

Posted by: reader on September 11, 2004 08:39 PM



Scrambles a brain, doesn't it? The original, now displaced ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 11, 2004 10:28 PM



i didn't know the term 'desi' until i was 22. don't know if i 'identify' very much, though i am friends with the guys @ sepia. in bengali, the term would be 'deshi,' so you have 'bangladesh,' that is, land of the bengalis, or 'bideshi,' which means 'foreigner,' ('bidesh' being outland or foreign). i prefer 'brown,' for an ethnic label (desi sounds too alien for my tastes). but ethnicity is pretty far down the list in terms of what is personally important in my own life-and i have argued with vinod & manish over @ sepia about the problems with being aggressive about creating a brown american 'identity' on the model of other ethnic minorities. i prefer the alternative of auto-genocide by demographic assimilation.

Posted by: razib on September 12, 2004 12:03 AM



desi is useful in that it replaces the wordy "south asian" with one word, but it is not a natural word for me. I prefer using indian to encompass even Bangladeshis like Razib for simplicity at the expense of precision :)

Re: desi consciousness...I'm probably closer to razib on this, but I wanted to point out that *most* of the "desi consciousness" people are not necessarily anti-American leftist Berkeleyites. Indeed, I think Berkeley-type Indian girls are more likely to subscribe to universalism & to date whites whereas "conservative" Indian guys (=Hindu/Muslim/Sikh rather than libertarian atheists like me & Razib) are more likely to marry other Indians.

So it's not the typical left/right divide re: outgroup socializing. Indeed, our friends manish & vinod are on the left & right respectively...but both are into the "desi scene" to a degree.

This is because one issue with the whole "desi consciousness" thing is the social thing. as i said here on Sepia Mutiny, in a thread on an Indian frat:

south asian fraternities and sororities don't feel the same to me, though. this isn't 1906 and you don't have to be white to be in a panhellenic org. i honestly feel like some of the impetus behind "a house of our own" is that dreaded "C"-word that gets lobbed our second-generation way: confusion.

While it might be mean to point it out, I think some of the motivation is, unfortunately that a lot of these guys can't get bids to real frats. So they settle for a race-normed, no-contest bid. Popularity is non-commutative: those who are popular with the larger community are going to be popular within the Indian community, but not vice versa.

What is a real frat? A house full of white kids?

No, a house full of guys who competed with the population at large for bids, rather than a racially /ethnically restricted subpopulation.

Greek life *traditionally* seems to be more about exclusivity than it is about being inclusive and diverse.

Sure, but IMO this sort of thing is not so much exclusion based on race as it is exclusion based on charisma. If you're in Sigma Chi, you can party with the Asian sororities *as well as* the Pi Phis. But if you're in an Asian frat, you will only be able to hook up with the Asian sororities b/c the Pi Phis won't give you the time of day.

Now, I know there are a lot of Indians who feel most comfortable among other Indians. Part of that is because there *is* that extra epsilon, that extra 1.0 on the degree of difficulty when you're macking on non-Indians. But IMO it is unfortunate when people decide to socialize within the Indian community *only*. I think it's sort of like playing on the 8' rims rather than the 10' rims...just like 8' rims make you feel taller, restricted subcommunities makes it easier to hook up.

A friend of mine who shall not be named who has been known to be a sepia mutineer once remarked to another sepia mutineer upon walking into an all Indian party: "So this is what it's like to be white, dude". There is a lot of truth to that statement, but IMO it is a seductive drug if you go to only all Indian parties. It's like some of the Koreans on campus who socialize only with Koreans...what starts off as letting you expend less mental Gibbs Free Energy catalyzing your social reactions ends up trapping you in an unfavorable local social equilibrium (to stretch a metaphor).

So, a big part of the issue is the question of whether in-group socializing is a way to have a higher status level than you would in the community at large. That is, are you settling for "race-normed" friends/girlfriends who are less cool/good-looking than in the population at large because *you* yourself are not that cool?

This is one of the reasons I have never been a big fan of the desi party circuit. I will admit that it's much easier to operate. Unless you top out the social charts at the Aishwarya Rai level, there will always be an advantage to in-group socialization.

But I prefer the extra degree of difficulty, because it makes me feel like...I dunno...like I earned it.

Posted by: gc_emeritus on September 12, 2004 03:24 AM



come on, say it, what ubermensch would settle for the ghetto? a king among 3 or a knight among 3,000?

intellectual affinities are what define who i prefer to be socially intimate with, an accident of ancestry or a concordance of phenotype is rather trivial in comparison. i know that makes me sound elitist or narrow, but so be it, i don't begrudge others the right to form their own axes of identification so long as i don't get shoehorned into their preferences. i am a pure egoist in that my decisions relating to my ethnicity are all based on optimizing my own freedom of action, ethnic identity is something nested deeply within my own personal calculus, rather than the other way around.

i do find it ironic that many 'progressives' find this need to be around 'people that look like them' and 'can relate' when we live in an age where 'love knows no color' and personal ability to determine your own lifestyle is absolute (or so goes the rhetoric). i pick a community of the mind over a fraternity of blut any day.

Posted by: razib on September 12, 2004 04:22 AM



"Desi consciousness"? "Desi scene"? "Desi frats"? Whew, I have a lot more to learn here.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 12, 2004 07:48 AM



Michael, you're making yourself spin out of control. Desi is the degenerate slang version of the Hindi word, desh, meaning country. Look at it from that point of view then absolutely everyone in the world is a "deshi" because, lord, everyone belongs to some country or the other.

In the meantime, check out Amaravati. It's not a "desi" blog, but the pull of the Devanagiri script is irresistable.

Thanks for the kind reference to Wanderlust.

Posted by: Neha on September 12, 2004 09:34 AM



I've visited some of these weblogs on a regular basis, will visit others which you mention, and have the privilege of knowing Neha as a friend. She is an incredibly forward-thinking twenty-two year old who can ask the questions, apply the knowledge gained both to the future and the past, and keep a calmness that is missing in many of her contemporaries. In one so young, I can only imagine how far she'll travel in the decades to come.

Posted by: susan on September 12, 2004 10:51 AM



auto-genocide by demographic assimilation

This ain't gonna happen for generations yet, your Wedding Channel stats suffer from sampling bias, and the shared culture is quite significant.

I prefer using indian

Which pisses off, at a minimum, Pakistanis and Sri Lankans, and during the Khalistan epic, many Sikhs as well.

*most* of the "desi consciousness" people are not necessarily anti-American leftist Berkeleyites

For an ex-frat guy, you've got it all backwards. It's about a shared culture (pop culture, upbringing, set of beliefs), just like a frat.

are you settling for "race-normed" friends/girlfriends who are less cool/good-looking than in the population at large

You're missing that if you're at or above average on attractiveness, you still get a bonus for shared culture. Because your purchasing power increases, you get much better-looking mates.

Posted by: Xofis on September 12, 2004 02:56 PM




This ain't gonna happen for generations yet, your Wedding Channel stats suffer from sampling bias, and the shared culture is quite significant.

well sure, we've gone over this point before, i think your position is defensible, but i don't think we should assume it a priori. certainly both you & vinod were surprised by the census results when i forwarded them to you (as was i) for "american born south asians" and had to present a plausible explanation.


You're missing that if you're at or above average on attractiveness, you still get a bonus for shared culture. Because your purchasing power increases, you get much better-looking mates.

yeah, this comes up among asian americans too. i knew a guy who married a chubby blonde woman who was a pretty good looking korean. his mom would rag on him that if he married korean he could have gotten a better looking girl, but the problem was that he liked blondes. so thin*asian ~ chubby* blonde.

i think the thing is though is that gc & i don't have as much of a problem with ethnic identity formation as part of civil society as we do about the mobilization of this into governmental action. the law of unintended consequences kicks in here. additionally, i have had experiences where i have known asian american kids being called "bananas" (white on the inside, yellow on the outside) by "co-ethnics" who simply don't concede that individual choice plays a large role in identity. the formation of group identity generally issues from group consensus, and so you always have people who will dissent. as long as the word "sell out" doesn't come up, my flags aren't triggered.

Posted by: razib on September 12, 2004 03:22 PM



This is one of the reasons I have never been a big fan of the desi party circuit. I will admit that it's much easier to operate. Unless you top out the social charts at the Aishwarya Rai level, there will always be an advantage to in-group socialization.

But I prefer the extra degree of difficulty, because it makes me feel like...I dunno...like I earned it.

Hey GC - there's the "push" part of Desi socialization - you're avg Indian guy will get MUCH farther (in a sense) wit da ladies @ an Indian party vs. competing against the bro's of Beta Theta Pi for the gals of Alpha Chi Omega @ campus bar on Sat night.

BUT, there's also a strong "pull" part of that even a rightie-libertarian-individualist like myself can readily accept as a valid factor in balkanization. If / when you really cultural marks like Punjabi MC, then there's an assortive mating driven not by need but rather desire...

Posted by: vinod on September 12, 2004 03:41 PM



vinod,

i think both gc & i acknowledge the reality of push & pull...i think our concern lay in the fact that the nascent desi identity and the general culture's perception of it might gloss over the real and significant within group variance.

black americans have to deal with this every day - i knew a black guy who liked alternative rock & roll and both blacks and whites mocked him in public because he was a racial deviant. and course, we all know of the contempt that black republicans have to endure.

obviously there is nothing analogous in south asian american experience, and frankly, i don't see it happening any time soon. nonetheless, the very possibility of it concerns me, because it affects me personally. ignorant stereotyping (you are brown, ergo, you must worship cows) is in my opinion rather easy to counteract, because the people in question are just ignorant and amenable to correction and enlightenment. on the other hand, righteous stereotyping is harder to combat, like the hippie who was outraged that i could be from a muslim family because i am 'naturally' hindu, so i should 'return to my roots.' the guy had gone to india, and knew plenty about it, and he had a model of how brown people should be, so he wasn't phased by the fact that as an individual i found his attitude patronizing. i was the one who needed correcting (this is like the story of dave chapelle being upbraided by a white man because his material was 'offensive to blacks.' the guy wasn't going to back down, he knew he was 'in the right')

Posted by: razib on September 12, 2004 04:06 PM



During those days of yore when I was an undergrad (1991-95), I did not really get into the whole South Asian scene. I took two courses related to India - one was a traditional PoliSci course on the political and economic development of India, which was quite good, and the other which was a more touchy-feely course focusing on diasporic communities, which was not as good. It was not until I took these courses that Indian women would look in my direction, although I have to truthfully admit it wasn't until I was older that it mattered. Most of my friends in college were Asian students of non-Indian background. So I was the token Indian no matter where I went.

When I moved to DC, I tried to do the deshi party scene once, and found it a complete waste of time - since I cannot stand dance clubs, Indian or otherwise. Personally, I always felt a bit odd attending any function that was exclusively Indian. I'm more at each at a college or B-school alumni gathering than at an Indian Professional gathering. Possibly cause compared to other Indian professionals, I gotta play catch up.

Posted by: KXB on September 12, 2004 04:18 PM



IMHO, nothing is more destructive than cohort groups (for lack of a better name) in general: e.g. "Black Lawyers Association" or "Gay and Lesbian Architects." They reinforce the very stereotypes they are designed to overturn. Why is everyone so hung up on ethnicity anyway? Continents are just a land mass: no universal law says that this is Pakistan, this is Nepal, or whatever. Yet people fight wars over it! !
National boundaries are like our map of the stars: everyone knows that's not really Sirius, or Orion...we just choose to call them that. Or like our calendar--does the universe know this is Sept. 12 of the year 2004?

Posted by: winifer skattebol on September 12, 2004 05:40 PM



Hey GC - there's the "push" part of Desi socialization - you're avg Indian guy will get MUCH farther (in a sense) wit da ladies @ an Indian party vs. competing against the bro's of Beta Theta Pi for the gals of Alpha Chi Omega @ campus bar on Sat night.

Well, I was in a frat...so I really *only* partied with sorority girls & my perspective is slightly different. It sounds stuck up to say it, I suppose, but to tell the truth...I kinda looked down on the guys who pledged (say) lambda phi epsilon for the same reason I looked down on affirmative action recipients. That said...I agree - the average Indian guy coming to college is probably shifted more to the math geek end than the average student and may be driven to the desi groups as a result.

Because your purchasing power increases, you get much better-looking mates.

Speak for yourself, dawg :) Just kidding. Seriously, though, I don't think Indians have to trade down (unlike my East Asian guy friends). I think the effect is more on frequency than quality.

This is for a variety of reasons, but IMO the South Asians in the US are the most physiologically & behaviorally comparable to Euros out of the three groups: blacks, East Asians, and South Asians. Of course, if you add in Hispanics of mixed Amerindian & Euro ancestry (a highly inhomogenous group themselves), IIRC they have even higher intermarriage rates than Indians. The assimilation problem there is more about mean SES than marital assimilation.

But I digress. I guess what I mean is that when (say) the typical Korean American male is going for the typical Euro American female, there are physical differences to be surmounted (height, muscle mass, etc.) as well as ideological ones (lefty girls more likely). With Indian guys you really only need to find women who are more ideologically open - I don't think the mean physical differences are as great, esp. among 2nd gen males who are much taller due to meat consumption.

my highly anecdotal $.02 :)

Posted by: gc on September 12, 2004 09:58 PM



With Indian guys you really only need to find women who are more ideologically open - I don't think the mean physical differences are as great, esp. among 2nd gen males who are much taller due to meat consumption.

well, no matter the frequency of intermarriage (past, present and future), the data on asian indians seems to point to gender balance (i've see a slight skew in 1980, but that was when the whole sex ratio was more male skewed).

Posted by: razib on September 12, 2004 11:59 PM



Good lord, I can barely follow what y'all are saying. So there's a whole Desi-centric (or Desi-exclusive) party-frat-dance-club-dating scene out there?

Well, an inevitable question comes up: if it's OK and even maybe a good thing to encourage and sponsor Desi (or Af-Am, or Asian) dorms and clubs, why isn't it OK to encourage and sponsor white dorms and clubs? (I'm not advocating it or anything. But then again I'm not a big fan of identity politics.) But I am wondering: does this kind of question ever come up among young people? And if not, why not? You'd think there'd be at least a few young white kids figuring, well, heck, why can't we have the fun of an "ethnic"-themed club or dance? Does anyone on campuses or just out of school dare voice such questions?

FWIW, I was just talking to a college prof who has studied such things, and he tells me that "identity" didn't become a popular concept until 1964 (I think), when Eric Erickson made it a pop concept. Apparently this whole thing about searching for identity and finding meaning in your ethnicity/gender/sex-preference got kickstarted then.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 13, 2004 12:19 AM



michael, it's changed a lot since i was a kid (i'm 27). i have 14 and 11 year old siblings whose 'heritage' is a lot more nurtured by the public school system than mine was (unfortunately).

yeah, the point about whites is apropos. i like having sex with white women, so i am not excited by talk assortative mating-just being selfish.

Posted by: razib on September 13, 2004 12:52 AM



Seriously, though, I don't think Indians have to trade down...

The point is you get to trade up from baseline when in-dating, not trade down when out-dating.

Think Donald "toupee" Trump with his millions as his virility surrogate. That's what in-group dating affords.

Posted by: Xofis on September 13, 2004 08:12 AM



razib:
i think the thing is though is that gc & i don't have as much of a problem with ethnic identity formation as part of civil society as we do about the mobilization of this into governmental action. the law of unintended consequences kicks in here.
Yeah, but at least in my experience it's rarely the people in endogamous relationships who are pushing for the ethnic identity to be used for political purposes.

I think the reason people generally assume otherwise is that we all use "unassimilated" as a catch-all synonym for three not-entirely related things:
- endogamous friendships and dating
- knowledge about mother country culture (e.g. language, pop stars)
- hostility towards mainstream US society

Dunno about South Asians, but at least among US-born East Asians, I've usually found the guys most hostile towards the mainstream are the ones with the least knowledge about their mother country culture, regardless of who they're dating, and the girls most hostile towards the mainstream are the ones "dating out", regardless of their proficiency in their mother country's language (don't even get me started on the angry hapa kids that result when these girls marry their boyfriends). But most people seem to assuming dating = assimilation without taking much account of anything else.

Posted by: Eric Lien on September 13, 2004 12:03 PM



eric, good point. i would say this: the most 'activist' among south asians will be those have a sout asian rather than punjabi/bengali/tamil/marathi/gujarati identity, while the least activist will be the latter, because they are the most F.O.B. and don't deal as much with the 'mainstream' culture. but, the ones who outmarry/date deal with the 'mainstream' enough they will be more activist that the F.O.B. subset.

Think Donald "toupee" Trump with his millions as his virility surrogate. That's what in-group dating affords.

but it doesn't have to be either or does it? do your "skills" not transfer bidirectionally? can you only specialize in one subset of ladies? playing the field seems like it is a good option for a lot of people. of course, humans have a finite amount of time, perhaps there are issues where ladies in the 'ingroup' won't give you the time of day if they know you are open to 'vanilla love.'

Posted by: razib on September 13, 2004 04:21 PM



Yow, what an interesting thread! Michael, it seems like you were not prepared for what you uncorked.

I never heard of the term until I read the intro posting here yesterday. Then, in one of those weird occurences that give rise to a belief in synchonicity, I went into an Indian food market at lunch time today to stock up on curry pastes and such, and there on the shelf was a bottle of "Desi Ghee".

Posted by: fenster on September 13, 2004 06:10 PM



but it doesn't have to be either or does it?

Of course not, but you lose your in-group bonus, although you can gain on exoticism.

Posted by: Xofis on September 13, 2004 09:25 PM



Fenster -- Who knew, eh?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 13, 2004 10:10 PM



I can't believe I'm perpetuating the argument. I've been following the conversating above, and the leap from roots to endogamous relationships is a rather large one to fathom. Interesting at the very least.

Fenster, desi ghee would just translate to pure clarified butter.

Posted by: Neha on September 14, 2004 07:47 AM



fascinating discussion, eh? I am Indian, birn and raised, moved to the uS to attend college, and found myself not accepted bythe 2nd gen Desis at my college. reason being that (1) I am Assamese, from the Indian State of Assam, and there are few of my kind here, and the rest of the behgalis/punjabis/gujaratis etc seemed not to want to do anything with me, or should I say, since I was fresh of the boat as it were, i found myself being treated in a rather patronising manner.
BTW, fenster, Neha was correct t hat in India 'desi ghee' is clarified butter, as opposed to hydorogenated oils that are sold in India that , in colloquial Hindi and other languages is also called "ghee". So, "desi ghee" is the real thing. It is good at clogging up arteries too!!!!
cool discussion though, I now have to go and check out all these desi blogs, maybe I will have better luck with these bros and sistas than the desis I met at the Univ of Michigan's campus!!!

Posted by: ronin on September 17, 2004 08:11 PM






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