Sunday, April 17, 2016

The unbearable burdens of the years past

There are at least two important reasons why I continue to read and think about the caste issues in the old country, and about slavery in the adopted home.  As one who was born into the privileged Brahmin caste, I want to apologize and compensate by at least understanding the sociopolitical aspects of the atrocious caste system that has left India messed up.  In the adopted home, being in the privileged stratum, the least I can do is understand slavery and racism that have seriously screwed up the country.

There is also one other reason.  I am always, always, amazed that the oppressed lower castes and the "untouchables" of India, and the blacks and Native Americans here, are not intensely angry and unforgiving.  The fact that there is no violence and blood over these issues intrigues me.  After all, for instance, I continue to be pissed off at the bastards who looted India or the white supremacist whose actions resulted in a million deaths.  I am angry man!  If I--with all the privilege--can be so angry, then ...

Hence, the post on "Strange Fruit."  While such cruelty is simply beyond my absolutely wildest imagination, I force myself to make my own sense of that horrific past.   As one who does not care for forget or forgive, the tragic transgressions are more than mere history to me.

A new day dawns and then I read this in the New York Times:
More than a dozen universities — including Brown, Columbia, Harvard and the University of Virginia — have publicly recognized their ties to slavery and the slave trade. But the 1838 slave sale organized by the Jesuits, who founded and ran Georgetown, stands out for its sheer size, historians say.
At Georgetown, slavery and scholarship were inextricably linked. The college relied on Jesuit plantations in Maryland to help finance its operations, university officials say. (Slaves were often donated by prosperous parishioners.) And the 1838 sale — worth about $3.3 million in today’s dollars — was organized by two of Georgetown’s early presidents, both Jesuit priests.
Some of that money helped to pay off the debts of the struggling college
Think about this.  A highly respected university. And a Jesuit university. But, even its very presence today--leave alone its reputation--was made possible by the 272 men, women and children it sold in order to pay off its debts.  How can we not continue to have conversations on slavery and racism?
researchers have used archival records to follow their footsteps, from the Jesuit plantations in Maryland, to the docks of New Orleans, to three plantations west and south of Baton Rouge, La.
I will be mad as hell if I were one of those descendants.

Life is hard enough, and on top of that there are assholes who love to mess around with the lives of others.  We shall over come. Some day, we shall overcome!


Ramesh said...

Oh OK. You are in that mood. There are a zillion atrocities that have been committed in the past. We must not forget, but we must move on. We must learn not to commit them again, but alas, so many atrocities continue to happen.

Anne in Salem said...

Ramesh is right - remember but move on, committed to preventing such atrocities ever again.

Students at Princeton demanded complete erasure of Woodrow Wilson's existence from anything related to the university because of his racist and bigoted views. Such removal is impossible. His name can be removed from buildings, but not his existence at and influence upon the university. Complete removal is wrong as well as it erases the good he did. It is misguided to condemn Wilson - or the Jesuits at Georgetown - in his entirety for his racism while completely disregarding his - or their - contributions.

The president of Princeton convened a committee to study the issue. After deciding not to remove Wilson's name from buildings and the School for Public Policy and International Affairs, the committee released a statement: “[Using Wilson’s name] implies no endorsement of views and actions that conflict with the values and aspirations of our times.” A paraphrase: Wilson's accomplishments ("the reasons Wilson's name was associated with the school and the college,") merited commemoration, so long as his faults also are candidly recognized.

Why aren't people angry? Who knows? Maybe because anger frequently leads to violence, which solves nothing. Maybe because slavery ended 150 years ago. Maybe they've given up hope of changing society. Maybe they recognize that the US has made great strides in that 150 years but still has much room to improve. Or maybe they simply want to live the best lives they can and prove wrong all the racists.

Sriram Khé said...

I too, of course want to, (a) move on, and (b) prevent atrocities from happening again. Where we disagree--and we disagree profoundly--is in the need to seriously engage with what happened in the past.

We are not talking about some distant past of, say, Cleopatra's time. We are talking about the atrocious ways in which we seriously messed up humans, and humanity, very recently. You might remember that I remarked about the Belgian king whose terrorism annihilated the Congolese--it was a mere century ago. Assuming 25 years per generation, hundred years means an old person alive now has vivid memories of the older generation narrating their personal experiences. Yes?

Similarly, yes, Lincoln's proclamation was a 150 years ago. But, seriously, if things had become peachy right away, then a mere fifty years ago we would not have any need for a civil rights movement, right? So, now we are down to fifty years. Two generations. Even now, there are plenty of seventy and eighty year olds--blacks and whites--to whom the white supremacy law of the land was very much how they lived their early lives and is not mere history to them.
Even as a time frame, even if everything had been wonderful over the past fifty years, do we honestly think that in fifty years we would have set right the horrendous crimes against humanity of the past? But, even the past fifty years have been progress at only a tad more than glacial speeds.

The slow speed is because we are yet to come to terms with all the past. The crimes were of such huge proportions that it is not easy to move forward that easily as you seem to dismiss the post.

Of course, it is a worse time frame in India where the caste system has caused havoc for ever, it seems.

It is rather easy for the three of us coming from the traditionally privileged backgrounds--brahmins and whites--to say that enough time has passed and we need to look forward.

I believe we ought to be a lot more engaged on these issues--it is of vital importance when it comes to what it means to be human.

Ramesh said...

Yes, we profoundly disagree (whats new :):))

I am not going to be personally remorseful for the acts of my forefathers. That is , in my view, not a very useful act of self flagellation. Instead I would rather make sure that succeeding generations do not have to think the same of me.

Sriram Khé said...

Neither you, nor I, should have to pay for the sins of the previous generations.
But then neither the Dalits, nor the African-Americans, should have to struggle now in many ways only because of the cumulative effects of the crimes that were committed against their previous generations.
While you and I and other traditionally privileged groups have the option to shrug our shoulders and walk away, that option doesn't exist for all.

Sriram Khé said...

Here is one from late December that says everything that I could ever want to say on this topic, and more:

I urge, urge, urge you to read that piece ...

mahesh said...

Dear Sriram Sir,

A thoughtful post and something that has always made me wonder at the futility of competitive examinations in India.

I wrote the Civil Services Entrance Exams twice. I was pretty sure what my score was during both attempts. Just because I was born into the so called privileged Brahmin community, inspite of having a better score, I could not join the Civil Services. Though 'the children of God' with a lesser score are now civil servants.

From day-1, I have been treated with a strange mix of contempt, fear and ridicule, we are made the butt of all jokes be it in popular cinema or contemporary fiction. We are categorised as 'curd rice fanatics' 'filter coffee maniacs' and typecast. Only when the music season comes into play suddenly pages and pages of praise gets written. Or cricket management - Enough said with Srini Mama's control and Ramesh Sir has a winner with Fandromeda :)

I digress a lot - right? What this land needs is a revolution! A land where my caste, my community, my sacred thread or turban or cross on a chain should not dictate terms. Only academic merit should hold credence!

Too much to ask right??? Utopia le Rajakumaran :)

Sriram Khé said...

Life and social policy are not easy. If they were, we will all be living in the best of the paradise we could ever imagine.
As I noted in my previous comments, neither you nor anybody else from a traditionally privileged background ought to pay for the sings of the generations past. There is no doubt about that. But then, neither should somebody from group that has been systematically disadvantaged for centuries be forced to suffer for no fault of their own.
Moving forward on this is not easy at all. Not by any means. Progress on this will require all of us to honestly engage in conversations on these matters. In my understanding, despite its many flaws, the US at least attempts in honest conversations on these.

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