Aug 18, 2007

Ego and Those Difficult Conversations.

There's something about a certain kind of gathering of uncles and aunties in which I can't keep my mouth shut anymore. Regardless of the deep and lasting friendships they've had with my parents, regardless of how they have been the support when I've been far or further away, I just can't help myself from almost visceral reactions when they say things I find offensive - which in these circles have ended up being anti-Muslim nowadays, vs. anti-black in the past. I think with their kids growing up and going through public high schools in their small urban areas (vs. the artificial (and white) suburbia of comfortable houses that many of my cousins occupy in New Jersey), the parents have at least had to curb the biases they learned through their white colleagues and American mainstream culture because many of their kids reject some/all of them.1 But they haven't been able to do that with the biases they brought with them from (and are perpetuated by contact still in) India.

So this atmosphere prompts me to launch into a diatribe of my own, vaguely throwing in a number of related but not logically necessary issues I feel like bringing up, with an audience of fairly patient older folks (for a time). Sparing y'all the details, I think it falls somewhere between a rant and a rail, with bits and pieces of what could become a cohesive manifesto, but if I have to be objective, my argument technique sometimes resembles that of a desperate person in a sinking ship trying everything he can to reduce the water in the ship, throw items overboard that he believes may make the difference, and wholly, haphazardly, being unable to take coherent, clear, unemotional steps (i.e. make points). Somehow, I was able to bring in factoids (and emotional stretches of the truth) about everything from Mountbatten's hasty departure and creation of Partition, to philanthropy in well-off Indian communities that doesn't address issues in our community at all, the Ghadar Party, the American genocide of native peoples, the many secret wars in central/south america, the massacre of sikhs in India, the use of "American" to describe only white people, the way that we're expendable to white people until they decide to hate us, questioning loyalties to nation-states, the tired use of the "forced conversions when Muslims came to India hundreds of years ago" as justification for widespread animosity/hatred towards all Muslims now (this is going to be another post on a possible short logic argument I just worked out).... the list goes on and on. What the hell was I thinking.

The combination of ego and some knowledge is a really dangerous thing, and I can see how easy it is to walk into the trap of being a self-righteous, belligerent liberal (or conservative) who just figuratively bludgeons people into submission (or, really just not caring or wanting to engage again). I think that rather than truly value the exchange of ideas and the opportunity to share knowledge or what you've seen with someone (in a more collaborative, integrative way), in these situations, it just becomes a contest to see how many zingers or "points" I can make. But that's useless in the big picture, and if I can't master the desire to shock over substance and dialogue, my ambition to be a constructive contributor and collaborator rather than just another close-minded egoist, is doomed. I sometimes get into these situations with my own friends, but it's usually with a very particular group, and for whatever reason, something triggered the deluge tonight. Discipline, beyond just thinking about these things, is a critically important tool.

Really, the whole point of having this kind of dialogue is so that you actually can get somewhere. When you bring in everything else, it just confuses things too much to get something useful out of the dialogue. If every conversation we have is just to further convince ourselves that we're right and the world is filled with dumbasses who don't get it or care, starting with the person we're talking to, well, that's pointless. But the conversation has to more of an exchange. It's just so hard to do without losing your cool.

[1] As a tangent, these kids are different from the kids growing up in enclave-like suburbia (like Long Island, where 2nd Gen Gujarati Americans grow up with only Indian friends, in their own little slice of 'burbladesh that takes the worst of both their parents' communalism and mainstream Long Island's neuroses about so many things). The different slices of 2nd Gen Desi America are far too complicated for me to deal with right now, but I know that the generations are incredibly different, even if they are only 5 - 7 years apart.

Regardless, I think a lot has to be said about how close these ties become between Indian immigrant adults who are bound by their shared experiences here. For my mom and some of her friends, you'd think they knew each other from childhood. For adults to create such strong friendships long after they'd gone through the typical places where we make our friends (neighborhood friends while growing up, school friends, etc) is remarkable. While I've met some people over the past years who have become quite close - you just naturally don't get that attached to new people, that quickly. And especially after marriage and kids - the ability of these families to come together and to forge such close friendships is really remarkable. I mean, I feel closer to these uncles and aunties than some of my own relatives. I guess that may be why I just feel free to shoot off my opinions?


amanda said...

oooh can you please break down the different slices of 2nd gen desis?

Rage said...

You're funny. I guess I should do something about it, but I'm no authority. Fear not. There's more to come.