Central Asia and Whiteness
April 30, 2016 11:57 PM   Subscribe

How do people in or from Central Asia and ex-Soviet countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan) experience race, especially Whiteness?

There's been a few discussions in various POC spheres I'm in about who gets counted as White where, and the one dead zone of information we're facing are people from Central Asia and the ex-Soviet region. Some places are considered more "White" than others (e.g. Russia and Ukraine) but other places are either ambiguous or not even thought of.

I've noticed some arguments from people in those countries about how it's unfair to consider them White because Europe doesn't tend to see them as White enough, or because they're majority Muslim - which then leads to pushback from POC about how they're White-passing and thus count as White. At the same time, I also remember there being a lot of discussion about not calling the Boston Marathon bombers "White" because they're technically not European. And nobody can decide whether Kim Kardashian and Anita Sarkeesian are White or POC because they're Armenian.

1. If they are in a country where White is considered the dominant race, are they considered as White or non-White? How do they navigate race where they are?

2. If they are in a country where White is not the dominant race (e.g. parts of Asia), are they considered part of the dominant race or not? How do they navigate race where they are?

3. Do people in those countries or culture consider themselves White? Is the concept of Whiteness - especially in opposition to other races - a concept that exists in their country or culture?

4. Does religion make a difference in the way they are racialized? (e.g many of the countries listed above as Muslim countries)

5. Are they a part of People of Color spaces or other racial minority spaces where they are? Do those spaces exist where they are, and if so are they welcoming of people of their heritage?

6. How does their country or culture demarcate racial and/or ethnic differences?

(By “dominant race” I don’t just mean sheer numbers, but things like how White people primarily occupy positions of Government, military, or financial power in the “Western world”)

I would especially appreciate hearing from people who are from or have heritage from those regions, but citations are also useful.
posted by divabat to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
In my experiences with these countries, Russian vs non-Russian, from a race perspective, is the biggest racial demarcation, as opposed to calling anyone White vs anything else, noting that there are still significant ethnic Russian populations in many of these countries. Gets a bit more complex the further east you go.
posted by ryanbryan at 12:26 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Speaking from experience and observation of some countries nearish that area (non-native, as in I never actually *lived* in any of them for an extended amount of time - these are somewhat in/outsider observations)

1. White. It's all relative and contextual, though - "whiteness" is just as constructed as "colour" is, and just as influenced by larger political dynamics, absolute and relative numbers, etc., (it's a legit field of study). In the US, people of Jewish, Italian, Irish heritage were not considered "white" at different times, depending on immigration waves - timing, numbers of people coming vs. available resources (or perception of available resources). In Western Europe, Eastern and Central Europeans indeed seem to not be regarded as "quite-white enough", just ime/o, and I think that's possibly intensified since changes to EU membership led to lots of Easternish people going West. Some scholars have argued that there's a kind of sliding scale of Orientalism, (or "nesting Orientalisms"), applied by the more western europeans to the more eastern/southern. (You may be interested in some of these articles, see also the bibliographies [all direct links to pdfs] - 1, 2, 3, 4)

3 & 6ish. Yes, they consider themselves white. I think colourism applies everywhere. I don't think it's quite the organizing principle it is in the US, for example; it's more informal - "whiter"/lighter people being compared favourably to "darker" people. (I say "dark", I mean people who could still easily have found a foundation in any 1980s drugstore. But some of them might be referred to as "dark" or even "black". Light/dark or white/black are socially meaningful oppositions, in any case.) I agree that nationality and ethnicity (understood as a racial phenomenon) play into it, and are probably more important. Romani people have a hard time, that's for sure, colour notwithstanding (although it does matter).
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:28 AM on May 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


This question is incredibly complex and the way this was phrased is somewhat limiting, possibly even racist/ offensive/ privileged.

This question is created in an ultra-specific framework -- from the viewpoint of someone who has experienced White vs POC racial issues in a English-speaking-country specific context (i.e. someone who has only talked about racial issues in the context of UK, USA or Australia/ NZ). You have listed at least 14 -15 countries above, each with their own specific nationalistic, racial, cultural, religious issues, and you are trying to fit all these countries into one specific framework that is important to you. It is well within your right to ask but you would be better served reading Wiki articles about each of the countries and reading about the various communities and cultures of each country. The question is so broad as to be rather meaningless and hugely dependent on stereotypes.

Not every racial question in this world is about White vs POC issues. These issues are issues affect several specific countries. Writing a question about race from this very specific framework does injustice to every other race or racial issues out there.

It is as if one has gone to Mauritania and asked, do Arab people here feel more White when they are not White? What would POC people be? Do they have safe spaces?

There are more important questions like, how does slavery (or former slavery) affect the social hierarchy. Languages: someone who speaks French vs Arabic vs Bambara vs Fula indicate their social status and to what extent determines it? Moors vs other African ancestry and social mobility?

I would advice you to focus on one country and write your question in a more racially-inclusive and open manner (and not constrained by one particular paradigm or framework of thinking).
posted by moiraine at 2:46 AM on May 1, 2016 [23 favorites]


moiraine: If this helps, I'm coming at it having navigated racism in multiple contexts (as a racial minority in Malaysia, then moving between Australia and the US whose takes on racism differ slightly). I can see why you'd be frustrated, but I'm trying to convey the sort of questions that the circles these conversations are happening in (see beginning paragraphs) are asking - which is largely about who gets counted as White in White-dominant countries such as Australia or the United States (since that's where most of the people discussing this are located) and how does that differ from experiences either back "home" or in non-White-dominant countries (e.g Malaysia with its own system of racism).

This entire region gets overlooked in those discussions, and I'm trying to get a sense for what people from those areas experience, wherever in the world they are, by hearing those voices directly rather than hypothesizing. I have attempted to do research on this before, but information is low on the ground (especially information that's intersectional) so this is my attempt at getting more information.
posted by divabat at 2:54 AM on May 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


[As a quick note: OP has many questions, but these are related to the central query, which, just to be clear, is not asking any single poster to account for all experiences in every country listed, but ideally would like insight from people with specific knowledge of individual countries or regions, as stated. i.e., the question is not, "explain questions 1-6 for countries A-Z," but "do you have personal knowledge (or reliable resources) relating to any of the questions 1-6 for any of the countries mentioned."]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:16 AM on May 1, 2016 [7 favorites]


I lived in Kazakhstan for a few years and also happen to be a Chinese-american, so I was acutely aware of race relations. I don't want to speak for Kazakh people, but I am still friends with several that live in Kazakhstan now and also many more that later moved to the United States.

I think something I noticed predominately was that people didn't label themselves by color, but rather by ethnicity. White vs non-white wasn't a meaningful distinction, while Russian vs non-russian was - and even people who "looked more like white," at least to my eyes, like Ukrainians and Georgians, prided themselves on distinguishing themselves from Russians and would state that they would experience discrimination in Russia. Potentially they could "pass" for Russian on first glance (as compared to Central Asians in Kazakhs) but my understanding was that there are still lots of little "tells" inherent in those regions, from accent, dress, and even their names that would reveal their ethnicity quickly.
I also found it rather interesting that Russian people who lived their entire lives in Kazakhstan would experience a lot of discrimination if they moved to Russia.

Among Central Asian/turkic language speaking people, the divisions mattered just as much, as in Kazakh vs. Uzbek vs Kyrgyz. Same differences - accents, dress/attire, and the names themselves are very recognizably as one ethnicity or other. This affected me too - I think people generally assumed on first glance that I was Korean (given that there was a population of ethnic-koreans in several parts of the soviet union) - whatever benefits came from that were few and far between as soon as people heard me speak and saw my name.

While I find the concept of "who gets counted as a PoC or a white person" to be rather distasteful since I don't think it's as simple as that, I will say my experience with people of Kazakh and Uzbek ethnicities in the United States is that they generally deal with the assumption from people that they're Chinese or Korean (because those are the Asian populations that people are accustomed to in the United States) and whatever baggage comes along with those assumptions on first glance. After explaining they're from Kazakhstan and a post-soviet country, it then goes to dealing with assumption that they're "Russian".

They most certainly do not spend their time in the community with Chinese/Koreans (certainly not anymore a chinese person would feel "at home" in a korean community) just because they look similar. I can't speak to whether my Russian-american friends are able to access white privilege, but I think the recent immigrants will say they do not feel necessarily more connected with the predominant "white" culture in the United States, since their accent and names generally distinguish themselves and have the associated baggage very quickly.

The communities my recent immigrant Kazakh and Russian friends generally reside in and spend time socially tend to be those of Russian speaking and post soviet populations - so ethnic russians, uzbeks, azeris, georgians, armenians, etc, and felt more at home with those groups in the states rather than any overarching "white" race, and will likely more mark themselves as a "person from a post-soviet state" vs "predominant american culture" as opposed to a PoC vs white.
posted by Karaage at 5:30 AM on May 1, 2016 [30 favorites]


I don't know - I'm of Armenian heritage and admittedly my background is of Armenians who came to the US post-genocide rather than after the fall of the Soviet Union, but I don't think it's that difficult of a question to answer (nor do I find it particularly offensive). All of my Armenian relatives consider themselves to be white, rather than people of color, as do I. That doesn't mean we don't face cultural bias or stigma or oppression; it's just that race isn't the primary vector of that discrimination.

I do think there is a certain laziness in contemporary liberal-leaning discussion of race that wants to think of Whiteness as this kind of single, totalizing experience (in essence, being 'the man,' the powerful, dominant force) in a way we don't apply to other categories. 'Blackness' is a concept that is intended to encompass the experiences of African Americans, Africans living on the African continent, and people living in the Caribbean, even though the experiences of those people are more different than not. Sometimes it's a useful metric for thinking about something real; other times, other categories (culture, language, ethnicity) are more relevant. All the people of the countries you listed do, I think, consider themselves 'white' - but in some contexts, that means very little; in other contexts, it means a lot.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 5:59 AM on May 1, 2016 [15 favorites]


Hey, my dad's birth grandparents were Russian/Ukrainian and Chinese, and therefore his birth mother is half East Asian and half Russian. They lived in Shanghai in the 30s and 40s, and then in the United States from the 50s on, so maybe this will give you some historical context:

1. If they are in a country where White is considered the dominant race, are they considered as White or non-White? How do they navigate race where they are?

In America they passed as white. My dad was adopted by a white couple and they knew they were adopting a white baby.

2. If they are in a country where White is not the dominant race (e.g. parts of Asia), are they considered part of the dominant race or not? How do they navigate race where they are?

When they lived in Shanghai, they were considered Russian, but I think that had more to do with the sexist view that women were classed as whatever their husbands were. Before her marriage, my great grandmother was considered Portuguese, of all things, because her Chinese father had been born in Macau.

3. Do people in those countries or culture consider themselves White? Is the concept of Whiteness - especially in opposition to other races - a concept that exists in their country or culture?

This is something I can't really answer for you, sorry! I was 8 when I met my great grandparents and they are dead now.

4. Does religion make a difference in the way they are racialized? (e.g many of the countries listed above as Muslim countries)

Definitely. These people were all Christians so I don't think anyone thought to question their whiteness.

5. Are they a part of People of Color spaces or other racial minority spaces where they are? Do those spaces exist where they are, and if so are they welcoming of people of their heritage?

They were in Shanghai - my great grandfather participated heavily in the White Russian community there. In America they wanted to assimilate as quickly as possible, so no.

6. How does their country or culture demarcate racial and/or ethnic differences?

This is tricky. My great grandfather was from Ukraine, but was born in Armenia, and the family then moved to Georgia, then Siberia, and then finally Shanghai. I don't have much idea what his experience growing up was in these spaces where he was not native. Again, I met him when I was 8, so.

Hope this has been helpful/interesting! Oh, and I myself am white and consider myself white. So does my dad. But we were both raised by white people.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:01 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Karaage is spot on. Kazakhs in Australia, for example, don't really have the luxury of just hanging out with Kazakhs, so they tend to find other post-Soviet people to hang out with, Ukranians and Uzbeks and so on. Actual Russians can be a little prickly and insular; perhaps that's related to historical ethnic division, I'm not sure, but certainly relative "whiteness" hasn't much to do with it. My sister dated an Uzbek boy here, which would be extremely rare back in Kazakhstan. As Karaage said, in Kazakhstan the chief division isn't "whites vs coloureds" but "Russians vs everyone else", with Kazakhs at the top of the everyone else pile, plus some interesting valences with ethnicities like Koreans and Jews.

In terms of how people relate to whiteness in Australia, Kazakhs tend to get read as Chinese, but the ones I know sort of associate themselves with the semi-Australian semi-foreign "wog" archetype; not Skippies exactly, but not alien like say, Chinese students. Of course, unlike Greeks or Italians back in the day there's not the ability to pass as Anglo, but it's not a big deal if you're living in Melbourne or Sydney. Probably a bit more of a chore out bush.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 6:27 AM on May 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


I spent about seven years living in Kyrgyzstan, and also traveled around the other post-Soviet 'stans. So I saw a lot of how things worked there, very little on how these folk fit into immigrant contexts abroad.

This question is created in an ultra-specific framework -- from the viewpoint of someone who has experienced White vs POC racial issues in a English-speaking-country specific context (i.e. someone who has only talked about racial issues in the context of UK, USA or Australia/ NZ).

Fourthing this, it seems to be coming from this assumption that there is a racial model developed in Western Liberal thought that should be applicable everywhere. It isn't. In Kyrgyzstan it is about tribe, and then ethnic group. The Russians are still culturally dominant in terms of language and media, but to the Kyrgyz they are also seen more and more as foreigners, not as colonial rulers / top of the pile.

Colour really doesn't enter into these distinctions at all. For the more Asian looking people, skin colour goes everywhere from totally Euro to quite dark but not South Indian / African dark. But class or power distinctions come from tribe, ethnicity, economic clout. Just as an example, around Karakol there are Kalmyk villages, Where there are many with light skin, sometimes red or light brown hair, and sometimes blue or green eyes. It is only the more Mongolian eyes and facial bone structure that mark them as "Asian". These people are way at the bottom of any pile.

Conversely, my wife is Tajik, they are basically northern Persians in all aspects - dress, language, appearance. So of all the 'stans these are the ones that are most non-Asian and to Western eyes the most "Euro"... my wife could easily pass as Spanish, Southern Italian, Greek, etc. But in post-Soviet sphere the Tajiks are like the Mexicans to the Americans - they are the manual labourers and builders in Moscow and elsewhere, and experience much stronger discrimination from Russians than the more Asiatic looking Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, or Uzbeks.

I do think there is a certain laziness in contemporary liberal-leaning discussion of race that wants to think of Whiteness as this kind of single, totalizing experience (in essence, being 'the man,' the powerful, dominant force) in a way we don't apply to other categories.

Totally this, and I think the reason you aren't finding much info on this is because it just isn't an applicable paradigm in this part of the world.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:50 AM on May 1, 2016 [20 favorites]


I know you're coming to this question with good intentions, but the answers above make a valid point in that the "White vs. POC" framework of your question is extremely specific to the US/anglophone Western world.

Most importantly, you can't lump all of the former Soviet Union into one bucket. Central Asia =/= the Caucasus =/= Russia & other Slavic countries =/= the Baltics. Those regions are completely different from one another, and the answers to each of your questions are going to be completely different for each region. And that's not even getting into intra-region dynamics, which are quite complicated, and cannot be viewed from a "white vs. POC" lens (e.g. how do Russians get treated in Estonia, even though both could pass for "white" in the US?)

And within Central Asia (even within a single Central Asian country), there are many different ethnicities that consider themselves distinct from one another. Physical appearance in Central Asia (using terms that US/UK/AUS/NZ people would be familiar with) can range from "Middle Eastern" to "North Indian" to "Persian" to "Mongolian" to "Chinese", and everything in between.

Your question could really be broken in to 5 very different questions:

1. How do different ethnicities within Central Asia view each other in Central Asia? How does one ethnicity get treated in another country/ethnic region?

2. How do people from Central Asia get treated in Russia? (this is a hugely important question, because there is a lot of immigration from Central Asian countries to Russia, and they often experience discrimination there)

3. How do people from Central Asia get treated in the US/UK/AUS/NZ?

4. How do Russians/"white-passing" ex-Soviet people get treated in the US/UK/AUS/NZ?

5. How does the second generation (US/UK/AUS/NZ-born & raised children of immigrants) get treated in the US/UK/AUS/NZ? Of immigrants from Central Asia? Of immigrants from Russia?

In other words: You need to figure out which specific ethnicities you are interested in, and then figure out if you are interested in their experience in US/UK/AUS/NZ, or if you are interested in their experience in Russia, or in other countries. There's exponentially many questions to be answered here.

To answer your main question, which seems to be "are people from Central Asia considered "white" in the US/UK/AUS/NZ", I would say no, because they are generally not very European looking. Some look more East Asian, others look more Middle Eastern, some look like a mix.
posted by pravit at 7:18 AM on May 1, 2016 [17 favorites]


My family is from a former SSR, although one of the "white" ones. (not central Asian).

Because there is still a significant ethnic Russian component of the population in my homeland, and almost no non-white immigration, the axis of distinction is primarily between whether a person is ethnically native, or Russian. The religious distinction would also apply, as to whether a person was a member of the Lutheran church, or Russian Orthodox.

Upon migrating to North America, my grandparents presented as White, but not as native English speakers.
posted by theorique at 10:34 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I came in to nthing what pravit, Karaagee and meatbomb and others have said: this question is informed by the specifically North American approach to the issue of race. I think you will find answers but need to look in different angles.

The situation in Central Asia and ex-Soviet countries is shaped by geopolitics and history (both recent and ancient) and differs vastly in each country. In seeking answers look at each country, don't lump them together.

I think to understand the issue in a European context (and some of the countries you list are members of the European Union: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia) at all, and maybe find out more on how it works here, you will need to look into the history of the relationship between the former soviet union countries and central Europe (not only the current EU) and the former soviet bloc (= Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia , Czechoslovakia (both of which no longer exist in this form), Bulgaria, GDR, Poland, Albania), and the dominant role Russia has played and plays.

Since and already before the three Baltic states and most of the former soviet bloc countries (all basically with the exception of Albania and certain of the new countries which emerged after the disintegration of former Yugoslavia) have joined the EU (which is not the same as Europe), massive shock waves of nationalism, of what is in German called Rassismus have re-surfaced in Europe. The Netherlands had a vote recently on whether or not the European Union should make a friendship pact with the Ukraine, the outcome was negative (but will not actually impact EU policy). But it was not primarily about whiteness but nationalism and ethnic prejudice. Ukrainians (I have met many) look exactly like Viennese. But once they open their mouth the prejudice kicks in, and only improves if people realise they are not Romanian or Bulgarians who are despised even more.

The issue the people from these countries face is not are Latvians, Lithuanians or Estonians white, the issue is are they considered Europeans? What rips Europe apart right now is exactly that – are Georgians Europeans? But it is not about skin colour but nationalism. Nationalism is on the uprise, and ethnicity is central. But Whiteness, as used in the US, is not the issue.

I no longer think I can use the term racism in English, as my dictionary tells me to, at least not in the sense racism is used in the North American context. So I will use Rassismus to make it clar I am talking about European style racism.

European brand Rassismus, which is what the citizens of some of the countries you wish to investigate face within the European Union (EU), is not the same as the POC vs Whiteness issue in the US. The current European brand of Rassismus is based on a different toxic brew: of Nationalism, ethnicity, and history, and only secondarily on skin colour (and certainly not in the same way as in the US). Their skin colour is the same as lets say the French. Bit their passports are not.

This is also rooted in European history – since the end of fascism, skin colour as a basis for discrimination is, at least on the surface, the biggest taboo of all. The ideal of the blond Nordic hero as Hitler and his ilk used it, is not dead but has become unacceptable in liberal, democratic societies of Europe.
Asking whether Kim Kardashian is white would make most liberal Europeans recoil in horror und put the asker into the right wing camp. I realise this is not the intent of your question but understanding this might help you see how far different the situation is between Europe and the US. Here only those who are on the very far right would ask such a question.

I live in Vienna, a city where many from the former soviet bloc live, either recent immigrants or since decades. It has been jokingly said that our 1% are almost exclusively Russians. I regularly meet people from all the states you list, both professionally and outside the job.
Race and Whiteness are misleading terms to use if you wanted to understand the complex situation they are in. Russians, Georgians, Lithuanians, Kazhaks, etc all get discriminated against here in Vienna. But not primarily because their skin is not white. Rather they face prejudice and nationalist stereotypes reaching far back into the 19th century. Hitler’s “racial hygiene”, promoting the superiority of the Nordic whites was the brain child of 19th century Viennese doctors.

As pravit wrote
(...) the "White vs. POC" framework of your question is extremely specific to the US/anglophone Western world.
Most importantly, you can't lump all of the former Soviet Union into one bucket.

Central Asia =/= the Caucasus =/= Russia & other Slavic countries =/= the Baltics. Those regions are completely different from one another, and the answers to each of your questions are going to be completely different for each region. And that's not even getting into intra-region dynamics, which are quite complicated, and cannot be viewed from a "white vs. POC" lens (e.g. how do Russians get treated in Estonia, even though both could pass for "white" in the US?)


So, here in Vienna (and Austria as a whole but mostly in the capital) we have many immigrants from the ex soviet union, especially Russia, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, the Baltic states (as the are EU they have a different status altogether) and to a lesser extent from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan. They face discrimination due to the latent nationalism which is boiling up in Europe. And while the nationalism is partly concerned with white skin colour, nationality overrides skin colour.

And while there are POC here in Vienna, for example, they face a very different issue - discrimination is made based on ethnicity, on country of origin.
Dark skinned people in Vienna do get nastily harassed, both from police and general public. But once they declare their nationality this shifts and the US POC is accepted (once it becomes clear they are an American national), while a POC from Nigeria is in real and immediate danger of being jailed for no apparent other reason except his Nigerian passport and dark skin colour (not making this up but would be a derail to go into details). And while it is certainly horrible and damnable for a North American POC to have to prove his nationality to get off the hook, the Nigerian is far worse off, not only in Vienna. But it is not skin colour (both are dark) as such that makes the demarcation line but nationalism and ethnicity.

The Georgian who faces prejudice and discrimination is possibly undistinguishable by his skin colour from an Austrian (I happen to know a few Georgians) but this does not mean he does not face nasty nationalistic prejudice. Again it is not skin colour but prejudice against certain nations and ethnic groups. It can be skin colour, but it is not the deciding factor once nationality is established.

I will stop here, it is already too long. Memail me if you like.
posted by 15L06 at 1:14 PM on May 1, 2016 [11 favorites]


You left out Afghanistan in your list of Central Asian countries, which strikes me as an oversight if you're including Tajikistan. Tajikistan and Afghanistan share an official language (Persian, though the Dari and Tajik dialects differ, they're more or less mutually intelligible, along with the Persian spoken in Iran), and the Tajik ethnic group makes up around 25% of the population of Afghanistan.

I'm Afghan, of Tajik ancestry, and here's my effort at answering your questions.

1. If they are in a country where White is considered the dominant race, are they considered as White or non-White? How do they navigate race where they are?

I'm an American citizen and the question of how white I am is like an object lesson in the social construction of whiteness. I'm very pale, and like Meatbomb's wife, I can pass as some vaguely and non-specifically ethnic European, as can a lot of my family. Other members of my family look more obviously brown and they can't pass as anything close to white. As an example of how thin this line is, my aunt says "I'm white, of course I'm white!" while my uncle her brother says, "I'm brown and proud." Personally, 9/11 and the US reaction to it disabused me of any notions of my being white. I tell people I'm Afghan and I get a lot of reactions that boil down to "but you don't look brown." Well, no shit, but I guess now that you know I'm Afghan, I don't count as white either, right? is what those interactions come down to.

Still have to tick the white box on official forms though!

2. If they are in a country where White is not the dominant race (e.g. parts of Asia), are they considered part of the dominant race or not? How do they navigate race where they are?

Having never lived in Afghanistan or anywhere else in Asia, I can't really answer this, except to say that Western/American constructions of whiteness don't play into it at all.

3. Do people in those countries or culture consider themselves White? Is the concept of Whiteness - especially in opposition to other races - a concept that exists in their country or culture?

Again, the Western/American construction of whiteness is not at all a thing in Afghanistan. There's certainly a certain amount of colorism, in that fairer skin is part of the beauty standard, much as it is in India. Ever since I was a baby, I got a lot of compliments on my fair skin from relatives, and still do, which is frankly uncomfortable. You identify by ethnic group or tribe instead. For Tajiks, it's less tribe and more the region/city you're from (Kabuli and Herati for my family).

4. Does religion make a difference in the way they are racialized? (e.g many of the countries listed above as Muslim countries)

In the US this certainly seems to make a difference. Islamophobia is racialized.

5. Are they a part of People of Color spaces or other racial minority spaces where they are? Do those spaces exist where they are, and if so are they welcoming of people of their heritage?

In my experience, immigrant communities in the US who speak the same language have a certain amount of solidarity, but I'm not sure about POC solidarity, and there are still lines of division along religion and ethnic group and national origin. Like, you share ethnic groceries and holidays and some traditions, but there's no overarching sense of "these too are my people."

6. How does their country or culture demarcate racial and/or ethnic differences?

I wrote, like, a whole 20 page paper on how the formation of the Afghan nation-state is fundamentally flawed because of the tensions between different ethnic groups, and I'm not sure how to condense that answer down from writing you a whole other paper. There are a lot of different ethnic groups in Afghanistan: Tajik, Hazara, Pashtun, Uzbek, Baloch, etc. Ethnic differences and tensions between these groups don't map easily or at all to Western conceptions of race and/or whiteness, but all that gets flattened out in a Western conception of race or ethnicity. Like, I'm from an upper middle class, university-educated Herati family and that's a position of privilege that's worlds away from a Hazara farmer family in Hazarajat. That doesn't especially matter outside of Afghanistan, of course. We're all Other and/or Not White here in America!

I don't know, in general I have reservations about wholeheartedly identifying as POC by the American rubric because there are ways in which I have white privilege, and there are ways in which I don't, and the Western/American way of looking at it doesn't account for all the complexities. It's something you become aware of when your family covers a wide range of phenotypes from "basically look European" to "brown and super obviously Middle Eastern."
posted by yasaman at 6:17 PM on May 1, 2016 [10 favorites]


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