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Contesting Culture Chap 4


									                             Contesting Culture: Chapter Four
                            Southall’s ‘self evident’ communities

Southall divides itself up into five „self-evident‟ communities that fall right in line with the
dominant discourse – how everyone else would divide them up. To say that a „community‟ is
„self-evident‟ is to say that it seems very visible and obvious.

These five „communities‟ have different histories that correlate with their status and political
sway relative to each other. The first of these that Baumann talks about are the Sikhs. Sikhism is
a fairly new major world religion, having been developed in the 16th and 17th centuries in the
Punjab. (Northern India/Pakistan). It combines elements of Hinduism and Sufi Islam, but departs
from both in important ways, especially in terms of social restrictions. Sikh women, for example,
don‟t practice purdah (veiling) and Sikhs tossed out the Hindu caste system (ascribed status).

The Sikhs were the first of the overseas immigrants to arrive in Southall, responding to severe
post-war labor shortages in Britain. The manager of a car accessories plant in Southall at that
time happened to have commanded a unit of Sikhs (they served in the British army during
WWII), so he had the connections to start bringing workers over.

Baumann describes a little bit about how the Sikhs came to be seen as a unified group with a
unified identity, and it was in large part due to their association with the British. During the first
hundred years or so of the religious movement, Sikhs came in a variety types, but through their
use by the Brits in a military capacity, came to be defined as a „warrior sect‟ and came to be
though of as a unified, homogenous „ethnicity‟. They were, in fact, formally classified in Britain
as such an ethnic group 1983 (pg. 74).

The first phase of Sikh migration consisted only of male workers. They remained linked to home
in the Punjab, and became brokers for other men who wanted to come to England for work. The
second phase of migration was when the dependents came starting in the mid-1960‟s. At this
point, the idea of a Sikh community in Southall began to develop, especially after denser
networks of extended kin began to ride in on that wave of migration – and as pointed out in the
previous chapter, that substantial period of immigration to Britain was a response to threats from
Brit politicians to close the immigration doors.

Sikh migration experienced a third phase in the early to mid 1970‟s. South Asians had been
living in East Africa – especially Uganda and Kenya – for well over a hundred years. India and
that part of Africa had had trade relations for centuries, but the newer India-to-Africa migrants
went there to serve as a middle management colonial bureaucracy to the British.

As African states first gained independence and then began to assert their African identities as
newly forming nation-states, the South Asians became unwelcome. Idi Amin, dictator of
Uganda, went so far as to expel South Asians from that country, and they dispersed to Britain, as
well as to the United States (the movie we will be watching is about one such family). For the
most part, these folks got out of Uganda with very little, and were fortunate if they had had the
foresight to transfer their money to banks in Britain.
The Ugandan South Asians – or as Baumann says, East African Asians – were not exclusively
Sikh, but a substantial number were, hence they largely form that third phase of Sikh migration.

Unlike the earlier Sikhs who had come from the Punjab, the East African Asians were largely
experienced in professional or commercial areas or were skilled craftsmen. They did much to
transform Southall‟s economy, eventually becoming the dominant players in the commercial
trade sectors. That placed them at an advantage, and the „cleavages‟ between their histories and
those of the Punjabi Sikhs rather belies the „unified‟ perception of Sikhs in the dominant

All told, the Sikhs – or the „Sikh community‟ – is the largest community, and the most powerful
and influential in the local political scene. As noted in Chapter three, that has led to some inter-
community mistrust. As Baumann notes on page 78, the largest group is likely to “inspire
smaller ones to ally themselves in response.”

The Hindus form the most successful „counter balance‟ to the political and economic clout of
the Sikhs. They have, as Baumann says, “cultural cachet,” (pg. 78). This means that they are
widely respected, especially compared to the Sikhs. Like Sikhs, the „Hindu identity‟ was in large
measure formed by Western ideas of Hinduism. They are seen as homogenous (yet internally
plural), bounded, non-violent and religiously tolerant. In reality, there had always been many
different ways to be Hindu coming out of very different geographical and historical roots, and
Hindus are as capable as beating up on other people as anyone else is (especially if they‟re
Muslims in the Punjab).

None the less, the Hindus of Southall are clearly seen as a coherent community rooted in religion
and ethnicity, and they are defined by others in Southall in the same way that the dominant
discourse defines them: inherently tolerant. This provides them with a certain amount of cross-
community respect in Southall, and even though the Hindus come from varying locations and
histories, they seem to experience little internal divisions. Most are from the Punjab; some are
from East Africa and Sri Lanka. There are two Hindu temples in Southall, but are used
interchangeably by many.

There are four times as many Sikhs as there are Hindus, and the Hindus are represented in about
the same numbers as the Muslims. However, the Hindus have largely escaped negative
stereotyping and the Muslims have not.

The Muslims are the most marginalized residents in Southall. They, too, are seen as a reified,
cohesive whole, and Baumann points out that the Islamic doctrine of faith enforces the idea of a
unified community. Anyone who has been paying attention to the news out of Iraq, however,
should be able to figure out that Muslims, like Christians or any other religious practitioners,
come in a variety of types.

Baumann says that Muslims are caught in the uncomfortable place between rejecting the
supposed validity of the idea that they are all the same, and the doctrine of creed that says they
are (or should be) all the same.
    Point of order – To say that the Muslims are “marginalized” means that they are placed at
     the outer limits of Southall society. Their status is so low as to make them almost

Baumann notes three major reasons that the Muslims are so marginalized in Southall.
1. They started migrating to the area after the post-war labor rush, and their economic
   conditions have therefore been more tenuous than those of other folks who came earlier.
2. Most of the Muslims in Southall are from Pakistan. Indian – particularly Punjabi – Sikhs and
   Hindus have a bit of a problem with Pakistanis and Muslims in general for historical reasons.
   There was a time when Muslims were in the dominant, ruling position in northern India – the
   era of the Moghuls from 1526 to 1857 – and as Baumann points out, there is a historical
   memory among non-Muslims of that being a period of oppression. More recently, the 1947
   partition of the Punjab between Muslims and Hindus (Pakistan for the first, India for the
   latter) and continued squabbling of Kashmir have done nothing to simmer that bad blood
   down. Now and again, Pakistan and India – both nuclear powers – threaten to wipe each
   other off the map.
3. Muslims have a bad rep throughout Britain, because so much press is given to
   fundamentalism, and Baumann was even writing this before international focus on the
   Taliban in Afghanistan and 2001. Muslims do have some dietary and social restrictions that
   are accommodated in public institutions (i.e. schools, as are those of other minority religious
   groups). But because of the media focus on fundamentalism, Wahhabism and militancy,
   anytime these needs are addressed, it‟s interpreted as fundamentalist „pushiness‟ that just
   shows how Muslims aren‟t trying to fit in.

The Afro-Caribbeans make up part of the various Christian congregations in Southall, but
Baumann says that there is no perceived “Christian community.” Among the Christians, “race”
or “color” are the markers of community differentiation, rather than religion. They are like the
Muslims in that they do not have direct electoral representation. They are also seen as peripheral
to Southall as a whole, while at the same time, they do hold a noteworthy role in the club scene
and provide much of what passes for a Southall night life.

Afro-Caribbean migration to Southall was short lived, lasting only about a decade during the
1950‟s, and the men who came over didn‟t send for dependents the way the South Asians did.
Baumann also says that the major numbers of Afro-Caribbeans came for different kinds of work
than the Asians, and generally went to areas closer in to central London. That any eventually
wound up in Southall is due to the later gentrification of those areas, pushing poorer blacks into
the outer suburbs (anyone see the movie Notting Hill…?) .

Baumann says that it‟s pretty remarkable that the Caribbeans formed and are considered a
community, because of the general animosity between islands in the Caribbean. This may be due
to most of the Southallian Caribbeans coming from the smaller islands – the “smallies,”
distinguished from larger Jamaica, which provided most of the Caribbean migration to England.

Migration to England was for them, interestingly, thought of as something of a home coming to
the motherland. Great Britain (and France for some islands, like Martinique) had a significant
hand in forming West Indies identities, but when they came „home‟, they were hardly welcomed.
This, too, helped form the cross-island community. As one quoted young man noted, it‟s being
black that matters, because of racial injustice, not island of origin (pg. 88 from Yabsley).

Another important distinction of the Southall Afro-Caribbeans is, again, related to the religious
factor. Some don‟t observe Christianity, some are evangelical Christians and some are mainline
Protestant (Anglican, most likely). Within the „Afro-Caribbean community‟, insiders draw lines
between each other based on these areas of religious observation.

What plays a greater role in creating a perceived „Afro-Caribbean community‟ are three non-
religious organizations that have and do pursue community interests as activist associations
largely focused on youth.

Baumann notes that there is an echo of white wailing a gnashing over Asians in the Afro-
Caribbean community, in that they nanner about Asians taking over everything, which is an
interesting parallel.

Whites don‟t talk about a “white community,” but South Asians and Afro-Caribbeans do.
Among whites, however, are two groups that are considered different from one a another: the
Irish and the English.

Irish migration to and settlement in Southall dates back to the early part of the 20th century, as
well as the post-war labor shortage period of the 1950‟s. At that time, at least as older Irish look
back on it, there was a „community‟ of Irish centered around dances, social functions and dense
kinship networks. Irish migration to England never stopped, and fresh numbers continue to come
 Point of order – With the turn around in the Irish economy starting in the 1990‟s, Irish out-
    migration has slowed significantly. At this point, Ireland‟s economy is more robust by far
    than England‟s, and one of the reasons for this is because, unlike the English, Ireland went
    along with the Euro, linking itself more closely with the Continent and trasnational

What Irish and English and everyone else recognizes is an “Irish culture,” but this is manifested
in the trappings of culture, rather than the social networks that are supposed to make a
„community.‟ The English, on the other hand, don‟t feel they have either. Note the conversation
between the mother and daughter on page 96. The daughter is talking about being in school and
having to write something in response to the question, “Who are you?” Her idea of being
something is entirely linked to the constructed communities of „others‟ in Southall. If she isn‟t
Sikh or Hindu or what have you, what‟s left for her, she pondered. If one doesn‟t talk about a
„white community‟ or an Church of England (C of E) community, then how can that be one‟s
identity, she seems to ask.

Catholicism is the closest that Catholic whites will come to linking themselves to a community,
but it is strictly a religious one that cuts across ethnicities. Conversely, with Sikhs, Hindus and
Muslims, ethnicity and religion are seen as being inextricably linked – one and the same
(obviously ignoring the realities of Islam as a major global religion, not just something that
belongs to Arabs, and, in fact, none of the Muslims in this book are Arab).
The whites suffer from a clear case of us/them. For the English, and even to some extent the
Irish, community and culture are things that belong to „cultural outsiders,‟ that is non-whites. For
those cultural outsiders, however, whites have a „community‟ as much as they do. The whites, it
should be said, when talking about culture and community, are operating strictly from the level
of the dominant discourse, which also does not distinguish whites in England as having a
community based on race/ethnicity.

What Baumann does next is take „culture‟ and „community‟ to young Southallians to see what
the newest generation is making of these concepts. What he finds is that the young as much as
older Southallians latch onto culture or heritage as a static thing. He finds this remarkable
because it would suggest that the five reified communities are taken for granted and introduced
to kids from the get go, helping to shape their identities. It also suggests that young Southallians
are acutely aware of culture – “…a heighten awareness that one‟s own life, as well as the lives of
others, are … shaped by culture,” as a concrete, static heritage (pg. 98).

Through his research, he finds that young people have three marked ways of thinking:
1. They are fluent “in the use of culture as a term of reification,” meaning, they know how it‟s
   used to make „natural‟ and „obvious‟ seeming boundaries between groups of people in
   Southall (pg. 99).
2. They have “an ability to recognize culture” in their lives and in others.
3. They equate culture with community. He suggests that this taken-for-granted link starts to
   break down in adolescence, however.

By and large, young Sikhs and Hindus identify culture as religion, “sometimes with a hint of
color or custom,” (pg. 102). They also identify it as something that others may like or dislike,
and from that point, Baumann gives some attention to the concept of respect as used by young
Southallians, or rather, young South Asians. Respect, both in the giving and receiving of, is
necessary to maintain honor: “To show and expect respect is a value obvious to … South Asian
Southallians, and it is … tied [to] social rules[and]… with their understandings of culture and
religion,” (pg. 104.

By adolescence, Baumann begins to see more “political sociological” or individualist
interpretations of culture, especially in cases where religion is either not a major factor in their
lives, or when their religion is one that spans ethnic divides.

By “political-sociological” he means that its linked to a created force, like “black culture,” which
does not really mean color so much as a made culture, or a “political consciousness that has
some grounding in color,” (pg. 105). I would add here, that this „color‟ or „race‟ thing is a matter
of experience, how one is viewed and treated, and not a „natural order.‟ Political-sociological
interpretations of culture are more likely grounded in a „group‟ experience of political and social
forces, such as the experience of racism.

Like the political-sociological interpretation of culture, individualist interpretations are fluid,
flexible and dependent on context and situation. Culture becomes something that is more an
“individual achievement” than membership in a “pre-defined group,” (pg 105).
Baumann cautions that there are only two things that can be read into this data he collected in the
essay responses of Southall kids:
1. almost all Soutahall kids by the age of 13 know how to use the word culture and it is second
    nature to them.
2. There are three used “discourses” (ways of talking about) culture: religious, political-
    sociological, individualist.

He also notes that kids tend to justify or explain their behavior with reference to their culture; “in
my culture, we don‟t do that.” The exception to this would be the white kids who are more apt to
say, “Here (or in England) we don‟t do that.”

In conclusion, Baumann states that the reification of culture can‟t just be written off as irrelevant
or false, because it does, after all, inform peoples lives. What we have to think about, however, is
who is doing the reifying in what way. It‟s not just a matter of reifying your own culture, but
having it reified for you by the larger society in which you live. The descriptions he has given of
the five „communities‟ are as that larger society makes them. The dominant discourse assumes
that culture, and thereby community‟ are fixed heirlooms that people have. In the next chapter,
Baumann intends to show more clearly that community is a creation and that culture is a process.

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