- At the root of opposition to SB-403 is caste fragility. Recognizing its existence is a critical step in the journey towards a more equitable society.
Caste discrimination continues to pervade American society, perpetuating deep-rooted inequalities and denying individuals from marginalized castes their basic rights and dignity. This is why State Senator Aisha Wahab’s new bill SB-403 to end caste discrimination is so powerful. Making caste a protected category is an important step in healing from caste. Given how necessary SB-403 is, many have been surprised that a small but vocal contingent in the South Asian community has opposed this bill.
Key to understanding the resistance is caste fragility, which emerges from the caste privileged’s fear of losing the power, privilege, and social status that individuals from dominant castes enjoy within the caste hierarchy. When discussions around caste discrimination arise, individuals experiencing caste fragility may exhibit defensiveness, denial, or a refusal to acknowledge their complicity in perpetuating caste-based biases. This fragility prevents open dialogue, subsequently hindering progress toward equality and perpetuating the cycle of discrimination.
We have seen this frightening discourse throughout the SB403 campaign with wily and increasingly unhinged assertions from the opposition. Here is a sampling
- The passage of SB403 will lead to the expulsion of Hindus from California
- The passage of SB403 will lead to Hindu Genocide
- The passage of SB403 will lead to Hindus being jailed
- The passage of Sb403 will lead to Hindus children being bullied
The list goes on and on. Even worse, the opponents continue to unleash political violence against State Senator Aisha Wahab, Assembly member Jasmeet Bains, and Dalit civil rights organizations and our allies across the state.
The attacks, the disinformation, and the hyperbolic anxiety, it is all too much. And I know it intimately. I know exactly what it feels like to be in that frantic hysterical bubble of fragility.
As someone with caste privilege I have spent years facing down that dominant caste fragility. After taking the Unlearning Caste Supremacy Workshop with Equality Labs I had the courage to look into my family’s unsavory history of caste privilege. My family had for years exploited caste oppressed workers at home. They were farm workers on our property and domestic workers in our homes.
Though my family often used to say they were part of our family in reality we exploited them physically, emotionally and yes even sexually. It was hard to hold that truth and reconcile that with my own desire to start afresh in the U.S. But going slow and acknowledging this painful truth allowed me to peel away my caste blindness and confront uncomfortable truths of how I have benefited from caste for many years and across generations. My caste blindness allowed me to continue building networks of caste privilege while ignoring the discrimination and harm that so many caste-oppressed people face in the state. However once I pierced through my fear I also found community.
And that is what I want for all of us. I know that for our opponents the idea that the law might hold them accountable for their actions is terrifying for them.
But fear and discomfort need not be permanent. The privileged who are flooded with these feelings can welcome a new understanding. To overcome caste fragility, individuals from dominant castes must recognize that discussions about caste discrimination are not personal attacks but rather attempts to address systemic injustices. Challenging defensiveness requires active listening, self-reflection, and empathy. Acknowledging privilege and recognizing the impact of caste discrimination does not diminish personal achievements but rather contributes to a more just and inclusive society.
Caste fragility often stems from deeply ingrained biases and stereotypes about marginalized castes. Caste privileged people can challenge those biases and embark on a journey of unlearning these biases by actively seeking knowledge, engaging with diverse perspectives, and questioning preconceived notions. This process requires humility, vulnerability, and a willingness to confront uncomfortable truths. Only through conscious efforts to challenge and change one’s own biases can caste fragility be dismantled.
Caste fragility reinforces the existing power dynamics and silences the voices of individuals from marginalized castes. In California there are so many caste-oppressed communities across many communities of religious practice and countries of origin. California companies also work in many markets globally that go on to impact hundreds of millions of caste oppressed people. Our notions of equity must also be local and global at the same time as well.
It is imperative to center and amplify the experiences, narratives, and expertise of those who have faced caste discrimination. Listening to their stories, valuing their insights, and learning from their lived experiences can foster empathy, understanding, and a deeper commitment to dismantling caste-based inequalities.
Addressing caste fragility requires collective responsibility and solidarity among individuals from all castes. It is not the burden of marginalized communities to educate and convince those experiencing caste fragility; instead, individuals from dominant castes must take the initiative to educate themselves and actively challenge discrimination within their spheres of influence. By standing in solidarity with marginalized communities and advocating for their rights, individuals can play an essential role in dismantling caste fragility and promoting equity.
Recognizing the existence of caste fragility is a critical step in the journey towards a more equitable society. By acknowledging the discomfort and defensiveness that arise when discussing caste discrimination, individuals from dominant castes can begin the process of unlearning biases, challenging stereotypes, and actively working towards dismantling the structures that perpetuate inequality. It is through self-reflection, empathy, and collective responsibility that we can collectively strive for a society that upholds the dignity, rights, and equality of all individuals, regardless of their caste. Let us challenge caste fragility, embrace discomfort, and forge a path towards a more inclusive future.
Churali Mehta works in tech and is a proud mother of three.