Blog 7- Mapping Connections between Countries

Indian Group’s Map

Having met in small groups, each one represented a certain country and explored the connections and parallels they saw between their country and the others. The India group began this phase of the conference. This groups saw India and U.S. on the same side of the spectrum, with South Africa on the extreme opposite side. The placed Brazil and France together in the middle.  

Their first connection is the backlash against affirmative action polices after a period of calm, with India and U.S. heading in the same direction and South Africa moving in the opposite. A second connection is the difficulty of keeping ongoing discrimination in the spot light. This group found this especially true with India’s governing institutions ignoring the continuing problems since their laws and constitution appear to have addressed the issue already. It is an issue they also see in the U.S. and South Africa as well. The third connection is the way class is the “spoiler” in both the US, India and South Africa. It is an issue placed against affirmative action that is hard to ignore.  Lastly, the group sees gender as an issue lost in the debate, with race and class taking precedent over it.  

The differences that the India group saw involved the legal framework and reality. For one, the group notes that the Indian constitution looks very progressive and should create the ideal fair society. The reality, however, hardly reflects its progressive polices. In fact these fairly just laws are being undermined or ignored to allow for ongoing segregation in society.  In addition, class plays a defining role in India. Sometimes it is like race, an ascribed characteristic, sometimes it is not like race.     

Lastly, the group notes how a majority group can acquire a minority mindset, especially in India. It is a problem proponents of affirmative action face when trying to justify the policy. Why would a country need this policy when those experiencing discrimination are actually in the majority? Yet, it has been difficult to mobilize this majority in order to push for changes in societal perception on caste. In this way, India shares a similar issue with South Africa. One of the speakers expressed bafflement over the fact that a social movement with coalition building amongst the many sub-castes has not occurred in India.  

Interestingly, this speaker addressed the need to see the “underserved” caste in all its complexities. Once someone from this caste manages to deviate from the expected characteristics (poor, uneducated, low social status), then people question why that person still claims to be discriminated against. There is a perception of how a person receiving the benefits of affirmative action should be and behave. One speaker expanded on this by noting how these few “success” stories are used as examples for why the policy is no longer needed.  

Another speaker stressed the need for Data, a quality that a few other countries actually shared. It is hard to present a case against policies one opposes, as well as support, without data. On another note, the speaker noted that those who are not represented need to be discussed. With all the focus on caste, gender and class are brushed aside in India. The speaker suggested that other countries should also examine who are the under represented groups that should also benefit from affirmative action.

Brazilian Group’s Map

The Brazilian delegation began their mapping connections section by looking at national ideologies.  Brazil is especially “constrained” by a constitution that claims to be inclusive and supportive of a racial democracy.  Foundation myths and national history struck this group as an underlying basis for current affirmative action policies in many countries. This myth makes policy supportive of certain racial groups difficult. They saw France and Brazil sharing a similar trajectory of being inclusive through their constitution (equality without recognizing race). The US, however, moved from inclusive and then moving to being exclusive and now back to inclusive. But South Africa and India had exclusion as part of their founding myths.   

The Brazil delegation also looked at institutions utilized for intervention. They were struck by how the US relied heavily on the court.  In Brazil, however, politics shapes the development of the policies.  

Expanding on the idea of founding myths, the group found Brazil most similar to India. In Brazil, the idea of racial democracy is embedded in the country’s identity. To attack that idea would dismantle this sacred myth about the country. India also has this rigid tradition of caste compounded with the notion that their progressive constitution solved
this problem.  

Other countries also seem just as susceptible to international influence except perhaps the US. For Brazil, the 2001 UN conference on race in Durbin, South Africa propelled affirmative action policies onto their national agenda. The only problem was that many of the policies were top down, affirmative action did not begin as a grassroots idea in Brazil.  

The issue of race or class was also more problematic for Brazil.  At the same time, proponents of affirmative action must avoid letting ambiguity blur the issues since opponents try to say there is too much to make affirmative action based on race only. But recently, there are economists, social scientists and intellectuals willing to admit that there are racial differences in Brazil.  

From all their various points, the Brazilian group chose to focus on the nature of equality throughout all the countries for further discussion amongst the larger group.

French Group’s Map

The first difference the French group noted between all the countries was the language used to discuss affirmative action.  The terms shifted to positive action in some countries and back to affirmative action in others.  In addition, the group was struck by the role each country’s constitution played in affirmative action.  For example, India and South Africa have constitutional provisions to address discrimination and actively promote affirmative action. In the US, France and Brazil, however, activists must work within constitutional constraints.   

The instruments used to address discrimination also evoked different responses in certain countries.  Quotas, for example, are highly effective for some issues in a country and very controversial in other countries. The nature of categories also created different responses to affirmative action. India has its caste categories with all its rigidity of application while in Brazil there is a problem of fluidity. 

In addition, the French group saw their country as the only country grappling with religion as a cause for discrimination or at least conflated with race. The group also grappled with how gender is used as a substitute for address racial disparities. Immigration also plays a larger role in France then the actual issue of race.   

In general, the French group tried to generate debate by presenting their perception of each country’s approach to affirmative action and encourage the participants to debate these views. They effectively stirred up the discussions by addressing such issues as history and myth making in countries, what role that played in current societal forms of discrimination.  Building off of that they noted how anti-discrimination, diversity and affirmative action are used together as though they are one, while class and poverty are conflated together as well.  The group also addressed a similar issue brought up by the Brazilian group, whether a activists utilize a legislative or judicial approach to bring about affirmative action policies.

US Group’s Map

Transforming the racial hierarchy, that’s the idea proposed by the US group at the beginning of their contrast and comparison of the different countries.  The group presented two hypothesis on this, 1) A more robust affirmative action program will have greater transformative power 2) The broader the racial inequality discourse throughout society, the greater the transformative capacity. Lastly, the group wanted to examine the convergence and divergence of these two concepts.  

The idea of robustness addresses the different levels that affirmative action operates or operated in, such as education, employment and government. Another aspect of robustness is the characteristics of the program, how is it being implemented?

Both of these concepts require activists and scholars to address the issue of, what is ethnic identity? For some, as in India, caste is a point to organize around. Yet, the group saw the need to embrace the positive aspects of race identity instead of always focusing on the negative results of it.   

The conversations brought up by these theories and their varied aspects in each country stimulated much crosstalk and debate.

South African Group’s Map

The South Africa group’s contribution raised two questions, 1) the relationship between race and class, 2) the nature of the beneficiary groups.  The group began by examining how affirmative action can address both racism and social inequality. In what way has class been used as a racist strategy and detracted policy makers from correcting racial discrimination?     

In terms of identity, the group noted the need to determine how a person groups him/herself. Should it be through self declaration? The problem of redistribution also arises within beneficiary groups. How will the compensation be meted out? Ethnic identity also raises problems in terms of alliances. How are dissentions addressed with in these groups? Lastly, the group noted the hierarchies that develop within the beneficiary group. Do policymakers create a separate affirmative action program for those more disadvantaged then others? Their discussion led the participants to the next level of the conference. 



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