Anjanette M. Chan Tack, University of Chicago
In this paper, I develop the concept of “ethno-racial illegitimacy” to describe the condition of ethno-racially ambiguous groups when they encounter essentialist racial categories baked into state multiculturalist policies. Ethno-racial illegitimacy is a form of categorical illegitimacy. It arises when a group systematically exhibits “ethnic” markers that do not conform to what the prevailing regime of governance associates with their “race”. Through the case of Indo-Caribbean political incorporation in New York, I examine the state’s production of ethno-racial illegitimacy and trace its segregating consequences in the political field. Indo-Caribbeans are West Indians of South Asian descent. They constitute one of New York's 5 largest immigrant groups. In the US, Indo-Caribbeans are read as racially (i.e. phenotypically) “Asian Indian”. However, they routinely draw from ethnic cultural repertoires that are associated with Afro-Caribbean and wider “Black” culture. The perceived mismatch between Indo-Caribbeans’ “race” and their “ethnicity” renders them both illegitimate and invisible to the multiculturalist state; and prompts these communities to disidentify from Afro-West Indian co-ethnics in the political field and to perform essentialized “Indian/South Asian” identities to access recognition, resources, and influence. Drawing from these observations, I conclude that when the state’s racial regime simplistically equates “race” with “ethnicity”, and sets this equivalence as a basis for resource distribution, it precipitates crises of illegitimacy for ethno-racially ambiguous groups. To survive, ambiguous groups are incentivized to solve their illegitimacy problem by abandoning racially integrated “ethnic” attachments to instead perform to racially segregated, but officially legible “ethno-racial” type. In so doing, I show how state multiculturalist policies can exert segregating effects on racially and culturally integrated communities in the political field.
No extended abstract or paper available
Presented in Session P35. Parallels and Divergences in Race and Ethnicity