I grew up partly in India-Pakistan. I studied genocide in college because of the Hindu-Muslim conflict, both the Partition but also things like the Ayodha mosque, which was always the backdrop to talking with my older aunties and uncles.
Which is both why I’m the kind of pessimist I am—a childhood full of colonialism, caste, watching the gulf between opulence and poverty, alongside people in developed countries telling me it was simply natural that the people who were still being exploited as cheap labor in international markets were just trapped by some force that wasn’t “the British destroyed this region’s wealth and stability and now we pay them as little as possible,” as though it’s a mystery…
…but also why I specifically reject the idea that this kind of violence can be generalized as “this is continuous with the past and thus understandable.”
Remembering is an active process. The past isn’t materially real anymore: to anybody who didn’t live it, it’s just a narrative. When someone comes along and tells a story about the past to explain the present, they curate the past. When someone curates the past to create strong (but shallow) emotions about an aspect of the past, that’s a choice made in the present. When listeners incorporate that strong emotion into their worldview, as a source of understanding of why they’re in pain and who they should be mad at, that’s a choice made in the present.
And I don’t think it should be ignored that it is people with more power, be that just wealth or social/political/cultural capital, generally have the ability to dictate the terms of narratives, and I don’t think it should be ignored that most people are ignorant of the processes of culture and are naive consumers of what is laid down by authority figures.
And it isn’t just about “belonging.” It’s about how people don’t know how to fix their lives or deal with confusion, and seek out answers for themselves, inside themselves. Group membership is about believing a set of answers, about an internal feeling of ease that informs your choices because agreement is a source of verismilitude (or rump validity)…so when someone comes along and says “the new answer to the question is…hate those fuckers over there,” group membership is the medium of transmission but not the malady.