I admit, I sometimes have a generalist's frustration with area studies in general, and identity politics in particular. I have the impulse to resist fragmentation, to say we have to look at the whole, at the limitations on all, the success of all, if we're to achieve real progress. I have to consciously remind myself that it rarely works that way. That it takes a focus -- sometimes a razor-sharp focus -- on the particularities of small groups, and even occasionally individuals, to reveal larger patterns and inequalities.
So that, for example, when our current surgeon general, Dr. Benjamin, calls attention to how black women's hair-care regimes often make exercise far more difficult, which contributes to their higher obesity rates and linked health concerns, that it's not necessarily helpful to say, "oh, everyone has trouble motivating to work out and looks for excuses." That's true, but is ignoring a specific additional barrier. It's not even that helpful to point out that black women's higher obesity rates may be far more tightly linked to class issues -- to food deserts in the areas where they live, for example, or a lack of time (due to working two jobs, insanely long commutes, etc.) making it difficult to cook. The class issues are valid, and should be considered as well, but they're not a reason to dismiss the point she's trying to make. Let us pay attention to the particular, the specific, the significant detail. Only through those details can a clear picture of our problems hope to emerge. And if we don't understand the problems, then we have no hope of finding the solutions.
Which, roundaboutly, is why I'm glad to see topics like our students analyzing gendered migration patterns among Indian professional workers, or social service response to racial/ethnic change, or how the U.S. is figured in S. Asian cultural production, primarily from the U.K. context. I love their focus, their specificity.
It's also why I'm glad I wrote Bodies in Motion, a book which dealt so particularly with the issues of a small group of upper-class Sri Lankan-American immigrants and their families. I hope it was...illuminating.