Oct 28, 2007

Why Bobby Jindal is not a "sell-out"

It's been more than a week since Bobby J got elected. Trying to get over it, really I am. But there's a lot to write about, when you take a look at what the headlines have focused on. I wanted to just do a little media/response analysis here, with the umbrella statement that I am most interested in trying to get the word out about Bobby Jindal, because I'm really feeling that people are kinda not feeling the depth of his controversial views and stances.

Anyway, beyond that, there are two very different and yet oddly parallel narratives forming around the Jindal ascendancy (wow - this could be the new series to take over where Bourne left off... the Jindal Fallacy, the Jindal Necromancy, whatever...). I just want to touch on them here.

1) Jindal as "not Indian enough" by first generation desis and Indians in India. I've been seeing a surprising number of stories that actually talk about how there's a muted response in some sections of the global Indian community about Jindal, because he's "not Indian enough." Some of this has directly addressed his conversion to Catholicism (taking on that Hindutva insinuation that you're only Indian if you're Hindu), his name change, the fact that he doesn't visit India enough or has kept his ties to the Indian community private. I may not agree with the man on much, but I see this thread of questioning his "Indianness" very distracting and wrong-minded. His faith, his name, and how he chooses to talk about these things are his business (unless they start to interfere in his governing). But it's troubling - it's the "race sell-out" angle, and while I can understand papers in India covering it this way, the local press has also picked up on it. And it's distracting from his actual ideological stances.

2) Jindal as "sell-out" by second generation desis. I've also heard from a number of second generation desis who actually know that Jindal's record is problematic, that he is a "sell-out." I have a problem with this characterization too. To me, a "sell-out" is someone who's strayed from the path of being community-conscious, in pursuit of money, power, or some other status. But that could be any one of us, at any given time in our lives. While I guess you can make that generalization about Bobby J, it masks the much more sinister and important ideological extremism of Bobby J, and again, sets up the question of who is an "authentic" South Asian American. For example, to call Justice Clarence Thomas a sell-out may not be inaccurate, but it sets up the same linear race-based analysis that you get from the people jubilating for his (or Jindal's) rise. That's not deep enough. And it comes off as judgmental without the power of the deeper analysis.

Much more to come. And to think, the dude hasn't even started yet...

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Oct 25, 2007

The Desi "Left"

Dear DotBS readers - thanks for your patience as it's taken me a while to get back into the swing of things. I can't promise that I'll be posting regularly here on in, but this Bobby J bullshit has me angry on a lot of fronts. I wrote briefly about the desi right/"ethnic pride" contingent last post, but I'm also really pissed off at the so-called desi left. I've read some chatter that seems to think that the way to go for community organizations in reacting to the Bobby J election is to just reject his election outright and make out a laundry list of issues with him. While I think that's appropriate for individuals (but where the fuck were you at when the bastard was running?!), I don't know if it's the best use of organizations that can reach the movable middle. I can't believe that yet again, we're back to this issue, which I touched upon here more than a year ago.

A lot of these people on the so-called left tend to be unaffiliated (or loosely affiliated with the white left or a loose band of disgruntled and disaffected desi radicals) and fairly green in strategic work to build broader movement than their four vegan friends talking Marx while not listening to M.I.A. on their new iPods. There's a conversation unfolding on ASATA (Alliance of South Asians Taking Action) list serv in the Bay Area, where people are conflating all of the responses out there with the idiotic release by APIA VOTE and some of the other crazies I mentioned above. A few individuals, who have likely never actually run an organization, and probably don't even know how to build consensus with people that display any variation in their political beliefs, wouldn't know how to reach out to people who look at the Jindal election as just another example of achievement if it people were reaching out with open arms.

Ever curious why this small group of people is surly, unhappy, and usually spending more time complaining about how folks are not left enough than building bridges and building movement? I don't know about you, but I doubt that Rinku Sen, Vijay Prashad, Bhairavi Desai, and a bunch of the other folks they look up to and idolize are wasting time trying to out-left everyone else in the community. And I'm sure there's more strategic value in having groups that actually have some ability to reach that movable middle put out statements that actually urge them to think a little and do some research so that they come to agree with us. But no - the so-called desi left (or should I say, self-proclaimed) remains a fringe, disorganized clique that isn't connected to movement building in any substantive way.

Yo, brothers and sisters, READ CAREFULLY. Think about strategy - preaching to the converted will not build our movement. If you're so concerned about the community's right-leaning tendencies, especially given the conservative tendencies of people who rapidly accumulate wealth, then think about how we can reach and educate those people - or do you just think it's not worth it? Do you just think that you're better than "those people" because your politics are so bulletproof? That's BULLSHIT.

At the same time, I don't see this kind of reaction to desi left's patron saint, Vijay Prashad's muted statement in the NY Times:

“The fact that he’s of Indian ancestry is a subject of jubilation,” said Vijay Prashad, professor of South Asian history at Trinity College in Hartford, speaking of the way Mr. Jindal has been portrayed in the Indian-American press. “But there’s a very shallow appreciation of who he really is. Once you scratch the surface, it’s really unpleasant.” NY Times, October 22, 2007, A Son of Immigrants Rises in a Southern State, [link for now].
Why is it that people feel inclined to shoot down our own groups as "not progressive enough" when they aren't willing or able to provide any compelling alternative that will actually appeal to more than 3 people? Don't they see that they are just doing the same thing that these groups get hit by from the far right? What difference do they bring - and what legitimacy do they have? I'm so sick of armchair liberals. They're not interested in real change, just trying to justify why they are taking up space.

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Oct 24, 2007

Bobby J, Pt II

Okay - so my initial post on Bobby J was a little snarky. To be honest, it's unnecessary. The man is so far out of the political mainstream, so anti-the common man, so deeply entrenched in the farthest right bank, that all we have to do is look at his policies and statements and say "what?!"

But today's anger is with the response from the community. As usual, there's a lot of congratulations, and "historics" being thrown around. While the uncle set will get me pissed off, it's the people who should know better that are really getting me pissed off. Here's one example: APIA Vote. A non-profit, non-partisan group committed to increasing civic participation for Asian American and Pacific Islander populations (i.e. voting). That's good enough. But for some reason, these groups equate "non-partisan" (at least on its face) as meaning that they should put out a statement congratulating electeds no matter how crazy or anti-community interests they are.

Here's their statement. It's ridiculous.

So how does that make you feel? Of course, I don't get it. And I wish people would email and ask them what they're thinking to congratulate this guy? Oh, and while you're at it, check out the statements from USINPAC (and you know how much I love those desi PACs) and NFIA (National Federation of Indian American Associations - the largest umbrella you never heard of).

Contact these people and tell them what you think:

APIA Vote: info@apiavote.org
NFIA: info@nfia.net
USINPAC: info@usinpac.com; 202-628-3451

I did - I wrote a letter to NFIA yesterday and emailed it to them, and I'll be sending a letter to USINPAC today. I'll post it up, along with any (unlikely) dialogue that comes from it.  Interestingly, I can't find either's statement on their websites, so I'll paste the NFIA's statement below (remember, they are the folks who sent a note out in their disappointment that Modi was denied a Visa in 2006).

The National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA), the largest umbrella organization comprising of more than 200 different groups representing more than 2.5 million Americans of Indian origin takes great pride in the victory of Bobby Jindal in the elections last night for the Governor of Louisiana. Jindal will be the first person of Indian descent to become the Governor of a US State and, at age 36, will be the youngest Governor in the nation. NFIA sent last night it's heartfelt Congratulations to Jindal for this splendid success in the electoral process. Jindal won the contest by more than 54% of the votes cast and thus avoiding any run off election.

The NFIA and Jindal have had close and cordial relations for the past many years The NFIA held a reception at its Board meeting in New Orleans in 2003 under the presidency of Niraj Baxi. The organization has since then supported the candidacy of Jindal in every election. Four years ago, he ran for the office of Governor and lost by 2% votes. He then contested for the US Congress in 2004 and became only the second person of Indian origin to sit in the House of Representatives. In 1956, Dalip Singh Saund, an Indian born person, was elected to the House from California. Both Saund and Jindal have roots in the State of Punjab, India.


Reflecting the views of all officers of the NFIA a spokesman of the organization summed up in this way, "it is agreat moment in the history of America when some one who looks like us becomes the Governor of Louisiana. We should all be dancing in the streets to display our pride."

Rajen Anand, Chair, NFIA Foundation
Radha Krishnan, President NFIA

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Oct 23, 2007

Here's the Story, of a Boy Named Bobby...

I haven't even read the millions of posts and comments on the Jindal victory in Louisiana. I'm just thinking a few quick things:

1) I'm not proud of him or his election. He represents most of what I fight against, and I don't think putting a hard right ideology in a brown skin makes the ideology shine any brighter. This is a perfect example of the failure of solely race-based identity and organizing to take the most important things into account, like politics, values alignment, and sharing anything more than a vague concept of "we come from the same place." So what - technically, I come from the same place as all the crazy KKK nuts all over this country. Does that make me get excited, and see them as my "brethren in the great happy family that is America"? No freakin' way.

2) This is not envy: it's just calling out people who equate "first" with some kind of breakthrough. Who cares if the first brown person to be elected as a state executive has completely different politics, at least he's brown? Fuck no. That's not the way I'm going to just let people who "look like me" get a free pass when I'm critical of everyone else. He's got to answer the same questions, and because he calls the immigrant card when he feels like it, he's going to have to answer some more difficult questions, like why does he seem to have minute policy variation from most every far right politician in the nation: what is he trying to prove? And can Indians, specifically, who are so proud of their scientific acumen, really take a guy who's pushing "intelligent design" as a legitimate field of science for schools, all that seriously? Well, they filled his war chest with $11 million (though I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of that money came from the RNC/Christian Right. It would be really interesting to see where his money came from, actually. who is Bobby J accountable to?).

3) NOLA is in deep shit. This guy is not going to be very community-minded when it comes to Gulf Coast recovery. I'm scared to think of what's going to happen before something slows him down.

4) Being an executive is a lot harder than the other jobs he's had. Not to say the man isn't capable (of suitable corruption), but I don't know if he fully appreciates what he's going to have on his hands, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to everything, including the intense scrutiny he is likely to be under from all sides of the political and racial spectrum. Being an Indian American governor of a state where they know what you are may be different from a place like the Deep South. We'll have to see.

5) Ultra-tools USINPAC decided to put out a press release to support Bobby J. Choice quote:
The U.S. India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) has proudly supported the political career of the Governor-elect, and we are excited about what Mr. Jindal looks to achieve in the near future. USINPAC and the 2.5 million strong Indian-Americans nationwide celebrate this historic event along with the people of the state of Louisiana.
6) As usual, vapid and unoriginal "cultural" commentators are trying to take some pride in this election. I'm not going to post a link here. Y'all know what fools I'm talking about. Hell, as usual, I didn't even read that BS.

7) Is it just me, or does Bobby J really look like Alfred E. Newman?

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Oct 20, 2007

I am conscious of the passing of time, and yet it doesn't seem to bother me as much as it once did.  Lot of time's past, lot of things are the same.  Getting mighty frustrated with the desi American arts scene right now.  Maybe because the underground artists are so underground that I don't know about that at all?  It's possible - there's this whole groundswell of Fil-Am emcees who've been storming the studio for a while now, perhaps the same is true for the other brown cats?  Hard to tell though.  Maybe it's just me.  Or maybe our peeps are getting too far from the roots that they need to tap into.

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