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.


Power and Politics said...

Too funny - I've seen this all too often before, and in some of my friends. At times I catch myself also trying to play the holier than thou game as well, and then I have to give myself the smackdown.

Thanks for keeping it real.

Desi Italiana said...


"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?"

Hear me roar: I completely agree with you.

I'm irritated as hell at some uppity Desi leftists. All of it is criticizing, criticizing, criticizing, and criticizing. And more criticizing. Very few have any alternatives, suggestions, or ideas to replace what we have now. And I think that some can afford to do this- they do not need to go through the daily grind of living life and earning a wage. It's very easy to keep criticizing every fucking thing around you when you are not a part of it.

"are wasting time trying to out-left everyone else in the community."

Part of me thinks that this has to do with the relatively wealthy and comfortable lifestyle that some leftist Desis have. Again, I think it is a luxury they can afford to have. When you can easily pick and choose to not "sell out," and be a part of the system.

"I'm so sick of armchair liberals."

I am sick of the language that armchair liberals use, the bad tendency to keep quoting people, and assuming that everyone knows what you are talking about because presumably, everyone else comes from a very "educated" (ie schooling) background. I read some stuff and ask myself, "Do you think they are writing to and for their grad school classmates?"

But Prashad doesn't write that like. And I too was a bit started to read what he had said:

“The fact that he’s of Indian ancestry is a subject of jubilation,”

I was curious about that. I don't see it as jubilation, but that's just me.

Not sure if I made any sense above; also, I know I've spoken a lot about socio-economic status above, but it's totally possible that I am wrong.

Rage said...

p & p: thanks for reading and writing in, and for the mention on your site. I tried to post a comment there, but not sure of what happened.

desi italiana: I definitely hear you about class privilege. I don't know if that's true for everyone, of course, but I do feel that sometimes from folks. Not that I don't have class privilege as well, but acknowledging my own keeps me in check more often than not.

I think that Prashad's quote was a wedge to get into the paper. If he didn't say "yeah, the community seems to be really happy about this" it wouldn't let him add the big "BUT" afterwards. Especially not in the mainstream Times. Just my thought on this. Thanks again for reading/writing!