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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