Tag Archives: National Public Radio

Just asking: why extol Indian-American politicians who are “all-American?”

I’m just asking…about a topic disparate from movies.

…About the celebrated assent of South-Asian American politicians and political actors in the U.S.

When on October 27th National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” aired a piece, “South-Asian Americans Discover Political Clout,” about this grand success, they celebrated just how “all-American” Bobby Gindal, Nicky Haley and other hyphenated American politicians of color are.  When I heard the commentary by Sandip Roy, I noticed that it held at its core the splendor that it is to be all-American.  He praised just how often South-Asian Americans show that they fit in with almost anyone – they’ve assimilated themselves.  Particularly Indian-Americans.

That’s when my ears pricked up.  It reminded me of CBS News’ 60-Minutes recent profile of Mr. Gindal.

His disinterest and disconnection to his Indian heritage was made explicit.  What about politicians of color having and proudly walking with a strong sense of identity?  (I should be able to point to a beacon different from President Barack Obama)  I just begged myself for an answer that I didn’t have: “why are they celebrating this…’all-American’?!”

The problem: that euphemism “all-American” has been a well-known code of bias for more than two generations – just ask a progressive-thinking HR person.  Job ads routinely used to declare a company’s desire for someone all-American; that connotes someone who is either Anglo (or white for y’all who insist on describing folks by their color), or is easily assimilable, if not both.

Depending on just how provincial or conservative a workplace is, and whether it was nestled in a metropolis or far from one, the amount of brown, black and beige folks included could be slim.  It might also omit very talented and ambitious – seemingly “less-American” – folks.

This subtle, scary attitude harkens to a line from Elizabeth St. Philip’s  splendid short documentary, The Colour of Beauty, about the want, in America, for models of color.  It harkens specifically to what a New York-based agent who said: the folks with whom he strives to book his models want “a white girl painted black.”  In other words, no features of “an other.”

That the best known South-Asian American politicians’ lack a strong sense of ethnic identity puts me off.  Readers won’t like this: “all-American” smacks of the world that Michelle Obama knew before she blurted out “for the first time in my adult lifetime I’m really proud of my country.”  I sympathized with, and in several ways, rejoiced in her enthusiastic candor.

I’m peculiar.  I know very well (too well) how very hung up America’s majority is on sticking with those people who resemble them.  Most Americans remain xenophobes, rarely challenging themselves to approach those other people whom they don’t understand or are barely familar with.

Nothing against the rise of our South-Asian brethren, but oughtn’t we prefer that those who walk with a strong sense of ethnic heritage over those whose only remarkable difference from their Anglo opponents is their pigment?

So, do many people think that having easily assimilable people of color will help our society?  Having them within the mix is fine, but I worry about youngsters of color who revere public figures who resemble them, but who only do so skin deep.  This, without being able to talk to those youngsters about a minority’s dual consciousnesses, or about many nuances of their backgrounds.  I’d be a terrible politician: I prefer candor (Well, tactful candor.)

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