Twitter ‘White’-Washes Bobby Jindal As He Announces His Bid For American Presidency

Posted on June 26, 2015 in GlobeScope, Politics

By Nikhil Umesh

On Wednesday, Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal announced that he would be seeking the United States presidency. Jindal is the first Indian American to seek a spot in the Oval Office.

Bobby_Jindal

His announcement came via Twitter and, unsurprisingly, Indian Americans and Asian Americans took to the social media platform to vent critique, embarrassment, disdain, and even pride.

Though, Jindal should not go without blame in inciting the Twitter mockery, since he launched his campaign calling for a uniform American identity not beholden to differences in race, ethnicity or class. To add fuel to the fire, Indians online did not gel well with the anti-immigrant sentiments espoused in his announcement speech. He stated authorization to enter the United States is incumbent on being “ready and willing to embrace our values, learn English, and roll up your sleeves and get to work.” 

With little haste, the hashtag #BobbyJindalisSoWhite began trending, coined by comedian Hari Kondabolu.

The BBC reports that the hashtag also trended in India, where it was among the top hashtags on Wednesday.

Many Indians aren’t particularly pleased with him, pointing to a man who has tried too hard to assimilate into mainstream American culture and, in the process, forsaken his heritage.

Jindal is the child of first generation Indian immigrants from Punjab. His birth name is Piyush, but since childhood has gone by “Bobby” due to an affinity for the character Bobby Brady on the sitcom The Brady Bunch. Although raised in a Hindu household, he converted to Catholicism during his high school years. And prior to ascending to the governorship or being a presidential hopeful, he studied at an Ivy League university and pursued graduate studies as a Rhodes Scholar.

Jindal’s narrative needs to be complicated with a deeper racial analysis, rather than a simplistic tale of assimilation. Because as a friend recently pointed out to me: Should we really be calling him “white” just because he doesn’t fit some idealized or stereotypical version of an Indian?

In addition to the seeming eschewing of his Indian heritage, critics are deploying the word “white” to also illuminate his political track record. Indians in high office like Piyush “Bobby” Jindal and Nimrata “Nikki” Haley, South Carolina’s Governor, are referred to as “white” not only because of their Americanized nicknames, but also because they subscribe to ideologies and policies that acutely harm black, brown, and working class communities.

Even in his own party, Jindal’s on the far right. The construction of a physical barrier on the U.S. and Mexico border, a halt to same-sex marriage, and massive tax cuts are the bread and butter of his political platform.

The fact that he’s Christian is not so much a departure from the ideal Indian, because there are over 24 million according to India’s most recent census. Christianity is India’s third largest religion. But given his political context as a Republican and the party’s hardline stances on faith, Jindal’s Christianity needs to be considered within a rubric of greater nuance.

His family’s immigration success story and conversion in faith, compounded by his party affiliation, unfortunately, play into Indian Americans being stereotyped as the “model minority.” Jindal’s educational and political success would signal that the United States is a post-racial meritocracy where race is not an impediment to social mobility. To the detriment of black Americans in particular, Mr. Jindal supports these views.

In many ways, white supremacy and anti-Black racism rely on actors from different races to fabricate a narrative of post-racialism and colorblind meritocracy, meaning that Bobby Jindal is a pawn to a more grand political regime.

Still, given the Twitter tirade of the past few days, the Indian American community shows little sign of slowing its criticism of Jindal or his policies. Folks aren’t content with right-wingers championing as the face of Indian America and are demanding better.

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