Indian-Americans and the Problem of Passing


As soon as Nina Davuluri, an Indian American born in New York City,  was named Miss America last Sunday, hateful posts started to appear on twitter. Within two days these had numbered to over 700.   Davuluri was castigated for being a terrorist, an Arab, a foreigner, but most of all for not being American: “Miss New York is an Indian.. With all do respect, this is America,” “Egypt dancing? This is America,” “9/11 was 4 days ago and she gets miss America?” ran some of the tweets.

The prototype of an American was Theresa Vail from Kansas, a white US army sergeant who loved hunting and, according to the tweets, “loves America.” Hints of Jessica Lynch here? The assumption obviously was that Davuluri could not love America because she was not American.

These tweets are not particularly surprising even though many recognize them as racist.  Asian Americans have always been regarded as foreigners.  The recently deceased Japanese-American historian Ronald Takaki was always fond of repeating stories about being praised by strangers for his English speaking abilities even though he was a fifth generation Japanese-American. Asian Americans, even when they can clearly be seen as second generation through marks such as speech, popular culture affiliations, and dress, are still seen as coming from somewhere else.  Hence the ubiquitous question “where are you from?” to which the satisfactory answer is never “Chicago.”

One has to wonder at the vehemence of these tweets, though, given the fact that Indian Americans have actually been elected to high office in the US.  Both Louisiana and South Carolina have governors of Indian origin–Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley respectively (although the tweeters might not know that). But in order to be successful, both have attempted to “pass.” Nikki Haley changed her name from Namrata Randhawa, converted from Sikhism to Christianity when she married her Methodist husband, checked “white” on her voter registration form in South Carolina, and routinely advertises her faith.

Bobby (Piyush) Jindal is a fervent Hindu convert to Catholicism and used his recent conversion as a major campaign pitch.  Lest he be confused with a former Hindu, Jindal abstained from a nonbinding 2007 resolution commemorating Diwali, the most important Hindu festival.

Both Haley and Jindal are, of course, the kind of minority faces Republicans like–minorities who are against minority rights but whose brown faces make the Republicans look less white.  Nikki Haley has supported an immigration bill similar to the one in Arizona.  Jindal, on the 50th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s speech. claimed the end of all racism and criticized minorities for emphasizing their heritage.  Both Haley and Jindal oppose welfare programs (which have incorrectly been racialized), abortion, same-sex marriage, and support gun rights.  Translation: they are whiter than the whitest Republicans.

Unfortunately one cannot “pass” in a beauty contest where the flesh is literally laid bare and Nina Davuluri flaunted her ethnicity by performing a Bollywood dance.  The point is not about the Miss America contest.  Beauty contests do little other than objectify and commodify women (supposed interviews and “talent” notwithstanding) and should be boycotted anyway.  But we should all be disturbed, though not surprised, by yet another slew of limited imaginings of nation.

Malini Johar Schueller is Professor of English at the University of Florida. She is the author most recently of Locating Race: Global Sites of Post-Colonial Citizenship and co-editor of Dangerous Professors: Academic Freedom and the National Security Campus.

November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate
Julian Vigo
A Brief Genealogy of Disappearance and Murder
John R. Hall
Stuck in the Middle With You
Barbara Nimri Aziz
McDonalds at 96th Street
David Rovics
At the Center of Rebellion: the Life and Music of Armand
Weekend Edition
November 20-22, 2015
Jason Hirthler
Paris and the Soldiers of the Caliphate: More War, More Blowback
Sam Husseini
The Left and Right Must Stop the Establishment’s Perpetual War Machine
Mike Whitney
Hillary’s War Whoop
Pepe Escobar
In the Fight Against ISIS, Russia Ain’t Taking No Prisoners
Ajamu Baraka
The Paris Attacks and the White Lives Matter Movement
Andrew Levine
The Clintons are Coming, the Clintons are Coming!
Linda Pentz Gunter
Let’s Call Them What They Are: Climate Liars
Paul Street
Verging on Plutocracy? Getting Real About the Unelected Dictatorship
Nur Arafeh
Strangling the Palestinian Economy
Patrick Howlett-Martin
The Paris Attacks: a Chronicle Foretold
Vijay Prashad
Rebuilding Syria With BRICS and Mortar
Brian Cloughley
Why US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is the Biggest Threat to World Peace