Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Looks promising, but not there yet

I watched President Obama's economic address to Congress/the Nation and Governor Bobby Jindal's rebuttal on behalf of the GOP. And I just want to talk about the picture--the appearance--of what it was like watching the proceedings. And I have to say, the picture looks a lot different than it did 20, 16, 12, 8, and even 4 years ago.

I'm not just talking about the high profile image of two men of color representing the two major political parties in the U.S. on national television. I'm also talking about the image of Nancy Pelosi standing alongside Joe Biden right behind Barack Obama. And I'm talking about the members of Obama's cabinet who entered the chamber with him--you can see a picture of them by clicking here (although you should note that Katherine Sebelius, Kansas governor, and Gary Locke, former governor of Washington state, are being considered, respectively, for the positions of Health and Human Services and Commerce--and neither of them are white men, something that definitely shakes up the status quo, especially in thinking about what the cabinet would have looked like in the early 1980s or 1970s).

So this all looks really promising. More women (definitely something LONG overdue) in positions of power and influence. More people of color. Slowly, the government is starting to "look" like the people it is supposed to represent.

Yet in probing through the comment threads of lefty-liberal blogs like The Huffington Post, it is disturbing to read racially disparaging and racially charged comments about Bobby Jindal's rebuttal to Obama's speech.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not a fan of Governor Jindal. In terms of his politics and policies, I regard him as I do many in the GOP--not someone whose values I share. And certainly his speech, panned by pundits of both parties, left much to be desired and could easily be thrashed on its merits (or demerits) alone.

Yet I have been disturbed by some comments I've come across in the blogosphere. Particularly the comment thread to this blog post by Glen Thrush that details Jindal's reference to his friend (and noted race baiting lawman) Sheriff Lee. These comments mock Jindal's ethnicity and race. In fact the very first one suggests that Jindal give up his current position as governor to return to the "quickie mart" and there are many comments that reference "Slumdog Millionaire" and equate Jindal to a "wannabe redneck."

Really? We're going THERE??? We're going to thrash Jindal by stereotyping him and devolving into racist caricatures? Seriously people! I mean, I have no idea who these commenters are, but I bet that they are both people who lean left and right, who vote Democrat as well as Republican. And all I can think is, we're really not there yet. I mean, I didn't need to read those comments to think that, but SERIOUSLY, Jindal's speech left much to be desired if you are a left leaning Democrat. Trash his words as much as you like, but to somehow disparage his ethnicity and race? That isn't helping anyone. As one commenter on that same comment thread noted, disturbed by the racist tone of some of the comments, "If you are a Democrat you are supposed to be above that. If you are a Republican, this is your own guy." And if you are a person with critical thinking capacities, you should realize that it's just plain WRONG to mock someone's ethnicity/race. Kids learn this in the first grade. Maybe we need to all go back to school and learn some manners.


Cipher said...

Dear Blogger,

You always have such a judicious reaction in your posts. I totally agree re: problematic responses to Jindal. At the same time, I wondered, what are your thoughts about this Jindal being an Asian American? It seems particularly "in keeping" with the neo-con approach to the model minority to have this guy propped up as the great hope for the Republican party. I fear for Asian American Studies yet again.


Jennifer said...

Dear Cipher,
Ah, my friend, I appreciate the "judicious" remark--especially because even though this is definitely not my day job (ie: as in I am not trying to teach to a group of undergraduate students) I do want to create an open atmosphere of dialogue where multiple voices and perspectives are heard.

Now, having said that, if I am allowed to be snarky, which is how I'm interpreting your query as to what my thoughts are about Jindal being Asian American, I'd say, yes, he is an Asian American in terms of the racial box he checks off on census forms (although I know some people think of South Asian Americans being in a different category from Asian Americans--none-the-less, from South Asia to East Asia we all mark the same box, although perhaps that will change in 2010), anyway, although both Jindal and I are going to check off the same box on a census form, from the perspective of Asian American studies--the epistemological values that Jindal holds/represents? No, I don't count him as being in the same tradition or trajectory of the field of Asian American studies--as in the kind of anti-racist/anti-oppression/ally kind of work that the movement and field was founded upon.

Yes, Jindal like that other guy who is now head of the GOP, gets to be the "brown" guy that the Republican party trots out to say "see, we don't have a problem with non-white people--we have some in our own camp--see, this proves that racism is a thing of the past!" no matter how many Michelle Malkins or Dinesh D'souza's you have in the Neo-Con world assuring white Republicans that everything is just hunky dory with them--there is no racism or sexism or homophobia (because there aren't any "real" homosexuals, just misguided folk who need to be "cured") it doesn't mean that these people speak for me. No one single person can speak for an entire race--but particularly for the folks of color who let their message be co-opted by the Republican party, I think that the most generous thing I can say about this crew is that they do believe, like Clarence Thomas, that racism is over and they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and thus so can every other American. What I like to also think is that they are also victims of conservative thinking/ideology which makes them believe in an equitable society because THEY made it, but they somehow lack the awareness and full scope for them to connect the dots to systemic racism and privilege and prejudice.

Long winded answer, I know, but in short, yes Jindal is Asian American, but just because he is doesn't mean I want him sitting with me at the cafeteria table.