Friday, February 27, 2009

Why put Jindal and Slumdog together?

After President Obama's address to Congress and the GOP response to the speech given by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, The Progressive ran a story by Amitabh Pal criticizing commentators who associated the right-wing politician, an Indian American, with the Academy Award winning movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” which takes place in the financial and cultural capital of India -- Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay)

‘Slumdog’ associations with Bobby Jindal uncalled for:

Pal makes the point that some of the recent comments on Air America and progressive-oriented blogs made him uneasy because they took pot shots at Jindal’s Indian background using the award-winning movie as cover.

The author makes a good point.

Critics of Jindal, of which there are many and for good reasons, should focus more on the substance of his speech than his style or Indian background. Bobby Jindal’s cynical anti-worker politics:

The “Slumdog” associations (and even to a certain extent the “30 Rock” Kenneth the Page Southern comparisons) are problematic because there is no political content to the criticism, leaving the progressive movement open to a well-deserved charge of chauvinism or racism towards Indian people.

Did anyone compare George W. Bush to Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Sweeney Todd? Don’t Bush’s ancestors come from England?

You see where I’m going with this? I’m all for poking fun at Republicans and other deserving targets based on the ridiculousness of their politics or their nonsensical comments, cynicism and opportunism.

Sometimes, though, that will cross into territory that we should reflect on: is it funny or ignorant?

I really think that most such comments come out of ignorance. Face it. Unless you are South Asian, most Americans don’t know much about the region (that includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and others) or the experience of South Asians in America. Even if you’ve seen all of Mira Nair’s films, or read all of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novels and short stories, or heard Vijay Prashad’s lectures, you may be somewhat knowledgeable, but as with any people there is depth and complexity.

The South Asian community is a growing political force in the U.S. and makes a contribution to pro-working class, progressive politics in the country. Remember it was an Indian American campaign worker for Sen. Jim Webb’s Senate race who was insulted and slandered by Webb’s opponent, Republican George Allen, with the now infamous “macaca” slur, which exposed Allen’s racism and turned around that race in Virginia.

There are South Asian activists in the labor movement, immigrant rights and numerous other struggles. Indian workers in Mississippi brought international attention to the horrendous conditions of “guest workers” in this country.

There are South Asian intellectuals and artists who are making contributions to these struggles for democracy and helping to continually renew and add to the American experience. Like the musicians Kinsmen who are trying to bring South Asian music traditions together with the very

American art form of jazz. Rudresh Mahanthappa -- South Asian Jazz:

South Asians in the U.S. are a very diverse community representing at least seven home countries and numerous languages, political trends and religions.

So there are Indian Americans who support extreme right-wing policies (Hindu nationalist policies) in India and right-wing policies in the U.S. How Jindal spins his Indian immigrant roots (“Americans can do anything”) is certainly open for critique. But people shouldn’t turn criticism of his reactionary spin into a stereotype of a whole group of people.

Also India and the region shouldn’t be reduced to one Oscar-winning film. “Slumdog Millionaire” portrayed one story that has some resonance for many people. But we are also talking about a country that has over 1 billion people.

So it’s just one story. India has a huge movie industry itself – one that rivals Hollywood and commands a huge market.

India is a 2,500-plus-year-old civilization, and it had a revolutionary freedom struggle against colonialism.

The country has at least 17 official languages and a population that is as diverse in looks as Americans.

It’s a secular democracy with Hindus in the majority but a large Muslim minority along with Christians, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Buddhists and atheists.

It’s got a robust media and newspaper industry.

Three of the 28 states of India are governed by communists and left parties. (To put it in perspective, that’s like saying the governors of California, Rhode Island and Georgia are communists and the left has the majority in the state legislatures.)

The list could go on and on. In other words, one movie, book or politician does not make a whole people. In this age of “globalization,” solidarity between workers and people of India and workers and people of the United States for mutual interests like peace and sustainable development is something that has to be consciously built.

So let’s take on the substance of Jindal’s speech and quit trying to be au courant or cutesie with the other comparisons. This movement is so much better than that.

Digg Technorati Stumbleupon Reddit Yahoo
blog comments powered by Disqus