Bobby Jindal has a unique problem. He wants to be white. But because a full skin transplant is not a possibility, Jindal, the Indian-origin governor of the American state of Louisiana, has gone to great lengths to attain honorary white status. This he has achieved by becoming a born-again Christian and embracing even more radical views than the Republican Party.
However, as a brown convert in the lilywhite party, Jindal feels he has to constantly reaffirm his hard-won status. This he does by bad mouthing black and brown people, which no doubt reassures his Bible Belt voters and party bosses that they made the right choice in picking him.
On 25 August, in an op-ed published by Politico magazine — ironically to mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech — Jindal lashed out at minorities, blaming them for racism in the US.
“We still place far too much emphasis on our ‘separateness,’ our heritage, ethnic background, skin colour, etc,” Jindal writes. “We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Indian-Americans, and Native Americans, to name just a few. Here’s an idea: How about just ‘Americans’? That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our ‘separateness’ is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot. There is nothing wrong with people being proud of their different heritages. We have a long tradition of folks from all different backgrounds incorporating their traditions into the American experience, but we must resist the politically correct trend of changing the melting pot into a salad bowl.”
First up, Jindal’s masterpiece is deeply insulting to non-whites because instead of talking about the racism of his own party, he is laying the blame at those facing racism. For, racists will not stop being racists if non-whites start acting white; racists hate non-whites for the colour of their skin.
You have to understand where Jindal is coming from. At first glance, the governor seems like any other high-achieving Indian-American. But look closer and you will realise he is different.
Here is a quick quiz. If your mother is a nuclear physicist, your father a civil engineer, and you have a biology degree from Brown University, then what are the chances of you becoming a card-carrying creationist? Answer: smaller than small.
But if you are Bobby Jindal, then the equation changes. A better insight into his personality can be got from observing how he views his own ethnicity, what he feels about his parents’ liberal Indian culture, and his country of origin, and his obsessive desire to be accepted as a white American in the Republican Party.
Flashback to March 2008. A series of deaths of Indian medical and engineering students culminated in the murders of two Indian PhD scholars at Louisiana State University.
In the aftermath of the university attacks, repeated calls were placed to the newly elected governor by Indians demanding a thorough probe. But strangely Jindal, who had campaigned on a platform to crack down on crime, did nothing. Finally, after nearly a week of silence, he released a tepid statement through a secretary, expressing his condolences and confidence in local law enforcement in bringing the culprits to justice.
What was his problem? According to Jindal camp insiders, the governor didn’t want to make a direct statement about the murdered students — let alone visit the campus — because he did not want to risk being tarred by the minority brush.
Minorities? The murder victims were not green card grabbers; they were students, and one of them was a doctor who had plans to build a hospital back home after his training at the university.
But then Jindal has a consistent record of airbrushing anything that clashes with the image he wants to project to the white Republican voter base.
Take the July 2009 interview with Morley Safer of 60 Minutes on CBS, where both Jindal and his wife Supriya gloss over their ethnicity. Safer asks if their family maintains any of the Indian traditions, and the Jindals look at each other as if they have been asked if they are hiding illegal immigrants in their basement.
Supriya tells Safer: “Not too many.”
“No, they’ve been here for so many years that…,” pipes in Jindal.
“We’ve sort of adapted. And we were raised as Americans, you know? We were raised as Louisianans. So, that’s how we live our lives,” Supriya says.
Safer voices over: “This oyster and crawfish-eating Louisianan tends to downplay his ethnic background.”
The editor of The Times-Picayune, Jim Amoss, tells Safer: “When we sent a reporter and photographer to India to write about his family and their origins, the Jindal family was very queasy about that undertaking.”
In contrast, the US president calls himself Barack rather than Barry and openly talks about his Kenyan roots. Also, despite being the president of a country built largely by British immigrants, Obama doesn’t hide his dislike of the British for mass murder and torture of freedom fighters in Kenya. He also got rid of a bust of Winston Churchill kept in the Oval Office since the 1950s.
Jindal’s disingenuousness drags on. Asked if he felt any racial tension growing up in Louisiana, Jindal tells Safer, “Not at all. You know, this has been a great place to grow up. The great thing about the people of Louisiana is they accept you based on who you are.”
Who is he fooling? As Safer says, “That’s quite a declaration in a state that not so long ago gave former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke nearly 40 percent of the vote. But that sunny, ‘Leave it to Beaver’ optimism is classic Bobby Jindal, a man so determined to be true blue American, he changed his name.”
This sets up another Jindalism.
Safer asks him if he was born “Paiyoosh”. Jindal (born Piyush) answers in the affirmative with a straight face, not bothering to correct the CBS journalist that the right way to pronounce his former name is Peeyoosh.
But from where Jindal comes from, that would be like signing his death warrant. He wants Safer to quickly move away from his ethnicity; he doesn’t venture into that territory any longer.
And that’s typical Jindal. His jettisoning of his liberal Hindu ethos and conversion to the Christianity of redneck America at a young age is a clear sign of a person who thinks far ahead and thinks with cold logic.
Culture critic and opinion writer Jimi Izrael feels Jindal isn’t an Indian-American who just wants to be seen as an American; Jindal is an Indian-American who wants to be white. “Embracing difference makes white folks nervous: any brown person who aspires to assimilating will get high marks. He channels a certain brand of sincere self-loathing heretofore only seen in golf caddies and Larry Elder,” he says. (Larry Elder is a black guy who trashes black guys and thinks he’s white. He is the author of the book Stupid Black Men.)
Seeing a weak field in the upcoming Republican primaries, Jindal has got his hopes up. “I’m certainly thinking about 2016,” he told Fox 17 this month. “I’ll be honest, I’m praying about it.”
Some Republicans see Jindal as their Great Beige Hope. Arch-racist and rightwing talk show host Rush Limbaugh is so enamoured of him that he calls Jindal the next Ronald Reagan.
For once in his life, Limbaugh is right. Like Reagan, Jindal is a highly polarising figure, an opportunist who appeals to baser American instincts. Despite coming from an Ivy League family, he wants creationism taught in schools and stop stem cell research. In short, he would be a shoo-in at the Flat Earth Society.
In a bid to appear tough, Jindal has attacked Obama on several occasions. The latest salvo was a letter published in the Monroe Morning Star in which he openly advocates murdering more people in West Asia: “In World War II we did not win the future by building, we won it by destroying. Uncomfortable or not, that is the truth. The murderous fools who cut the heads off of Americans must be destroyed, and sent to their reward, such as it is, in the next life.”
Let’s hope the words “president Jindal” are never used together.
(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own)