Friday, June 26, 2015


As for me, I’m sick and tired of people dividing Americans. And I’m done with all this talk about hyphenated Americans. We are not Indian-Americans, Irish – Americans, African– Americans, rich Americans, or poor Americans – we are all Americans.

While I’m at it, here’s another thing you aren’t allowed to say, but I’m going to say it anyway. We cannot allow people to immigrate to this country so that they can use our freedoms to undermine our freedoms. That’s exactly what has happened in Europe, where they have 2nd and 3rd generations of immigrants who refuse to embrace the values and culture of the countries they have moved into. We must not let that happen here.

It is not unreasonable to demand that if you immigrate to America, you must do so legally, and you must be ready and willing to embrace our values, learn English, and roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wednesday, 24 June, 2015
For many Indian-Americans, Governor Jindal's statement was seen as a clear attempt to repudiate his Indian heritage - to deny that Indians were "his people," as it were. This sparked a number of tweets marked by the hashtag: #BobbyJindalIsSoWhite, initiated by Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu. I, for my part, am unsurprised. One of the legacies of the United States' racial history is that many whites and non-whites alike expect a certain loyalty to one's ethnic identity. At an extreme, this can mean that rather than a person owning their identity, their identity owns them.

Most of the tweets were somewhere between repurposed ethic jokes and open mockery of the Governor. But one, that I plucked from the BBC's story on the teapot tempest, is actually a stellar example of what political satire looks like at its best.
Excellently played, sir. Excellently played.
"#BobbyJindalIsSoWhite you can't see him in this selfie."

In 32 characters after the hashtag, including spaces, Prasanto Roy managed to place his finger exactly on so many of the issues that Governor Jindal stepped into. On one level, it's an obvious play on color - the White House is, after all, white. But it's once you go past that point that the tweet really shines. Although explaining a joke tends to be considered a sign that it isn't a very good one, I would like to unpack this.

The "core voter" of the Republican party is considered to be older, living in a rural area of the nation and white. They tend to consider themselves the "default" American, the standard against which everyone should be judged and from which others are considered to be "different." In order to win a Republican primary, one has to appeal to those voters, and Governor Jindal's announcement speech can be thought of as a direct overture to them, holding them and their way of life up as the language, values and culture that everyone wanting to enter the nation should emulate. While he doesn't specifically call out White rural culture in the way, ask yourself if you could see Governor Jindal telling a crowd of Hispanic-Americans, Native Americans or inner-city African-Americans, that anyone seeking entry to the United States must embrace their values.

From the standpoint of a contender in a Republican primary contest, his statements are more or less a requirement to be taken seriously. As are the ones about how President Obama has made a mess of things, how the "big government crowd" opposes what's right and good, how the modern United States is completely color-blind (to the degree that it is only "hyphenated-Americans" who care about race, not themselves) or how Christianity created the nation.

But when November comes around, those same statements would be liabilities. It's easy to tell a subset of the populace that there are millions more just like them, hidden away somewhere, just waiting for someone willing to impose their values on the remainder of the public to come along. It's a lot harder to run a national campaign as if all you needed to do was stake out an ideological position to make enough votes to win materialize. Especially when you're running state-to-state, rather than in the nation as a whole. And so the better job that Governor Jindal does projecting his own "whiteness" to rural white Republicans in an effort to say that he's one of them, the greater the chance that he alienates the remainder of the coalition that he would need to win. And the harder it becomes to see him in the White House. While advancing to the general election demands a certain amount of "whiteness," too white, and one can't win it.

Which is perfectly encapsulated in one brilliant tweet and accompanying picture.

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