Friday, July 2, 2010

There Goes the Neighborhood

In case you missed it, this article by Joel Stein in Time magazine, called "My Own Private India", has pissed off many Indian-Americans. Here's an excerpt:
"For a while, we assumed all Indians were geniuses. Then, in the 1980s, the doctors and engineers brought over their merchant cousins, and we were no longer so sure about the genius thing. In the 1990s, the not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor.

Eventually, there were enough Indians in Edison to change the culture. At which point my townsfolk started calling the new Edisonians "dot heads." One kid I knew in high school drove down an Indian-dense street yelling for its residents to "go home to India." In retrospect, I question just how good our schools were if "dot heads" was the best racist insult we could come up with for a group of people whose gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose."
Lovely, no? In response to some of the outrage, Mr. Stein had this to say on his Facebook page: "Didn't mean to insult Indians with my column this week. Also stupidly assumed their emails would follow that Gandhi non-violence thing."

Can we squeeze any more stereotypes in there? Way to satire, Mr. Stein! Clearly, Indian-Americans were not the target readership for this essay. Perhaps he thought PoC don't read?

Sandip Roy wrote a great response in the Huffington Post. Here's an excerpt from that:
"Dotbusters, for those who missed the 80s, were street gangs who attacked South Asians in places like Jersey City where many immigrants had moved . . . One of those immigrants, Navroze Mody, died after being bashed with bricks. Another, Kaushal Saran, a doctor, was beaten and left unconscious on a busy street corner. Homes were robbed. Women were harassed. [...]

The problem was the smart ones brought in their less smart cousins ("merchants") and the merchants brought in "their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor." This is immigration reform in a nutshell. Give us your engineers, but not your cabbies and Dunkin Donut-wallas. Except those cabbies and 7/11 owners and motel proprietors work damn hard for their little piece of the American dream.

I think in a way the Indian community is also so obsessed with its presidential scholars and spelling bee champs, with its Indra Nooyis (Pepsico head) and Dr. Sanjay Guptas, it gives short shrift to the little guys, the ones that run gas stations on baking highways in the middle of nowhere, take classes during the day and work graveyard shift at the 7/11. They are the muscle and sinew of our community. But to Joel Stein, they are just so much litter strewn all over his old hometown. That's his problem -- too many Indians."
Satire is only good when it is funny. Stein's essay may be funny to folks in support of bills like Arizona's SB 1070 (also known as the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act"), but it's not funny for most Indian-Americans and other immigrants, particularly those who've been on the receiving end of name-calling, harassment, bullying, or violence stemming from views much like the ones expressed in Stein's piece. He may chuckle over his own wit, but there are some who will take essays like this as evidence to bolster an already simmering rage over the "brown hordes flooding" America's borders. Stories are powerful, indeed.


MissA said...

It was so offensive that I couldnt' believe he was serious. It didn't read like satire and I'm baffled that Time would publish such a thing. Compeltely agree that the only people who will like tat column/find it funny are those who support SB 1070

Anonymous said...

Joel *Stein*, not Joel Klein

Neesha Meminger said...

Eek. Edited to reflect that; thanks, Anon. I had it right in ONE sentence, then screwed it up all the rest of the way. *headthunk*

Anonymous said...

I commend you for being able to compose a rational response to that mess. In your opening, you said he's pissed off many Indian Americans. Probably more than Indian Americans were offended with this!

Doret said...

That was not satire.

Liz B said...

Edison NJ is not far from Old Bridge, NJ.

A few days ago, a group of 17 year olds attacked and beat Divyendu Sinha. Dr. Sinha died from his injuries; his two sons were also attacked, but their injuries were minor. Sinha's wife was there and "unharmed." (I put it in quotes because she watched her sons and husband beaten, how can one be "unharmed" by that?)

It is appalling that Stein does not realize the link between the thoughts expressed in his column and this type of violence. Though, to be fair, the police have not yet charged the teenagers with a hate crime & say that whether or not this crime had a "racial basis" is being investigated.

As minors, the names of the teens have not been released.

Neesha Meminger said...

@ Liz: that's just heart-breaking.

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