As Republicans, the party of emancipation and desegregation, are busily dismantling the last vestiges of the Confederacy’s legacy from public grounds, the left has embarked on a bizarre victory lap. An uncritical media establishment is certainly aiding liberals in their effort to cast themselves as heroes in this latest racial debate, specifically Hillary Clinton for having the courage to recite road-worn, analgesic slogans peripherally related to racial healing in speeches before friendly audiences. The right’s more abrasive voices are, however, not helping the GOP make the case that it is a party of racial tolerance. Commentators like Ann Coulter, who recently called rebel flag slayer and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley an “immigrant” who “does not understand America’s history” (she was born in Bamburg, South Carolina), provide the left’s self-assured ethnographers with a justified opportunity to attack the movement with which she identifies as being hostile to those of non-European descent. But some on the left have indulged in peculiar and equally offensive bouts of race consciousness of late. Those who have indulged in this manner of naked stereotyping deserve all the censure that Coulter has received.
“[Bobby] Jindal’s status as a conservative of color helped propel his meteoric rise in the Republican Party — from an early post in the George W. Bush administration to two terms in Congress and now a second term as Louisiana governor — and donors from Indian American groups fueled his first forays into politics,” a Washington Post report observed earlier this week. “Yet many see him as a man who has spent a lifetime distancing himself from his Indian roots.”
The Post noted that Jindal’s parents stopped visiting their homeland on the Subcontinent in the 1990s after the Louisiana governor’s grandfather died. The report added that he changed his name to “Bobby” from Piyush and converted from Hinduism to Christianity as a teenager. “There’s not much Indian left in Bobby Jindal,” rah University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Pearson Cross told the Post.
Yet there is little evidence that Jindal is ashamed of his ethnic background so much as he is proud of his American heritage and profoundly thankful for the sacrifices his parents made in order to ensure that he could call himself an American.
Jindal, whose boilerplate stump speech focuses extensively on his parents’ backgrounds in India and the trials they endured in order to provide him with the opportunities that he made the best of in the United States, has committed what the left regards as the unforgivable sin of rejecting identity politics altogether. The Pelican State governor called those who preoccupy themselves with prejudging their fellow Americans based on their skin colors “dim-witted” and added that his family has refused to consider themselves “hyphenated Americans.”
“My dad and mom told my brother and me that we came to America to be Americans. Not Indian-Americans, simply Americans,” the governor has said. “If we wanted to be Indians, we would have stayed in India. It’s not that they are embarrassed to be from India, they love India. But they came to America because they were looking for greater opportunity and freedom.”
Throughout his career, Jindal has been subjected to question after question from the press designed to elicit his precise level of race consciousness. In fact, the Post’s expose on Jindal’s racial authenticity is reflective of a longstanding impulse on the left to question Jindal’s devotion to his ethnic background. The Washington Examiner’s T. Becket Adams recalled that MSNBC was compelled to apologize after one of its guest speculated that Jindal was trying to “scrub some of the brown off his skin” in order to seek his party’s presidential nomination. “Is Bobby Jindal’s reputation for intelligence anything other than ethnic stereotyping?” Vox.com editor Matt Yglesias asked in 2013. Jindal is, for the record, a Rhodes Scholar who attended three Ivy League institutions and Oxford University as a student.
“How Dinesh D’Souza and Bobby Jindal advance in the GOP by erasing their ethnic identities,” a tweet promoted by the formerly serious intellectual journal The New Republic shrieked. The article, authored by Jeet Heer in February, spends most of its time attacking D’Souza – a conservative provocateur who hasn’t served in a political role since the Reagan administration – for his denunciation of Barack Obama’s “anti-colonial” worldview. Heer goes on, however, to include Jindal and Gov. Haley in his catchall rebuke of conservative Indian-American political figures.
D’Souza indicates a wider problem, given that one of the Republican Party’s most prominent Islamophobic voices is Louisana [sic] Governor Bobby Jindal, a South Asian. D’Souza’s racism and Jindal’s xenophobia find a more muted parallel in the career of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, whose advancement includes suppressing public references to her Sikh heritage and being presented by her campaign as a “proud Christian woman.”
“The careers of D’Souza, Jindal, and Haley carry an implicit message: Racial minorities can advance in the GOP by erasing their ethnic identity and/or attacking other minorities,” Heer concluded.
This kind of noxious racial paranoia is toxic to national comity, and it undermines the very virtues associated with the immigrant ethic. The left professes a profound appreciation for America’s immigrant heritage, but it apparently recoils at the notion that the immigrants who come here do so with the intention of assimilating into American society. Jindal and Haley were born in the United States. To presume that they should display a cultural affinity other than towards the country of their birth is precisely the kind of contemptible ethnic stereotyping liberals claim they abhor.
In all likelihood, this manner of disreputable racial agitation on the left is only going to grow coarser over the course of the 2016 cycle. The expansive Republican field includes politicians of a variety of ethnic, gender, and religious backgrounds; it’s probably themost diverse field of presidential candidates any American political party has ever produced. By contrast, the Democratic slate is conspicuously monochromatic. For a party that has branded itself the champion of ethnic diversity over the course of the Obama administration, this will be a jarring transition. One obnoxious coping mechanism is to undermine the authenticity of the GOP slate’s minority candidates. Get ready to see more of its kind soon.