Samhita Mukhopadhyay at Feministing has a fascinating piece on Nikki Haley and the Myth of Republican Diversity that touches on a lot of the deeper issues that I merely glanced at while ranting all about Jake Knotts dubbing the South Carolina gubernatorial candidate a “raghead.”
She notes that politicians like Haley and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal “have created for themselves an identity that feeds into dominant assumptions and desires about assimilation, acceptance and the rightful way for minorities to act,” and adds “The bigger issue that seems to be obscured in the name of ‘Republican diversity’ is the strategic role that South Asians have played (and often fed into) in the construction of the model minority.”
I actually had to stop for a moment and go, “Dude, whoa,” because my mind was blown. I was talking about this with a friend the other day: I noted that if Nikki Haley had gone by her full Indian first name, Nimrata, she wouldn’t be on the ballot. And the same goes for Piyush “Bobby” Jindal. But these anglicized names are just the tip of the iceberg for how many upwardly mobile South Asians try to slot themselves into a privileged “almost whiteness” in order to achieve a conservative ideal…often to the detriment of South Asian issues, and certainly to the detriment of issues relating to the minority experience in general.
To default back to less articulate language, it’s really hinky — making yourself “safe” and “non-threatening” and stripping away everything except the skin color you can’t change in order to fall in line and be an “example” to other minorities.
I’m not saying that all of it is conscious or malicious. I’m light skinned. And my English is completely accent-less, because I was raised in part of the U.S. where I wasn’t immersed in Indian culture 24/7. I’m not pretending to be anything I’m not, it’s just genetics and linguistics taking their natural course. However, when it comes to the things I do have control over, I’ve made a conscious choice to keep my professional name the same as my hard-to-pronounce birth one and I don’t minimize my Indian identity in any way. I may have assimilated to some degree, but I am always, always hyperaware that I don’t really blend in.