Whitewashing of Bobby Jindal

Does Jindal downplay his Indian roots to conform?

As a “rebuttal” to President Obama’s inaugural address, Bobby Jindal, the Indian-American governor of Louisiana, delivered last week before the Republican National Committee what I consider a misleading and somewhat controversial address.

When minorities in America break racial, ethnic or religious barriers it is assumed that they pave the way for future generations.

A likely presidential contender in 2016, Jindal played his card as a person of color. Referring to the string of offensive remarks and gaffes made by Republicans against women, minorities and the middle class, Jindal declared: “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party”. Neglecting people of color was a big reason for losing elections, he claimed, implicitly positioning himself as the solution. But does Jindal truly speak for any community of color, or is this just another round of creative political opportunism? Most Indian-Americans have been dismayed to see that he has done nothing for our community, while soliciting us for campaign funds. He had morphed at an early age into exactly the kind of candidate that the people of his southern, conservative state would elect.

When minorities in America break racial, ethnic or religious barriers it is assumed that they pave the way for future generations. Their communities celebrate their victories, believing that they too will be the beneficiaries of those accomplishments. In the case of Jindal, however, it’s dawned on our community that it is we who are being “stupid” for supporting him. For one, Jindal never loses an opportunity to downplay and deny his Indian and Hindu roots, unlike African-Americans or Hispanics who upon entering powerful positions remain fully anchored to their respective communities, crediting those communities for the nurturing they provided. It is indeed amazing that many Indian-Americans continue to applaud and support Jindal, imagining that he opens doors for us.

My blog last week talked about the way many Indians in the West allay their “difference anxiety” (as minorities) by assuming a “whitewashed” identity where differences are minimized. America’s history is the story of new waves of immigrants struggling to enter whiteness, which denotes not race alone but the status of full-fledged insiders in the power structure. The definition of who is white has changed over time. The Irish, Poles, Greeks, Italians and Jews “became white” after much struggle.

The example of Jindal demonstrates the pressure to capitulate for the sake of political ambition.

Whiteness may have expanded in scope over time, but rejects those, like Hindu-Americans who fall outside the Judeo-Christian religious group. Can the Hindu-American remain a Hindu and “become white”? To address this question, Khyati Joshi’s book, “New roots in America’s Sacred Ground”, provides empirical data to prove that there is religious bias facing Indian-Americans on account of being Hindu. In other words, Hinduism is seen by most Americans as a marker of non-white ethnicity. This should be enough impetus for Indian-Americans (the vast majority of whom are Hindu) to claim a separate identity that is distinct, not white or black, not Judeo-Christian, and yet wholly American.

The example of Jindal demonstrates the pressure to capitulate for the sake of political ambition. Jindal couldn’t change his color, but he converted his religion to become less different from the dominant white Christians of his party. His personal narrative amplifies his conversion to Roman Catholicism, even though he was raised Hindu by immigrant parents who were very active leaders in the local Hindu temple in Louisiana. He feels no qualms in making statements hurtful to the sentiments of the community from which he derives his “minority” card. In a piece some years ago, he said when asked about his conversion: “the motivation behind my conversion, however, was my belief in one, objectively true faith (Christianity). If Christianity is merely one of many equally valid religions, then the sacrifices I made, including the loss of my family’s peace, were senseless”. Presumably the conversion of his Hindu Punjabi wife to Roman Catholicism some years later occurred by her having coincidentally the exact same epiphany as he did.

To those of us Indian-Americans who are unwilling to obliterate our identity and get “digested” into the white stream, Jindal is no trailblazer. He does not speak for us and merely uses his Indian-American status to gain leverage with Republicans who must now present a more inclusive face in order to remain relevant. His life underscores the fact that America has a long way to go before Indians and Hindus can project openly and without negative consequences the full range of their cultural and religious identity.

Carving a distinct non-white Indian identity is also hampered by the trajectory followed by many Indian-Americans in the humanities, who prove their competence by promoting mainly European epistemological categories which nowadays means “theories” of culture, textual analysis, etc. that have been accepted by the Anglo-American academy as a part of the “canon of theories” in use. The Hindu equivalent of such theories would be the vast and sophisticated range of “siddhantas”. But these are simply ignored in modern/postmodern studies, trivially dismissed, or mapped/co-opted into trendy new theories owned by Western experts or their whitened Indian followers. This new kind of colonization is being celebrated as “theory power.” I call it epistemic arrogance. Harvard University’s Homi Bhabha is a role model hoisted by the American establishment for young Indian-Americans in English Departments and Postcolonial Studies to emulate. He has proven himself as having the “white gaze”. This is the liberal path to becoming white, just as Christianizing was Bobby Jindal’s biblical path to whiteness. One may think of these paths as left-wing and right-wing whiteness, respectively.

At the height of the Jim Crow era, African-Americans saw in their midst, the phenomenon of “passing”, where lighter skinned blacks would assume a semi-white racial identity in order to avoid the restrictions and prejudices of a segregated South. “Passing” was viewed as offensive, an attempt by some blacks to take the short-cut to racial parity rather than pitch in and do the hard work of achieving equality for the entire community including those unable and unwilling to “pass.” In 2013, Bobby Jindal doesn’t need to scrub off his color. Converting his religion, accent, ideologies and loyalties has sufficed. His brown skin merely positions him to take advantage of America’s changing demographics. Jindal shows that in America, Hindu-Americans continue to feel the pressure to pass.

Reproduced from Rajiv Malhotra’s Blog site. Formatted for better viewing.

Rajiv Malhotra

Rajiv Malhotra

Born in 1950, Rajiv Malhotra is an Indian American researcher, writer, speaker and public intellectual on current affairs as they relate to civilizations, cross-cultural encounters, religion and science. He studied physics at St. Stephens College in Delhi and went for post-graduate studies in physics and then computer science to the USA. Rajiv served in multiple careers, including: software development executive, Fortune 100 senior corporate executive, strategic consultant, and successful entrepreneur in the information technology and media industries. At the peak of his career when he owned 20 companies in several countries, he took early retirement at age 44 to pursue philanthropy, research and public service. He established Infinity Foundation for this purpose in 1994.

Rajiv has conducted original research in a variety of fields and has influenced many other thinkers in India and the West. He has disrupted the mainstream thought process among academic and non-academic intellectuals alike, by providing fresh provocative positions on Dharma and on India. Some of the focal points of his work are: Interpretation of Dharma for the current times; comparative religion, globalization, and India’s contributions to the world.

He has authored hundreds of articles, provided strategic guidance to numerous organizations and has over 300 video lectures available online. To best understand Rajiv'sthoughts and contributions, his books are a good resource. Besides Invading the Sacred, in which Rajiv is the main protagonist, he has authored the following game changing books:

Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism
Breaking India: Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines; and
Indra's Net: Defending Hinduism's Philosophical Unity
The Battle for Sanskrit: Is Sanskrit Political or Sacred, Oppressive or Liberating, Dead or Alive?
Academic Hinduphobia: A Critique of Wendy Doniger's Erotic School of Indology

Currently, Rajiv Malhotra is the full-time founder-director of Infinity Foundation in Princeton, NJ. He also serves as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Center for Indic Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and is adviser to various organizations.

Infinity Foundation has given more than 400 grants for research, education and community work. It has provided strategic grants to major universities in support of pioneering programs including: visiting professorships in Indic studies at Harvard University, Yoga and Hindi classes at Rutgers University, research and teaching of nondualistic philosophies at University of Hawaii, Global Renaissance Institute and a Center for Buddhist studies at Columbia University, a program in religion and science at University of California, endowment for the Center for Advanced Study of India at University of Pennsylvania, lectures at the Center for Consciousness Studies at University of Arizona.

Rajiv Malhotra inspired the idea of Swadeshi Indology Conference. The first ever Swadeshi Indology Conference was held at IIT, Chennai from July 6 to July 8, 2016. This conference hosted well-researched papers that highlighted the discrepancies and mistranslations in the studies of Indology done by Prof. Sheldon Pollock. This conference is the first of a series of conferences that have been planned to address multiple issues raised by Western Indologists requiring astute examination, analyses and rejoinders, culminating in a published volume with a selection of papers.

Another major initiative of the Infinity Foundation is the HIST series. The HIST (History of Indian Science and Technology) series is a compilation of multi-Volume History of Indian Science and Technology based only on solid academic scholarship, and not on wild extrapolations. To accomplish this, each volume was subjected to rigorous peer reviews. The following volumes have already been published and printed as part of this IF project:


1. Marvels of Indian Iron Through the Ages
2. Indian Zinc Technology in Global Perspective
3. Water Management and Hydraulic Engineering in India
4. History of Metals in Eastern India and Bangladesh
5. Harappan Architecture and Civil Engineering
6. Beginning of Agriculture and Domestication in India
7. History of Iron Technology in India
8. Indian Beads History and Technology
9. Himalayan Traditional Architecture
10. Animal Husbandry and Allied Technologies in Ancient India
11. Harappan Technology and Its Legacy
12. Reflection on The History of Indian Science and Technology
13. Chalcolithic South Asia: Aspects of Crafts and Technologies
14. Traditional Water Management


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