Monday, March 2, 2009

Who is Bobby Jindal? -- The GOP and Identity Suppression

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Gov. Piyush "Bobby" Jindal is my governor of whom I have not thought much, but now I ponder him because he's being pushed nationwide as the Republican Great Brown Hope. Last night I saw him again on CBS's 60 Minutes, the clip at the top of this post, and only the day before I had discussed him with relatives in a small Louisiana town. One of those relatives used to work for the state and remembers when Bobby was busy mercilessly cutting off people's health care.

I also asked an aunt in Memphis yesterday (a woman in her 70s) what she thought of him. She said, "Oh, that stupid man. I don't know why anyone would want to listen to him." I could have explained he can't be stupid because he is a Rhodes Scholar, but that would have been a waste of breath.

America saw Jindal give the GOP rebuttal to Obama's first national address to congress last week, a speech that I and others found wanting and have since picked apart for its lies.

We should ask ourselves, "Why did Jindal feel compelled to invoke the name of a known racist, the late Harry Lee, even if it meant telling a lie on national TV? Was it coded language to appeal to racists on the rise since Obama's election, a way to remind them that he, Jindal, wants to be more like them and less like other people of color?" Harry Lee, by the way, was also an Asian man who prided himself for keeping the niggras inline.

I'm not calling Jindal racist; I'm saying he's misguided. Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal is a person of color willing to appeal to racists to score points; he is another person who wants to win at any costs as did Sarah Palin with her "Obama pals around with terrorists" rhetoric. The difference is Palin was not suppressing her whiteness or who she is to score points with racists and their sympathizers; she was highlighting her whiteness. Jindal, however, works hard to manufacture a whiteness in himself that annihilates his connections to India, a country conquered once by the British Empire.

"Bobby" killed "Piyush"

Bobby Jindal's was born and given the name Piyush. I do not bring up his birth name here in the way that some white southerners of the Democratic Party did during Louisiana's gubernatorial election (They brought up his birth name, unfortunately, to invoke Jindal's otherness in hopes that they'd win the election using the same Southern Strategy employed by conservatives in the past); I bring up his birth name to discuss Jindal's lack of authenticity (some dems said this is also why they brought up his Indian name): From an early age, Bobby Jindal has desperately wanted to fit in with the white kids. I don't fault him for that. Children long for acceptance; however, children also grow up. I fault him for bringing his craving for whiteness--his strong tendency to identify with colonialist values--into his political rhetoric and his policies. Jindal consistently indicates that he would rather harm the poor and people of color than stand for compassion and justice for all. And it seems that I'm not the only person who finds Jindal's approach disturbing:
But slowing down Bobby Jindal's delivery may be beyond the powers of even the best consultant. His rush of words is likely linked to the rush of his ambition, and his ambition - at 37, just two years above the minimum to be president - appears beyond restraint. He began his assimilation aged four, when he announced to his parents, a civil engineer and state official who moved from the Punjab to Louisiana before their son was born, that he wanted to be called "Bobby", after a character in the 1970s sitcom The Brady Bunch, rather than his given name, Piyush. He further adapted to his surroundings in his late teens when he left behind his Hindu heritage and converted to Catholicism, a move he chronicled in lengthy confessional writings while at Brown University and then Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar. (New Statesman: Savior of the Republicans)
To me that this is what people of color must do to succeed in the Republican Party; they must assimilate so completely that they deny themselves and their own culture whenever possible, that they work to agree that their heritage and cultural belief systems are inferior to those of the hegemony. This requirement to be Republican of color remains unsettling; I sometimes wonder whether "colored" Republicans suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, misplaced attachments.

Republicans work to attract people of color who don't know the GOP's history or have forgotten their own ethnic histories in relation to the GOP, and Republicans have big plans for diversity now. It's possible that they will win over the culturally ignorant and the naive young when they throw people of color, like Jindal, in front of cameras. For example, my son, a teen, says he was online with a former classmate of Indian descent who only seemed to see that Jindal was a brown Indian like him. My son said he tried to tell his friend to look beyond the face on the screen, but the young man didn't get what he was saying. That's exactly how the GOP hopes young people of color will see Jindal, simply young and brown like them, and how Michael Steele, the first black man to head the RNC, hopes to become the black Pied Piper of conservatism. Steele thinks young blacks will love him after he initiates his HipHop PR strategy. But his strategy is one of wrapper politics not rapper politics: it's all about the covering.

BTW, Steele's working to downplay Rush Limbaugh's celebrity with the Republican Party. Over the weekend it was pretty clear how much they love Rush, and today Steele's calling Rush an ugly entertainer. Almost immediately he had to back off that statement and say he "enormous respect for Rush Limbaugh." Steele, you can't hide a man as big as Limbaugh, and you can't be a Republican mover and shaker and not kiss Rush Limbaugh's behind.
I know that some African-Americans think Obama is simply a colored wrapper, but I disagree. He's got substance where Jindal and people like Steele have an identity void, the absence of authentic identity, yet Republicans promote the void anyway, attempting to appeal to surface identity. It's their smoke and mirrors game.

Jindal and Steele are willing to suppress their identities completely, only conjuring their roots when it's acceptable to the powers pulling their strings or to the people from whom they seek praise. They are willing even to agree with racists to get where they're told to go, showing they suffer excessively from mayonnaise syndrome, a term I explained at BlogHer.

Obama's authentic and an astute politician, attempting to balance his cultural identity with what it takes to make America work better for all people. Perhaps this desire to make America work better for all is the result of his having one black parent and one white parent. Only the insecure soul is happy rejecting one part of him or herself to love other part. In addition, Obama shows an ability to look beyond himself and sympathize with others, something that comes from years of introspection and scrutinizing his roots not running away from them. It's clear he's a man of introspection in his book The Audacity of Hope.

In contrast to Jindal, Barack Obama in his early 20s realized he should embrace his birth name "Barack" and stop using his name of assimilation, "Barry."
Way back when, Moore asked him, "What kind of name is Barry Obama? For a brother, you know, it's very unusual." Obama told Moore about his parents and how his real name was Barack. As it turns out, Moore had recently been to Kenya, specifically, the village where Obama's father came from. "I told him, Barack is a strong should rock Barack."

Moore goes on to say that the use of Barry seemed to be an "accommodation" that made it so he didn't have to "explain himself all the time." Of course, if Moore had called him up in the 1990s to advise Obama to maybe change his middle name, because, want to talk about having to explain yourself to people! (HuffPo)
The president searched for himself and found himself. Jindal rejected himself and took on a persona.

I'm not saying Obama hasn't made some concessions to appease the masses. In the name of of political expediency, he publicly rejected his former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who preached Liberation Theology. I don't for one minute buy that Obama had never heard Wright preach a sermon on the sins of America. I don't think you can graduate from Harvard and not have heard about the sins of America. What I think is it didn't register to him the fallout if white Americans heard a clip without warning and out of context. If you're educated about more than just your own group, Wright's words don't seem the abomination Fox news and followers made them to be.

Christian Conversions

Technically, Obama didn't convert to Christianity because in order to be a true convert you had to have belonged to some other religion in the first place, rejected a formerly held belief. What Obama did was accept Jesus into his heat and life, he says. He was never a Muslim or part of any nonChristian sect. Even his father was at best lukewarm on Islam. Sources report that Obama Sr., his dad, was an atheist, but his father didn't raise him, and so, the beliefs of his father are almost irrelevant, no matter what Al Qaida says. It sounds more like President Obama was undecided about faith, a kind of agnostic, before he became a Christian.

Jindal on the other hand, converted from Hinduism to Roman Catholicism, a fact you can read almost anywhere, and since he's a conservatives and conservatives often have made issues of faith campaign platforms, I think looking at Jindal's religious beliefs fair game because I think what we believe spiritually influences our decisions. He declared himself Catholic, and let me tell you, that's a good thing to be if you want to run for office in Louisiana. Coincidence?

I preface further discussion of Jindal's religious beliefs by admitting that I too have spiritual beliefs that would not be popular with some progressives and possibly unpopular with conservatives as well, but I'm not running for political office. I think we should know what public officials claim to believe and judge for ourselves if they believe anything or just go with the flow of what's popular, as did President Bush.

Below you will see a screen shot that I thought I should take in case later the article is removed from the New Oxford's Review archive, which it may be if Jindal ever runs for the presidency. I can hear supporters later claiming that this article was not written by Jindal or that it never existed.

As you can see, "Beating a Demon: Physical Dimensions of Spiritual Warfare" was written by Bobby Jindal. The 1994 article gives insight into Jindal's spiritual beliefs, and I don't challenge those. He wrote it when he was 23 or 24, and it was published in the New Oxford Review, "an orthodox, traditional Roman Catholic magazine." In it, a young Jindal tells how he participated in an exorcism. Here's an excerpt:
Confused as to the events occurring before my very eyes, I responded to the desperation and cry for help so evident in Susan's voice. I wanted to rescue my friend from these horrible people who were holding her down and ridiculing her dignity. I tentatively approached the group and placed the edge of my finger­tip on her shoulder, as if afraid of becoming infected with the disease that was ravaging her body. I had yet to realize that the affliction was ravaging her soul.

In a voice I had never heard before or since, Su­san accused me: "Bobby, you cannot even love Susan." Before I even noticed the sound of her voice, I thought it funny that Susan would refer to herself in the third person. Then the full impact of the words hit me. Forgetting the frantic students around me and even poor Susan lying on the floor, I thought of our conversation the day before. The real argument had been whether I was capable of loving Susan. I needed the answer to be yes, more for my sake than ours. I have always been a closed and relatively unemotional person and needed to know that my best friend felt that I at least could love her, due to some very strong remarks made two years before by my former girl­friend (hardly an objective source), I was beginning to doubt that I had the capacity for feeling. ...

... I left that classroom with a powerful belief in Mary's intercessions and with many questions about spiritual warfare; I also learned a lasting lesson in hu­mility and the limits of human understanding. Was the purpose of that night served when so many individuals were inducted into the Church? Did I witness spiritual warfare? I do not have the answers, but I do believe in the reality of spirits, angels, and other re­lated phenomena that I can neither touch nor see. (New Oxford Review)
These beliefs and that experience will more than likely be called off limits because religious freedom is a sacred American right, but I'd love to know would Jindal deny this event and these beliefs if any of it got in the way of his political ambition? While some may wish to debate whether we should elect a man to the White House ever who truly believes in angels and demons, I'm looking at Jindal's story in light of how he imagines himself, that a man who's rejected his culture, claimed the name Bobby from a 70s sitcom, may have also claimed the religion that would make him seem one of the boys.

I've been thinking about Bobby Jindal today, wondering, who is that really?

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1 comment:

A.F. said...

What an excellent post! Please keep writing about Jindal.

This statement interested me a lot because I wonder the same thing:

"We should ask ourselves why Jindal felt compelled to invoke the name of a known racist, the late Harry Lee, even if it meant telling a lie on national TV."

Like you, I think that Jindal is consciously appealing to the racist sentiments of (I hate to say) a majority of white people in La., and also that this appeal to racism explains his bizarre desire to turn down stimulus money for unemployment: his base associates unemployment benefits with welfare, and, hence, with black people. What a dangerous person.