“White Indians”

This is good.

n+1: White Indians. Excerpts:

Behind the scenes, the Indian American Center for Political Awareness (IACPA) recruited these deracinated Indians who were “discovering their roots” and sent them to work for American congressmen, quietly pushing Indian issues into the light of the new world order. In 1993, two years after the first neoliberal Indian economic reforms, Congress formed an India caucus. It began with eight members and now has 180. A founding project of the Indian lobby was to push the US away from its cold war alliance with Pakistan and toward an India that was becoming astoundingly “business-friendly” in the ’90s and, after September 11, could be counted on to contribute to the United States’ campaign against Islamic peoples. India’s 1998 nuclear tests briefly alarmed the US (while earning a congratulatory note from Israel), but two years later President Clinton signaled a shift in American policy with a much-feted visit to India. One of the India lobby’s greatest victories came in 2005, when the US finally signed the nuclear energy deal India had been pushing for since the ’90s. Another great success has been to squelch any discussion among American elites of the occupation of Kashmir — which India regards as a “bilateral” issue (i.e., between India and Pakistan) rather than an ongoing international crime. India, land of Gandhi, is now the world’s largest arms importer, with Russia and Israel as top partners. 

The cultural effects could be felt across the world. Bollywood, formerly the leading edge of third-world cinema, the one currency to survive the Sino-Soviet split, became, with the support of the Indian elite, a newly slick Hollywood craze. Indianness itself, for years a source of shame in the diaspora, became puffed with pride. Lahiri’s protagonist in her bestseller The Namesake, Nikhil “Gogol” Ganguly, takes a roots trip east and briefly swaps his white girlfriend for a mother-approved Indian. Less familiar to other kinds of white people, diaspora children in recent years have been subject to low-budget films like American Desi and ABCD (American-Born Confused Desi), coming-of-age stories in which deracinated teenage South Asians — never Muslim, usually male — learned to cast off their self-loathing and embrace Hinduism, arranged marriages, and bhangra dancing.

Kal Penn (right), with John Cho in the film ‘Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle’ (2004). The character of Kumar here and in the sequel is portrayed as the antithesis of the ‘white desi’ in America. Photo courtesy of n+1.

 

A happier image for the future is the desi stoner Kumar of the Harold and Kumar films, who may be the single best role model for generations of brown people otherwise condemned to going pre-med. Kumar, who uses his textbooks to roll joints, suggests the dual character of desi immigration.

An interesting book to read that’s related would be Hamid Dabashi’s Brown Skin, White Masks (Pluto Press, 2011).

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