Exactly the same except…

I am going to make a prediction and say that within 10 years Texas is going to pull a North Carolina and go blue. Take Houston where I live as an example. The fourth largest city in the United States went very Democratic. Surprised? Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio also went purplish to blue. The vast in-between parts of Texas are red of course but do they matter that much? All is not good in Texas however, nor in other parts of the country. Don’t get complacent. Just because a guy named Barack Obama can get elected President of the United States does not mean a guy with a name like that could win a city council seat, even in a district that went blue. As much as we like to blast Piyush Jindal for his love of the Brady Bunch, he knows that in parts of the country the ends are going to justify the means for a bit longer. There is an all too illustrative example of this right here in Houston. On my ballot there were two Indian American candidates (see here and here) running for two separate judge positions. I have had the pleasure of meeting both Ashish Mahendru and Ravi “R.K.” Sandill and came away impressed by both. Ashish and his wife were even kind enough to invite me to their Diwali party in October. So what happened on election night?

127th District Judge In: 100%
R.K. Sandill, D
554,882 50.5%

Sharolyn Wood, R (I)
543,959 49.5%

334th District Judge In: 100%
Ashish Mahendru, D
532,135 48.6%
Sharon McCally, R (I)
563,517 51.4%

I think everyone reading this knows what’s up. And it isn’t just brown candidates either. The Houston Chronicle called bulls*it right away:

The night Mekisha Murray became one of only four Harris County Democrats to lose a judicial race, her husband had a quick and stinging analysis: “You have your mother to blame for this.”

And perhaps, she did. But more so, the discriminating voters of Harris County, who apparently were turned off by Mekisha’s uncommon, or ethnic-sounding name.

Curiously, the only other three Democrats who failed in their challenges of vulnerable GOP judicial incumbents also had unusual names: Ashish Mahendru, Andres Pereira and Goodwille Pierre.

Well-funded top-ballot headliners like Barack Obama may have been able to overcome the obstacles presented by their funny-sounding names. But voters seem less tolerant further down the ballot. [Link]

A tipster also informed me that:

About 10 days before the election someone posted comments and a question on yedda.com suggesting that Ashish is Muslim. These are the tactics of exclusion that anyone with a different name can expect.

<

p>Ashish’s response was beautiful – he recognized the broader ramifications and although it would have been easy enough to just say “I am not Muslim” he instead tackled it by saying that the question was irrelevant and that if anyone had questions about his personal beliefs they should contact him directly.

Ravi Sandill knew what was up when he entered his race and therefore had to do a “calculated sellout.” He comes out says so to the Wall Street Journal:

Earlier this month Houston lawyer Ravi Sandill, 32, became one of a slew of Democrats elected as a trial judge in Harris County, where Houston is located, shattering years of Republican domination. The Law Blog caught up with Sandill, who topped an opponent with decades of judicial experience, to learn about his journey to the bench.

Q: Tell me a little about your background.

Both my parents immigrated from India. My dad has been in the U.S. military for 26 years. Because my dad was in the military, I’ve lived everywhere, but the majority of time in Texas. I graduated from the University of Texas, Austin, and then the University of Houston Law Center. I had a bout with cancer.Are you the first Indian-American to run for a county-wide office in Harris County?

I don’ t know if I’m the first to run, but I’m the first to be elected. I’m also the first South-Asian district judge elected in the entire state.

Q: You ran on the ballot as R.K. Sandill. Did you fear prejudice if you had run as Ravi Sandill?

Yes. All of the Democrats won [their judicial races in Harris County] except for people with, as the Houston Chronicle has written, “unusual” sounding names. We made a calculation at the beginning that we would be better served with my initials.

Q: How did it feel when you learned that you won?

I won by 11,00 votes. As the night went on on Nov. 4, it kept getting closer and closer. I didn’t find out I had won until midnight. I had a party with 65 or 70 people that had dwindled to 20. My parents stuck around. My mother started crying at 11:53. They were tears of joy. We popped open champagne. We had a suite at the Hotel ICON with a great view of downtown. It didn’t really hit me until the next day when people start calling you judge and sending you unsolicited emails congratulating you and seeing how you feel. [Link]

The point is that in order to get elected in this country many South Asian Americans are going to have to “sell out” when it comes to their names. Even Ashwin Madia chose his middle name Ashwin (“Ash”) over his first name Jigar. We have increasing data in hand to prove this very personal choice actually makes a difference (even in blue areas) even if makes us feel dirty and sad having to admit it.

29 thoughts on “Exactly the same except…

  1. many South Asian Americans are going to have to “sell out” when it comes to their names.

    Cost benefit analysis, simplicity of pronunciation for majority indicates that this not a totally bad move. Embrace “nicknames” big time…

  2. I think this might be a sign that we need to name all of our kids with the following names:

    For Boys

    1. Neel
    2. Dev
    3. Jay

    For Girls

    1. Sonia
    2. Monica
    3. Rita

    Just kidding. Be yourself.

  3. The vast in-between parts of Texas are red of course but do they matter that much?

    This is a topic worthy of its own thread but:

    They’re Americans. Why don’t they matter?

    There seems to be a growing consensus among many upper-middle class people of all ethnicities and political orientations that average Americans (aka “Joe Sixpack”) is somehow obsolete, that they are no longer a valuable contributor, no longer worthy of dialogue or assistance. After the 2008 election there’s less concern that they are even a formidable enemy to be reckoned with (or, in the case of many Republicans, a dangerous ally to be placated). This NYT column (one of the creepiest things I’ve read in any mainstream publication) sums it up pretty well.

    This outlook has been expressed explicitly and implicitly in discussions of everything from the destruction of New Orleans to the proposed bailout of the Big 3… debates about American institutions that have supposedly outlived their usefulness and that should be allowed to fail. There is typically little concern given to the people who lived or worked there, but the corollary to these arguments is that these people have already failed practically and morally and that the outcomes are not so much disasters as just verdicts…

  4. 4 · Branch Dravdian said

    They’re Americans. Why don’t they matter?

    independent of morality, cuz demographically rural areas contribute an increasingly small fraction of the vote. despite what republicans like to go on and on about “real americans” and “patriotic parts of america” (speaking of creepy…)

    as for “Reagan democrats”, yes, they are moral failures and i am glad if this election is indeed an indication that they will matter less.

  5. 4 · Branch Dravdian said

    to the proposed bailout of the Big 3… debates about American institutions that have supposedly outlived their usefulness and that should be allowed to fail. There is typically little concern given to the people who lived or worked there

    with the big 3, they have been mollycoddled for far too long with ridiculous fuel efficiency standards and other incentives despite the crap they churn out. in this case, the dems actually wanted to give them money, except those guys didn’t seem to have any plans that could provide anybody with any assurance that they wouldn’t be there in 6 months asking for another 25 bill. who cares if they are “american institutions” – the only reason to save them is that millions of people could be affected, which could be catastrophic in our current economy?

  6. average Americans (aka “Joe Sixpack”) is somehow obsolete, that they are no longer a valuable contributor, no longer worthy of dialogue or assistance

    This outlook has been expressed explicitly and implicitly in discussions of everything from >the destruction of New Orleans to the proposed bailout of the Big 3… debates >about American institutions that have supposedly outlived their usefulness and that should be allowed to fail.

    Average Joe sixpack is not obsolete…take all the goods/things that an upper middle class consumes, produces, earns a living through or other activities that he indulges in normal life and you will find a strong component of Joe-six pack directly or indirectly. Obama himself is targetting the working, middle class. The auto and financial industry bailouts ( which may affect the working class indirectly ) is more about throwing a lifeline for the wealthy.

  7. 7 · Priya said

    The auto and financial industry bailouts ( which may affect the working class indirectly ) is more about throwing a lifeline for the wealthy.

    this is an extremely simplistic view. there is stuff that can be done directly, but not bailing out the suppliers of capital in the system can have crippling effects. in fact, the ineffectiveness of the bush/paulson efforts so far is manifesting itself in repeated freezing of the credit market. this has impacts reaching all through the economic system.

    (the auto industry is less clear, especially the consequences of a structured bankruptcy, although there is a not unconvincing argument being made that there are too many stakeholders for bankruptcy negotiations to be settled in a short time frame – more likely to take around 24 months, in which time frame, customers might flee from the companies causing even more disastrous effects. the basic argument is that a planned bankruptcy is impossible, unless the clout of the govt is used to step in with the carrot/stick of the bailout keeping the companies afloat.)

  8. “even if makes us feel dirty and sad having to admit it”

    Dirty seems a but hyperbolic. To be elected you have to make all kinds of compromises and having an easy-to-pronounce nickname does not seem to me to be selling out. I think it’s a small price to pay for not having to repeat one’s name (and seem to be “correcting” the other person.)

    OT a little, but how do you feel about an Indian woman marrying a non-Indian and changing her name to his?

  9. OT a little, but how do you feel about an Indian woman marrying a non-Indian and changing her >name to his?

    I guess less and less number of couples are continuing with that tradition in this modern age. Moreover unlike politics, with matters of heart, ideology & tradition should be malleable/flexible and sometimes play a minimal role.

  10. As an American-born Malayalee who has lived in Dallas for all 23 years of my life (well, save four years of college), I don’t think Texas will become blue anytime soon.

    Can they? Sure. Will they within TEN YEARS? No.

    Austin, off the bat, is a safe blue, regardless of demographics.

    Let’s take a look at the other cities: Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. Guess what these large cities have in common? They all have faces atypical of the GOP. These are large cities with huge urban pockets and represent a variety of races and ethnicities. These are all cities who got out the vote from the “minority” segment much stronger for the Dems than they did in 2004 or 2000.

    I thought this gem was comical:

    The vast in-between parts of Texas are red of course but do they matter that much?

    The vast in-between of Texas may not stack up individually with Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio, but when you have an election, you take the aggregate, and those in-between parts— basically small towns with “small town values”— are as red as the beef we eat in Texas. It all adds up.

    The Dems can win the big cities, sure, but in order to win Texas, they need to find a way to relate to and market themselves to small-town Texas.

    Until then, we’re red. And I voted Obama, for what it’s worth.

  11. The point is that in order to get elected in this country many South Asian Americans are going to have to “sell out” when it comes to their name

    not like brown people are special in this way.

  12. Interesting post. I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong, especially since you’re connected to the area, but it’s a pretty strong accusation for the argument that you’ve made, particularly as a political/life lesson for other South Asians. I’m super lazy, so I’m not going to figure out which races they performed below Obama or the average of the Democratic candidates, which would be better things to look at. Instead, here are the 4/26 races where Democrats lost, according to this post at DKos:

    333rd District Judge Joseph ‘Tad’ Halbach, R (I): 547,442 50.0% Goodwille Pierre, D: 547,091 50.0%

    334th District Judge Ashish Mahendru, D: 532,135 48.6% Sharon McCally, R (I): 563,517 51.4%

    351st District Judge Mark Kent Ellis, R (I): 554,905 50.6% Mekisha Murray, D: 542,163 49.4%

    190th District Judge Patricia J. Kerrigan, R (I): 549,631 50.1% Andreas Pereira, D: 547,078 49.9%

    Three things: 1) he’s not the only one but he fared poorest among any of the 26 Democratic candidates; 2) In the other races, candidates with Latino names had no trouble winning so it may not be just a desi thing, but it’s not a Latino thing (not surprising) across the whole county; 3) Your argument boils down to whether about racism/unfamiliar foreign name can translate into flipping 30,000 votes or so (which would put him about where most of the other Democratic candidates were) in a race that most voters probbaly didn’t pay much attention to–that’s about 0.3 percent. And that’s assuming that other factors didn’t play any role (positive or negative – it could be that the effect was greater but he made up for it with a stellar campaign – or the opposite). So you can’t really be very confident about this just based on these numbers.

    On the other hand, Sam & Raj in Jackson Heights is named Sam & Raj for a reason.

  13. The point is that in order to get elected in this country many South Asian Americans are going to have to “sell out” when it comes to their names.

    I hate to say this Abhi but in order to get ahead in this country and in the South in paticular many South Asian Americans have to “sell out” when it comes to their names. I have a very uncommon name and have lived and worked in the south for most of my career and I can’t tell you the number of times people will just skip over my last name in a work setting either in a meeting or on a conference call. It’s much easier to go by and shorten it and I think it makes the joe sixpacks of the world much more comfortable. Is it right-no of course not-but does it help to get ahead, yes I do believe it does. Thank you to the person who posted the map of Houston and how they voted-having lived there myself I really appreciated this!

  14. I don’t disagree with the central point of this post, but…

    1. How do you know that every one of the votes that Mahendru lost was due to his name? Do you know that every voter who voted for the other candidate did so because she had an easier name, or might they have had other reasons actually related to qualifications?

    2. Coconut Jindal changed his name long before anyone considers a political career. Please don’t try to sugarcoat him.

  15. 3 · Manish said

    I think this might be a sign that we need to name all of our kids with the following names:

    Most of us, especially if you’re a s.indn like me, have our last names to worry about. And most of the time its considered an insult to change your family name that has been passed down for generations. Even Jindal didnt do it. The only way to test this theory, is if some dude comes out and ANNOUNCES that he is changing his name and then tries to get voters to vote.

  16. As much as we like to blast Piyush Jindal for his love of the Brady Bunch, he knows that in parts of the country the ends are going to justify the means for a bit longer.

    What a ridiculous statement. Someone with Jindal’s politics becoming Governor of Louisiana isn’t an end that most 2nd gens wanted in the first place (including you), so I don’t think in this case they would care whether the means are justified or not. And I doubt Jindal cares about any sort of racial integrity or about ‘representing’ the brown people except for when it comes to getting money and votes, so again, let’s stop making excuses for Jindal. He ‘sold out’ a looooong time ago, not because he recently realized he had to make sacrifices for politics, as with R.K. Sandill.

  17. i’ve never westernized my name so i’ve stayed as true to the field negroes as al-Zawahiri. even better, i shortened it in order to be in solidarity with the trans-gendered. one day, hipsters will wear my face on t-shirts.

  18. From Abhishek you went to Abhi, and now you want to change it to Abe? As far as I am concerned you might as well go to APE, but please don’t change the Family last name to Tripp. How about “340″ or Tea Party ? ;)

  19. I just got a call from a call centre in india, “hello sir my name is Chip Harris”

  20. It is possible that the times are changing … Here in a suburb of Detroit an American Muslim from India won one of 5 seats as a Trustee. This has traditionally been a very Republican district and still is, since McCotter was re-elected to Congress, although by a slimmer margin. Syed Taj did not make any attempt to disguise his name/accent. Here is a report on the results.

  21. Abhi wrote: Just because a guy named Barack Obama can get elected President of the United States does not mean a guy with a name like that could win a city council seat

    M.J. Khan is on Houston City Council, representing Desi and Latino District F, and elected after 9/11. Would he have lost if he ran as “Masroor Javed Khan”. Maybe. Who cares?

    Choosing to go by a name that is easier for your countrymen to pronounce, or one they are more familiar with, is not “selling out”.

  22. 17 • Jogeshwar 6 Pack said

    How do you know that every one of the votes that Mahendru lost was due to his name? Do you know that every voter who voted for the other candidate did so because she had an easier name, or might they have had other reasons actually related to qualifications?

    14 • Dr Amonymous said

    Your argument boils down to whether about racism/unfamiliar foreign name can translate into flipping 30,000 votes or so (which would put him about where most of the other Democratic candidates were) in a race that most voters probbaly didn’t pay much attention to–that’s about 0.3 percent. And that’s assuming that other factors didn’t play any role (positive or negative – it could be that the effect was greater but he made up for it with a stellar campaign – or the opposite). So you can’t really be very confident about this just based on these numbers.

    For those who think the name is not conclusive, I would point you to the fact that Mahendru lost primarily in the absentee votes – these votes given by people who mailed in ballots largely before his TV ads aired. His early vote and other poll numbers were consistent with other Democratic contenders who won.

    Mahendru outspent his opponent and also outspent each of the other Democratic contenders for all the state district court races. See http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/metro/6096937.html. If you speak to attorneys in Houston or read the Houston Chronicle you will see that out of the Democratic contenders he was one of the most, if not the most qualified contender.

    Lesson learned – Names do matter, but only up to a price point.