Tipping Point? Haley’s journey nearly complete.

Nikki Haley’s victory Tuesday in the Republican primary battle for the South Carolina Governor’s mansion is symbolic of the huge strides that South Asian Americans have made in the past six years. I say this completely agnostic as to what kind of person or leader she will be or which policies she supports. You don’t have to support her politics one bit to pause and appreciate the demographic and historical significance of Tuesday’s victory. 2010 is a year in which a “raghead” is a few months away from being elected the chief executive of South Carolina. Something has fundamentally shifted. In 2004 when I wrote about Nikki on SM I did so in a post which cited Dalip Singh Saund in the title. He was the lone anomaly in Indian-American history.

So like, what’s up with South Carolina? Not widely recognized (at least by this blogger) as being a bastion of minority politics, all of a sudden South Carolina is the place to be if you are South Asian and have your eyes on the prize. Earlier this year, you may recall that Nikki Randhawa-Haley, 32, won the Republican Primary in South Carolina?s House District 87 and was to run unopposed in the November election. [SM]

Today Saund is no longer an anomaly but a harbinger:

The Republican Party stepped away from its long and uncomfortable history of racial and ethnic politics in South Carolina on Tuesday, nominating an Indian American woman for governor and an African American man for the House…


p>Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, overwhelmingly captured the GOP gubernatorial nomination over Rep. J. Gresham Barrett — despite a whisper campaign insinuating that she is not really a Christian, as she says she is. And in the 1st Congressional District, Tim Scott, a black state lawmaker from Charleston, convincingly defeated Charleston County Council member Paul Thurmond, a son of the late senator Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). Barrett and Thurmond are white. [WaPo]


p>A commentator in the Baltimore Sun was exultant this afternoon. He even invoked spelling bees, ivy league schools, and Kal Penn:

… the next decade is set to be the Indian-American decade. Second generation Indian-Americans are building on their parents’ success and achieving in diverse fields. From Ms. Haley’s political success (she is the likely Republican nominee for governor of South Carolina) to prime-time TV, its hard to miss the rise of Indian-Americans.

As late as the 1990s, there was only one notable Indian-American character on TV, a cartoon character, Apu on “The Simpsons.” From the lovable, Slurpee-peddling Apu, we now have an Indian-American on a major TV show each night of the week. From Mindy Kaling on “The Office” to Naveen Andrews on “Lost” to Aziz Ansari on “Parks and Recreation” to Kunal Nayyar on “Big Bang Theory,” Indian-Americans are suddenly everywhere.Indian-Americans don’t just win elections; they win national spelling bees, including 9 of the last 25. Indian-Americans have also taken home three Nobel Prizes. At any Ivy League school, more than 5 of the population is Indian-American, quadruple the share of the national population. [BaltSun]

And this on the heels of Nina Shen Rastogi article in Slate in which she writes about a tipping point of another kind:

Here’s a little secret about me: I like to count Indians. Ever since I was little, I’ve kept a running tally of the South Asian people I’ve seen on American television or in the movies. In the ’80s and ’90s, the pickings were slim. I remember being deeply disappointed to learn that Fisher Stevens was not, in fact, Indian, despite the fact that his head-wagging, malaprop-laden turn in Short Circuit was a blitzkrieg of cringe-inducing clichés. But did you know that the pretty bald woman in Star Trek: The Motion Picture was born in Mumbai?…

According to my count, primetime TV now has about a dozen South Asians in regular or recurring roles–and that’s after the loss of Kal Penn on House, Parminder Nagra on ER, Naveen Andrews on Lost, and Sendhil Ramamurthy on Heroes. Meanwhile, a handful of new South Asian faces are waiting to make their debut next fall, and NBC is about to out-Indian everyone with its new sitcom Outsourced, based on a low-budget 2006 film about an American novelty company whose call center gets relocated to India. Why are there so many Indians on TV all of a sudden?


p>In part, it’s a simple matter of demographics. Immigration from the subcontinent didn’t begin in earnest until the late 1960s. So it’s only now that U.S.-born Indians–who make up about half of the current crop of South Asian performers–are starting to gain a critical mass both in front of and behind the camera. [Slate]


p>But back to Haley for a second. Don’t anyone forget the huge importance that South Carolina has in Presidential primaries. You can decide to skip Iowa, you can get crushed in New Hampshire, but if you win in SC you have life. Every single Republican candidate will want to be Haley’s best friend now. I doubt Palin will run in 2012, but she endorsed Haley. Mitt Romney will run without a doubt, and he has donated a small fortune (~$42,000) to her already. This means that Haley’s place on the national stage is secured in a way that even Jindal’s isn’t.


p>And what about the religion question that SM readers are so focused on? I was happy to hear that NPR touched on her Sikh roots on Morning Edition Tuesday:

Haley does still occasionally attend Sikh services. The Rev. Ray Popham, in the small town of Aiken, says he gets questions about that from his congregation.

Noting that Sikhs and Christians have their own ideas and paths, Popham says, “Religiously-wise, you can’t be both — and it sounds like someone is trying to be political if they’re trying to be both.” [Link]


p>CNN’s Belief blog took the time to give its readers a little primer on Sikhism. Regardless of whether Haley is Christian or not, this potential new post of hers could provide an opportunity for Sikhs to educate Americans and fight general ignorance about Sikhism, especially post 2001.

A lot has changed in six years since I first started writing about politics at Sepia Mutiny. Most of you know that I gravitate to the left of center. I am not asking you to jump for joy and be blind to her politics just because Haley is Indian American. I am not asking you whether she is real or fake as has been debated ad nauseum on some comment threads. I am asking some of you old timers, the Gen-Xers, to take a breath and see how far things have come. When we were kids our parents forced us to be doctors or engineers. When I have a kid I am going to force him/her to be a governor.

111 thoughts on “Tipping Point? Haley’s journey nearly complete.

  1. 13: Jewish American politicians advance the common interests of Israel and their Jewish heritage.

    I am surprised no one challenged the racist assumption behind this remark.

  2. This lady has converted her faith to Christianity in recent past. My question to you all in this forum is…would the people from the state of South Carolina approve of her if she was still a Sikh or a Hindu or a Muslim

    Please comment.

  3. My question to you all in this forum is…would the people from the state of South Carolina approve of her if she was still a Sikh or a Hindu or a Muslim Please comment.

    You. . . you haven’t been reading the comment thread have you?

  4. Will she address her desi side….Will she fall in love with her, while she tries to keep us under wraps?!?

    The wait continues…..

  5. ‘m sorry but Aggregate Demand is not determined by the feasibility of forming public-sector unions. That is unless you believe the macro theory they sell in bookstores that also carry Dayan Jayatilleke’s apologia for Fidel.

    It’s an example – probably a key one for me – but not one to be considered in isolation. It recognizes that politics, social power, and economics are connected in capitalism (as most people recognize when they talk about the Southern Strategy some do wrt to Obama). The point is that all else equal, if you don’t build social and political power to actually pressure governments to maintain wages and protect workers, real wages are at minimum stagnant and at worst will decline. This has nothing to do with communism – this is a populist capitalist argument based on the following analysis:

    aggregate supply has been > than aggregate demand globally for a couple decades at least, which necessitated a solution aggregate demand was propped up by extended credit to the consumers of last resort so that the demand could continue to prop up the wages through low wage low price goods eventually that reliance on credit has reached an end point, which means that there is some form of demand (as before) that has to make up for the missing demand (which could be increased demand in the u.s. or increased demand in europe or increased government spending or speeding up the increase in demand in china or india or elsewhere (that’s the long term solution probably) or other measures).

    You can disagree with this analysis, as many economists and political economists do, but don’t demean the argument by attacking it through redbaiting or bothering to think it through. I’m not stupid – just have opinions, which may or may not be correct.

    What exactly is worth doing out there right now? We can plug the dam by putting people to work on pharonic infrastructure projects, but eventually we’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that an economy based entirely on producing more and more stuff, whether it makes anyone happy or not, is not a sustainable system over the long term.

    The high unemployment is a symptom of a FIRE led economy and politics which is marked by increased investment in other markets. You don’t eliminating employment without investing in something whether through private or public investmnet in manufacturing, retail services, R&D, high tech productivity improving sectors, etc., Instead these sectors and their investors and their political representatives would rather spend money building markets in other places or speculating than they would in reinvesting. Which was covered up for a long time by credit expansion, which is now stopping. What it amounts to is basically class secession by the wealthy and by FIRE sectors in the US (or consolidation or profit taking, dependingon what language you want to put it in).

    The reason I believe this is partly due to the politics of how the debt/deficit is still talked about by poltiicians like Obama. The bulk of politicians are at best more focused on cutting long run debt than addressing deindustrialisation and/or unemployment, but in a way that’s so ideological that they can’t understand that leaving the bush taxes in place or adopting a health insurance reform solution that’s not going to work to bend the cost curve is self-defeating. And the reason that happens is that there has been, increasingly, a 30 year class war by the wealthy in the U.S> against the rest (especially the poor, but also by coopting the middle classes) which is now hopefully going to end.

    Whichi s where the appeal to identity politics to support technocrats that will support stabilizing policies that will consolidate the gains of the last 20-30 years comes in. It’s Change without change. There’s no emphasis on changing the dynamics by supporting bottom up organising, investing in people, building skills (not only economic) restoring the social safety network when so many people are hurting, and all the other things that labor movements can participate in (and immigration movement and LGBT movements and disabled people’s movements and women’s movements) which are both rooted in interests of the disempowered in one form or another and connected to each other and in some minimal way genuine and accountable tot he people they claim to speak for rather than an industry.

    And meanwhile we are talking about Nikki Haley’s ethnicity without acknowledging that she doesn’t even get THIS much – she’s still rooted in the politicso f the 80s and 90s where a state with one of the lowest union density’s in the united states is being told that they need further laws to make it difficult for working people to organise. At least Obama makes no sense – Haley’s politics are still insisting on moving backwards.

    So yeah, who cares about her ethnicity or religion? Only insofar as it’s used to cover up what a retrograde politician and human being she seems to be.

  6. Shorter version, Yoga Fire

    organizing labor unions makes labor more expensive. Expensive labor disincentivizes investment in labor intensive fields.

    Think of ‘labor’ as ‘consumers’ and you will understand why I think both intuitively and in the interests of my politics that more expensive labor (i.e. people who shop at stores but now with more discretionary income) in a country that is still the consumer of last resort for goods from china etc. is the best way to restore some modicum of stability in a way that doesn’t lead as directly to wwiiii. You can use government subsidies like taking health care costs off the hands of employers to subsidize the increased costs, and increase taxes for non investmentrelated capital gains income (e.g. speculation in commodity markets) or repeal the massive tax cuts for wealthy people or end the wars to fund it.

    but again, the point is that this kind of analysis is, in the discourse that permits nikki haley, not even worth considering as an option. I might be wrong, but I am not stupid.

  7. Haley and Jindal are far right. They are too extreme for me to vote for them – their Whitened name change (u know they are not trying to pass for black) and Christian conversion aside. Then aside from their far right politics, they are about as white right wing Christian a person of South Asian origin can be without changing their DNA. Can you imagine an Indian American of Muslim background who Anglicanizes his name and converts to Christianity and talks about Islam the way Haley and Jindal talk about Sikhism and Hinduism in order to prove his Christian creds? I doubt South Asian Muslim Americans not happy with that would be labeled as Muslim nationalists by others. To me Haley and Jindal are the anti-Obama politicians in that Obama to me seems to be proud to be a black American who also embraces and loves his racially and religious diverse family, and proud of his unusual name (he went from Barry to Obama, while Nimrata went Nikki and Piyush went Bobby), and importantly does not feel the need to promote his Christian creds by denigrating the religion of Islam no matter how much his political opponents insinuate that he is some sort of a nefarious Muslim Manchurian candidate. Obama is everything as a person of color that Haley and Jindal are not. Obama is who I will raise children to look up to so they grow up proud of their funny names, and unique cultural and religious background. Haley and Jindal are not. They to me are perhaps the inevitable initial wave of Indian Americans into the political arena who have to be more white washed to make it. But I look forward to the Obama type Indian Americans in the next wave, and I do not mean that in terms of Democrat/Republican.

  8. Would this “Nikki” ever have the face to look dr. manmohan singh in the eye?

  9. Would this “Nikki” ever have the face to look dr. manmohan singh in the eye?

    Oh, I’m sure she would–Nikki doesn’t let her people get slaughtered (Delhi ’84 by Congress, Mumbai ’09 by LeT) and do nothing about it. Nikki has a spine.

  10. Well SAID Rabindranath. Any Nikki should expect to be INSPIRED when looking into a role model’s eye. I can relate to where you’re coming from especially after reading an article by William Dalrymple from 04/99. I can’t find an internet link for the source but it is called The boldest of warriors.

  11. Yawn. Anyone else want to get their commented deleted? Here’s a handy primer:

    Use the words:

    • Whitey
    • Neo-Colonialist
    • Stooge
    • Uncle Tom
    • Sell-out

    etc. Because if you can’t express yourself rationally, in a civil fashion, without those tics and crutches (especially that last one– by the time you’ve used it three times in a ONE SENTENCE comment, you’ve given up your right to froth at the mouth), please just make like the 90% of readers who lurk, and don’t say anything, at all. I’m not saying that I disagree with and want to censor, I am saying to step up your game if you want to make your point.