An outrage for an outrage makes the whole world go deaf

There is a particularly troublesome side-effect I have seen develop over the years as the internet has become an ever more powerful and effective tool in galvanizing and giving voice to the voiceless (in addition to amplifying the voice of those who already had a platform). I, and a few of the original bloggers and readers of SM, have had the chance to experience how the signal-to-noise ratio on our threads have worsened with time. There is much more reaction and much less reflection. I agree, my statement is laced with some nostalgia and my perception surely skewed with the passage of time. You will doubtless find examples of contrary evidence, but I feel it is true nonetheless. I also sense a generational rift growing wider. It is so much easier for people to be outraged nowadays, as compared to just a few years ago. And why not? We have so many tools at our disposal by which to express this outrage. And none require any thinking whatsoever. When op-ed columns were the only means to highlight an unreported issue, you had to carefully craft your message and had time to reflect on your claims and conclusions. By contrast, our websites/blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts all allow us to be outraged and share our outrage with others in an instant. Groupthink is also encouraged, since many of these platforms come with ready-made friend networks. If my 10 friends are outraged by something then I should be too or I will be the outlier and ostracized. I will be tagged misguided. Or worse. De-friended.

But what bothers me so much more than the frequency of our outrage is WHAT we get outraged about and what we conveniently ignore because it is too difficult to tackle or takes more energy than a mouse click. What bothers me is this new breed of lazy internet armchair activists.

Back in February of 2006 , I wrote a long post in defense of the Danish cartoon of the prophet with a bomb in his turban. I believe in free speech and oppose all censorship, as long as it does not actively incite violence against a group. Poking fun at a religion is all good. Yelling fire in a crowded movie theater is not. What happened on the radio in Rwanda before the genocide there was an obscene violation of free speech. Cartoonists, radio shock jocks, satirists, Borat, Glenn Beck, and others all have a right to say whatever they want just as we have the right to be upset about it and write their producer, station owner, etc. But when we do take that step we better understand exactly what it is that we find objectionable and why. We should be able to clearly and concisely articulate it and balance it with our other priorities and concerns. I am not saying don’t get mad about your local asshole shock jock. I did so here (same EXACT topic as Stein’s, but decidely different context and intent). I am just saying that every time you get outraged, you lose just a bit more of your effectiveness unless you are totally on top of your game. Look at what has happened to Jesse Jackson. One time civil rights leader, now a punchline. Look at what has happened to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). One time defender of animals now simply known as a promoter of gorgeous naked women. Look at what happened to the Tea Party. From grass roots revolution against the excess of government a year ago…to angry old xenophobic white people afraid of change. The lesson is that you pick and choose your battles wisely and understand and communicate your outrage in a cogent, unassailable and proportionate manner.

In the Hindu American community there is a pervasive and misguided belief that we Hindus are disproportionately the victims of our religion being made fun of. This is utter bullshit, despite what you have believed ever since Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom imprinted this into your psyche. In the U.S., Christianity is more regularly made fun of, ridiculed, blasphemed, satirized, and generally shat upon then Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism combined. I’ll bet you it isn’t even close. So why is it that a 100 people will be outraged and start letter writing campaigns and insult their fellow desis as “weak Gandhis” every time Hanuman is poked fun of or Shiva appears on a dog? For those 100 there will be 1 person that speaks up or writes a letter when a turban-wearing Sikh gas station owner is savagely beaten or when the media collectively decides that only brown-skinned people can be labeled terrorist. Divyendu Sinha was savagely beaten and killed THIS WEEK. Where is a link to this story on your Facebook pages and Twitter feeds? Where are your letters to the local politicians and police? Maybe you will find time to write them when you are done being outraged at an unskilled satirist. But that’s so much more work, isn’t it? Being outraged at Stein is quick and easy. Minimal effort for maximum desi activist cred to pull out at your next potluck.

South Asian Americans are undeniably growing in political power and influence. Nikki Haley’s recent victory in South Carolina is evidence of that. South Asians have an overwhelmingly disproportionate representation in the medical, hotel, and high tech industries. America is slowly turning Hindu. Our President practices yoga and uses its teachings for spiritual guidance in times of crisis. Aziz Ansari hosted the MTV music awards. After all that, many of you want to finally stand up and be an armchair activist when a two-bit humorist calls India poor or our God blue? Desi, please. Sit down until you are ready to do real work. You are embarrassing me.

Despite the fact that we have made much progress, there is so much we still need to come together on. We as Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Christians, etc. We as first generation and second generation. We as “upper class” and “working class.” Given our still small number we have to be smarter, more articulate and more factual than others in our outrage. We need to turn the outrage into political and policy action for the maximum good. We need to run for office. We need to write funny and biting satire about ourselves and our monkey Gods and get it published in Time (we can surely do better than Stein). Nationalism and jingoism should have no seat at our table.

Finally, let me say one thing about my fellow bloggers on SM. Anna’s post was more nuanced than some commenters gave her credit for and that is a shame. On the internet the tendency is to throw out the nuance and then polarize the debate. As much as Taz and I totally disagree on the Stein column, I have respect for her. Not just because she is my friend but because she actually walks the walk (undoubtedly more so than me). She is consistent and measured in what she gets upset over and she puts her boots on the ground to do something about it every time. I think she and some of the other voices out there (like SAALT’s more measured protest) are off the mark in their reaction to the Stein article, but then again, if that is the case they’ve earned that right.

61 thoughts on “An outrage for an outrage makes the whole world go deaf

  1. I like this post (and other Abhi posts, in general), but it’s always hard to take a scolding and I can’t help feeling a little alienated. I’m not a long-time SM reader. I only started a few months ago. In fact, I learned about Joel Stein’s through Anna’s post. When I read the source article, I remember thinking it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. However, I did post Joel Stein’s article to my FB page, wrote some words of outrage and moved on. Point taken, Abhi. I may have been an armchair activist yesterday, but I can be measured and thoughtful on other days. That’s the beauty of humanity – you’re not just one or the other. Also, to be fair, SM also chose not to blog about the murders that happened this week.

  2. “That” coming from the same publication that posted that insipid “how to date Indian guys” article, which frankly I thought was far more offensive than anything Joel Stein’s ever written.

    Yeah it was so awful how she gushed about how awesome Indians are.

    Some people never get tired of being outraged I guess

  3. ABHI - Not to sound rude or anything, but wouldn’t it have been better to actually blog about Mr. Sinha’s tragic death rather than this. I think it would been a much more powerful statement than talking about the problem – there would have been action in the right direction rather yelling while standing still.

    On the other hand, though, I feel that this is just part of Internet culture. It’s just the nature of the beast. You have to take the good with the bad. Non-censorship encourages and allows the participation of a much larger group of people who are not necessarily going to share the same views.

    Also, I’m not sure where you live but I don’t buy this Hindu American community thing. I don’t think its a very big, well organized, effective, or important group of people (despite me being an active member of that community) – I think you’d be hard pressed to find 5 people, let alone 100 (especially between the ages of 18-25) who know about or cared about the issues you talked about in the post. Most of the Hindu American community is relegated to older generations whose influence will wane significantly as they understand that the new generation coming of age doesn’t really care.

  4. Divyendu Sinha was savagely beaten and killed THIS WEEK. Where is a link to this story on your Facebook pages and Twitter feeds? Where are your letters to the local politicians and police? Maybe you will find time to write them when you are done being outraged at an unskilled satirist. But that’s so much more work, isn’t it? Being outraged at Stein is quick and easy. Minimal effort for maximum desi activist cred to pull out at your next potluck.

    abhi, what do you think the “southasian response” should be to this horrific event? what exactly should be driving the outrage other than than the outrage one feels about any such insanity? the police are investigating and have charged the teenagers. they are looking into charge of bias. it seems to me the community is responsing to the tragedy. the president of the school commity has expressed extreme remorse and shock and that she was not aware of the harrasment the south asins are complaining about and surely would have addresed them if she had known.

    i am not sure if it is outrage that is called for or is it closer involvement with the community. some kind of a leadership or a spokesman who can speak for a community that feels harrassed and seek redress. are there southasians in the school committee? in the town board? why not? why do we not particiapte, volunteer, get to know the community we live in? why should we act as outsiders who can only express outrage? why don’t we work from the inside?

  5. Brown girl, I think it may be presumptuous to assume that no South Asians in the Township of Old Bridge are not trying to “particiapte, volunteer, get to know the community [they] live in.” According to the Census, Old Bridge is estimated to be less than 12% Asian (since this isn’t the new Census data, no way to break it down to desi), and is mostly white; it’s true that neither the school district board nor the town council nor the Middlesex county freeholders seem to have any obviously desi members, nor did any seem to run in the last primary. But I don’t think that really takes away their right to be outraged by racially focused violence, if that’s what’s happening.

  6. The reason no one wants to blog about the killing of Mr Sinha is because it’ll sooner or later bring attention to the race of the attackers, which like in countless such violent attacks on South Asians, is black. This complicates things, right? Now if these killers were white you’d have felt an explosion of outrage. In fact, when I heard of this incident, I immediately knew it was the work of some black youth. You can call me whatever names you wish but I’ve lost count of instances of black-on-South Asian violence, most of which ends deadly, be the victim a graduate student, a convenience store worker, or some turban-wearing grandfather going for a walk in the park with his grandchild. Why do blacks hate us so much? Why don’t the smart, liberal South Asians recognize this as a pervasive problem in parts of black community and talk to their leaders about educating their people on being sensitive? It’s funny these liberal South Asians can’t stop ridiculing people in the old country for being biased toward blacks but never ask why a lot of them are that way. I’ll tell you why, because the news of such savage beatings reaches the victims’ loved ones back home. I have had it with black violence directed at my people. Really had it. And please don’t lecture me that such thugs come in all colors. If they do it’s quite rare. Sure there’s other forms of racism directed but I am talking about the violent ones here. When was the last time you heard of an Asian or a Middle Eastern or a Hispanic or even a white person beat a South Asian to death? And it’s idiotic to declare, even for the authorities, that this wasn’t a hate crime. This man was picked for his race.

  7. My personal view is that this site has become more of a rant and rave site for some bloggers who clatter away every time some supposed racist comment is made by non South Asians. I remember the days when this site was about good stuff, like you know, introducing the likes of M.I.A and Goldspot to us before the world had even heard of ‘em!! About achievements made by our people all over the world, good stuff, positive stuff!! And the times when the SM Interns job was just to maintain this site and not be a BlogNazi!!

    But i guess it is true that with age people get bitter, the same may have happened to this site and maybe some of the bloggers. Nowadays it seems like some bloggers look at themselves as the protectors of South Asians and our values (as if we are too dumb to realize shit ourselves) . They look at everything through a microscopic lens and perceive everything as a slight to their identity. Maybe looking for South Asian angels to every small story for such a long period of time gives some bloggers a blogging boner when they see a South Asian specific story in the main stream media and they just can’t hold it in!

    You guys need to chill out (some more than others). Find some interesting stories, get some positive shit back into this blog and basically stop being whiny bitches.

    Aand, trust me on this one Mr. Blogger there is nothing more pissing off and amusing at the same time than a holier than thou blogger. Your very first comment on this thread makes my point. You say a commentator is a bully?? Check your own rap sheet man. How many comments do you normally post in one single thread??? If you can’t take it then you shouldn’t be here. Get off your horsy, you’re just another guy in front of a computer.

    IMHO

  8. Ok, I believe everyone has now had a chance to vent steam on all sides of this issue. I am going to enjoy the rest of my weekend here in New Jersey where it all started. Happy 4th all.