This is 2012 in America (almost)

Ambassador_Jon_Huntsman.jpgI was just poking around for information on the potential Republican field in 2012 this morning, and I stumbled onto an interesting image of one of the candidates, Jon Huntsman, Jr.. In case you don’t know, Huntsman is the scion of a mega-rich Mormon political family, and viewed as a moderate Republican (though this is mostly because these terms are graded on a curve today, and I say this as a registered Republican). He was appointed by Barack H. Obama to be ambassador to China, but he resigned that position. The supposition is that he might be mulling a presidential run. I am of the set who believes that this is some bizarre joke or tactical feint, as a moderate Mormon has pretty much zero chance in the Republican primaries.

But why the post? First, check out this photo of Huntsman (alternate link if pop-up doesn’t work) with two of his daughters and his wife. How does it make you feel? Here’s an article about Huntsman’s religious pluralism:

A couple of years ago, I celebrated with Hindu Utahns Huntsman’s annual Diwali. Among this group, who traveled widely, Huntsman’s religious beliefs were of little interest, conversation was only about his political leanings. In fact, most of the group were impressed that Huntsman was a political agnostic. Smiling, one Indian-American businessman explained….

Two points. First, Mormonism has a universalist streak, and its doctrine of exaltation probably makes some Hindu concepts less shocking to them then they are to other Christians. Second, our host Abhi is wont to say that South Asians are now part of the American discussion in a way that they weren’t when this weblog started in the summer of 2004. In his inaugural address President Obama mentioned Hindus (see Anna’s post). And now you have a prominent member of what is the de facto white Christian party who openly celebrates Diwali in a nod to one of his adoptive daughter’s heritage.

For me one of the most pleasant things about the image which I linked to above is that the daughter who was adopted from China also has a bindi. Too often a discussion of cultural, religious, and racial pluralism is couched in white/non-white terms. There was, and to some there is, a practical reason for this. But we are now moving beyond the age of white supremacy, and people of other origins and traditions need to meet each other unmediated. Even in the United States you can go and find start ups in Silicon Valley where most of the people in the room are from East and South Asia. This is 2011!

37 thoughts on “This is 2012 in America (almost)

  1. I think it’s nice that the Americans now have an American religion (Mormonism). Seems much healthier for them than following one of those middle-eastern ones.

  2. Razib, surely you know that Mr Smith drew inspiration from “The Al Koran” (in other words The The Verses). Huntsman has also missioned in Taiwan. As for the bindi business, back in ‘Desh – Bangladesh – increasing numbers of Muslim women have begun to sport it, at least in Dhaka and Chottogram.

  3. “I think it’s nice that the Americans now have an American religion (Mormonism). Seems much healthier for them than following one of those middle-eastern ones.”

    you know, I don’t think I ever looked at Mormonism as an American religion, but by golly, you’re right. It is–couldn’t have sprouted anywhere else — even down to them changing certain non-pc tenets, which one or two members of that religion assured me were only for public relations and to appease the unwashed mass of the uninitiated.

  4. Razib, surely you know that Mr Smith drew inspiration from “The Al Koran” (in other words The The Verses). Huntsman has also missioned in Taiwan. As for the bindi business, back in ‘Desh – Bangladesh – increasing numbers of Muslim women have begun to sport it, at least in Dhaka and Chottogram.

    smith drew inspiration for a lot of things. the key is what he didn’t draw “inspiration” from which was available to lay people in the early 19th century.

    re: bindi, lots of babies and kids have teeps normally anyhow. no surprise.

  5. you know, I don’t think I ever looked at Mormonism as an American religion,

    the mormon religion is founded in its distinctiveness in being americo-centric (jesus came to america, and will come back to america for the second coming). this is not controversial. despite the religion’s initial ambivalence toward the american gov. (they left to utah partly to get away from the USA) today it is strongly aligned with american patriotism. this has become an issue overseas insofar as the religion is viewed by some gov. as a tool of american imperialism.

  6. How does it make you feel?


    It (the photo) fills me with rage and loathing.

  7. As for the bindi business, back in ‘Desh – Bangladesh – increasing numbers of Muslim women have begun to sport it, at least in Dhaka and Chottogram.

    Yeah, I don’t think it’s fair to make assumptions about a woman’s marital status or religion using the bindi anymore; it’s become more of a cultural trend. Definitely saw young (presumably unmarried) Muslim girls wearing it in Karachi.

    It (the photo) fills me with rage and loathing.

    Whoa there champ! what is so rage-inducing about the pic? (I have a couple guesses, but I’m gonna wait to hear it before I make assumptions here…)

    • What enrages me is the trans-racial adoption, which is then “addressed” by putting a bindi on the kind. Better to just make the kid a Mormon from the get-go–clean break and all. I’m not proud that I’m enraged–it’s some primitive, genetic reaction. But, Razib asked, so I answered.

  8. Back in 2008 I told some friends that I thought Hunstman was the best candidate the Republicans could put forward. Unfortunately there is no way Huntsman could win in what constitutes the present day Republican party which is full of nutjobs. Hopefully he will be around to run in 2016 as part of some new centrist party.

  9. What enrages me is the trans-racial adoption, which is then “addressed” by putting a bindi on the kind. Better to just make the kid a Mormon from the get-go–clean break and all.

    i’m not enraged, but i do think that the idea that kids need to “reconnect” with their “ancestral” heritage is a little weird, as if culture is in the blood. with indian adoptees i always wonder about the religious stuff. how do they know the parents weren’t muslim or christian? and obviously within dharmic traditions there’s a lot of variation. e.g., something as central as diwali has a different flavor in bengal vs. UP.

    all that being said, much props to the parents who take a child into their home.

  10. Better to just make the kid a Mormon from the get-go–clean break and all.

    btw, i assume they’re raising her mormon. i had lots of mormon friends who had adopted siblings from all over (or were adopted), and all were raised mormon.

    • Yeah, Mormon parents trying to “connect” their Indian kid to “Diwali” is just nuts. I agree they are good people to adopt a poor orphan. But they are really f%^ing around with the Diwali thing. It’s like if I bought an Irish Setter puppy and then decided I had to learn Gaelic to train it. WTF?! How essentialist is that?????!

  11. @HariS – Yeah I figured it was the transracial adoption issue rather than the bindis.

    Fact is, there are a ridiculous amount of orphaned babies in Asia, and sadly it is a much easier process to adopt them than to adopt babies right here in the USA. So I certainly think a child is better off adopted by parents who can give him/her a safe, stable, home and provide education and other resources, regardless of heritage, rather than impoverished in a developing country.

    Im not enraged, but i do think that the idea that kids need to “reconnect” with their “ancestral” heritage is a little weird, as if culture is in the blood.

    Ancestral heritage aside, there are psychological/cultural/identity issues that could come with having parents of a different race. For example, John McCain’s adopted Bengladeshi daughter Bridget was referred to as his “illegitimate black child” by some Republicans. I also think looks matter more than some would feel comfortable admitting. For example, I remember watching the McCain family on the news around the 2008 elections and Bridget certainly stood out in contrast to her Barbie-like mother and sister, sort of the brown sheep of the herd. Maybe it sounds trivial, but appearance and fitting in matter an awful lot to teen girls.

    So I can understand why people think kids are better off adopted by parents of the same race. But from what I’ve observed, Desi’s don’t seem to be too big on adoption. I have never met or even heard of a Desi family with an adopted kid tbh. I haven’t looked at statistics but I wouldn’t be surprised if White couples are overrepresented in adoptions. I don’t think its fair for Asian/Indian Americans to criticize White people for transracially adopting, because at the end of the day, those children need homes.

    • Huntsman isn’t doing anything very different from my Gujarati American friend who adopted a toddler from Tamil Nadu last year. To her credit, she’s learned to make rasam and feed her child ghee-sugar-idli. She still uses Google Translate for some Tamil phrases to speak to him, though the the kid now speaks fluent Gujarati and toddler English. It was important for her to maintain that connect with his Tamil traditions, though I’m guessing it’s going to be harder as the baby grows. I think, in cases like this, it’s best to believe that people are just doing their best. If Huntsman had gone all white-Christian on the kid, with cross etc, we’d be hearing from desis calling him out for not nodding to the kid’s Indian roots.

      I do know of a few Indians (in India) as well as here who have adopted from India (one Indian-American couple I know has an adopted African-American child from here). Most adoption tales from India are about the immense amount of red-tape involved in the process. I like that the Indian government exercises a LOT of caution before handing kids over, but there’s no point to excess caution if it deters well-meaning people from adopting.

  12. Yeah, Mormon parents trying to “connect” their Indian kid to “Diwali” is just nuts.

    A Chinese American friend of mine reports often seeing White parents toting around their adopted Chinese kid at some cultural events and parades…says he finds it odd. I think it’s unnecessary but I guess if they didn’t they would be criticized for not making effort to learn about the kids culture etc…kind of like you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t

    • The “kid” doesn’t come with a culture! That’s what’s stupid and offensive and low-IQ. See my Irish Setter point.

      I hope the Hunstman’s blow a lot of cigarette smoke in the Chinese adoptee’s face, to simulate, you know, being Chinese and growing up w/ a lot of industrial pollution. And make sure the Indian adoptee takes a dump in the backyard from time to time. Authenticity! Sweet! SWPL!!

      I’m still enraged, btw!

  13. So I can understand why people think kids are better off adopted by parents of the same race.

    sure. but you know that’s the exact argument in structure against mixed-race kids. doesn’t get made often anymore….

  14. I have never met or even heard of a Desi family with an adopted kid tbh.

    i’ve heard of brown + non-brown marriages who have adopted. e.g., brown from india + white american woman and a son who is black/white biracial adopted. a few cases of mixed couples adopting kids from india too.

    adoption is an option i’m going to look into in a few years probably. i’m in the same category as above.

    • Razib, I’ve known some of these trans-racial adopted kids, and they have issues, on average. Look at some of the Korean-adoptee websites. I’m not sure why it causes so much angst, but it does seem to.

  15. and they have issues, on average

    right. so? a lot of them would have had issues if they were raised by their parents, or stayed in the foster care system ’till 18.

    by analogy, some of us were raised in all white environments, and pretty traumatized by being a minority. and some of us had no issue with it. different people react differently to different circumstances.

  16. Ancestral heritage aside, there are psychological/cultural/identity issues that could come with having parents of a different race. For example, John McCain’s adopted Bengladeshi daughter Bridget was referred to as his “illegitimate black child” by some Republicans.

    btw, it is not just race. personality traits are about 50% heritable. that means that adopted kids often differ significantly from their parents i terms of their disposition. this isn’t usually a problem, but does cause some natural confusion and tension. to give an example, i have a friend who was adopted. he’s got a good relationship with his parents. he hasn’t sought out his biological parents at all, all he knows is what the adoption agency told his parents. but he does have this issue where everyone in his family is basically a “type A” achiever type who has a conventional middle class lifestyle, and conventional bourgeois aspirations. he doesn’t. since he graduated college he has worked just enough to survive, and travels aside from that (he doesn’t plan to marry or have children). over time he’s realized that he’s basically like his biological parents. they were both bohemian artists (musician and painter), at least according to what the agency told his parents.

    anyway, he has a good life, and his parents are happy with how he’s turned out as a person. but he acknowledges that there’s a deep gap in terms of how his parents view achieving something and how he views it. this is a big issue with biological families too, as people vary. but the gap is usually bigger between adoptees and adopted parents. the social science is pretty robust that on many personality traits adopted kids correlate with their bio parents as adults.

  17. sure. but you know that’s the exact argument in structure against mixed-race kids. doesn’t get made often anymore….

    Maybe not in public, because it’s not exactly PC, but I’ve heard people say it – mostly in regards to LGBT people adopting though.

    The “kid” doesn’t come with a culture! That’s what’s stupid and offensive and low-IQ. See my Irish Setter point.

    ok, but you have to understand that as stupid as it may sound, that’s the #1 thing opponents of interracial adoption always point out; the kid being deprived of “his/her” culture…hence why you see White parents toting around Asian kidlets at Chinese cultural events. Come on, time to take little Xien-Hao to Panda Express so he can get in touch with his culture… ;)

  18. Maybe not in public, because it’s not exactly PC, but I’ve heard people say it – mostly in regards to LGBT people adopting though.

    the thing is, you can make the for-the-good-of-the-children arguments pretty promiscuously. for example, two ugly people will have ugly kids. think of their life being ugly! and poor people? think of the stress being poor! the reason these arguments aren’t made is i think because people don’t have an ideological bias here.

    i have heard adult mixed-race individuals making the argument against interracial marriage because of how badly their life has turned out. the problem is that not all mixed-race kids have terrible lives. the ones who have great lives though aren’t going around telling people they should miscegenate. that just sounds weird. but hell, a mixed-race person could even become president of the united states! who knows? :-)

    but you have to understand that as stupid as it may sound, that’s the #1 thing opponents of interracial adoption always point out; the kid being deprived of “his/her” culture.

    yep, it’s stupid. it’s also easily problematized. is it really giving an adopted kid from guanghzou “his/her” culture if you give them mandarin chinese classes? (since their “ancestral” language is not mandarin!)

  19. right. so? a lot of them would have had issues if they were raised by their parents, or stayed in the foster care system ’till 18.

    I’m not denying that the kids are better off adopted, but I don’t think that’s there any denying being adopted interracially and intercontinentally gives the kid just one more issue it wouldn’t have otherwise have had. I think it’s easier when they’re adopted as babies rather than children; it is one thing to be raised in a culture, another to be taken from your country at age 7 or so and adopted abroad.That said, I’d take identity issues over being orphaned in a developing country any day, just sayin’

  20. I’m not denying that the kids are better off adopted, but I don’t think that’s there any denying being adopted interracially and intercontinentally gives the kid just one more issue it wouldn’t have otherwise have had. I think it’s easier when they’re adopted as babies rather than children; it is one thing to be raised in a culture, another to be taken from your country at age 7 or so and adopted abroad.That said, I’d take identity issues over being orphaned in a developing country any day, just sayin’

    yeah. i pretty much agree.

  21. I guess there is a national-security plus to the Huntsman’s attitudes–if they teach their Chinese adoptee Chinese, she will be able to infiltrate China and be a good spy for us! Perhaps we need more adoptees from Pakistan!

  22. the thing is, you can make the for-the-good-of-the-children arguments pretty promiscuously. for example, two ugly people will have ugly kids. think of their life being ugly! and poor people? think of the stress being poor! the reason these arguments aren’t made is i think because people don’t have an ideological bias here. i have heard adult mixed-race individuals making the argument against interracial marriage because of how badly their life has turned out. the problem is that not all mixed-race kids have terrible lives. the ones who have great lives though aren’t going around telling people they should miscegenate. that just sounds weird. but hell, a mixed-race person could even become president of the united states! who knows? :-)

    Look, I get your point lol, I’m not saying interracial adoption is to be discouraged. But it’s not logical to equate transracial adoption to interracial marriage though; in the latter, the kids are being raised by their own parents. Same with poor kids and ugly kids haha; there is a huge difference between having kids, and adopting kids; the latter is a long, arduous process as you may find out in a couple years.

  23. . But it’s not logical to equate transracial adoption to interracial marriage though; in the latter, the kids are being raised by their own parents.

    yes, but the issue is that sometimes the kids “look like a totally different race.” the way people perceive them and how they’re perceived can be an issue, though not so much in cosmopolitan areas.

    here’s a case i found pretty offensive personally, though at least she was honest http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-467787/I-love-mixed-race-baby–does-feel-alien.html

  24. I think a big problem in transracial adoption is that if the brown/black/asian child has white parents, the child often isn’t prepared for the racism that we know exists and their white liberal parents insist no longer exists. That’s how you get the kids with the identity and image problems. It can also happen if the primary biological parent is white. That’s not to say that people are deliberately messing with their childrens’ heads, it’s just that many white people believe that the whole notion of racism is over.

    Ha.

  25. Well the photo in the article likely sinks Huntsman’s chances in the GOP primaries. A bindi on the forehead?! We’re a Christian nation dammit! What’s with all this respectin’ of them Hindooos.

    Mark of the devil I say! And I thought being a Mormon was bad! I think it’s just another rag head following the one we have right now as my good friend in SC says!

    /teabagger mode off

  26. “That’s not to say that people are deliberately messing with their childrens’ heads, it’s just that many white people believe that the whole notion of racism is over.

    Ha. “

    Uh, no Melanie. I don’t know what race, income or location you are, but your assumption that only whites are racist is so — inaccurate. I cannot speak for all of whitekind, but those of us who live typical whitepeople lives, and are not coddled or rich, or employed by politicians, or living in Portland (Maine or Oregon), have had to plan our lives around places we can and can’t go, and not because of some false esthetic about “color.” So I get your reasons for fearing racism because of personal experience. That racism exists, and the reasons you fear it, have been very clear to me all my life; life-threateningly clear. Very, very clear from all perspectives. Karma is a bitch. Ha.

    Huntsman’s adopted kids of “another race” won’t hurt his chances. McCain had an adopted daughter from India and nobody in his party cared. Asian adoptions have been happening in this country since the 1950s and were remarkable for how easily they went, though I do think it is a questionable thing for people of a different background to take a child out of his/her ancestral lands and people. Inevitably some of the kids are going to feel deracinated. A few Korean adoptees have a web-site asserting that they were “kidnapped” by white people, though they admit they were treated well. Even adopted kids similar to one’s own ethnicity can be iffy–my brother’s adopted kids (Russian/WASP/Italian/Native American) have turned out more like their biological parents, though they’re better off than they would have been left to the mercies of those bio-parents.

    If you think whites in tornado alley are that much different from anywhere else, well.. let’s just say they’re not, statistically. It’s been a running joke in the blogosphere of late, that whites in the still-mostly-white-places like Portland, are in an earnest status-contest to see who can get the farthest from some imaginary “redneck” living in rural Alabama, a type to whom they endow a sub-human status although they’ve never actually met any except in movies and books.

  27. I have never met or even heard of a Desi family with an adopted kid tbh.

    Maybe you haven’t but I have.

    Neither rare nor common. For 1st genners, since it takes a while to get the green card, it means putting it off till then, by when fertility treatments begin to work. In older families (of the 50s and 60s) there has been adoption from the extended family. Otherwise adoption is generally frowned upon among IAs who prob’ly retain a quaint notion of th eold country, unlike Indian Indians who have moved on.

  28. To her credit, she’s learned to make rasam and feed her child ghee-sugar-idli.

    What do you mean, to her credit?! Any combination of ghee + sugar can’t be good for a South Indian babe, unless she’s trying to pass on the old Indian tradition of diabetes…. :P

    @jyotsana – LOL thanks for that link

  29. A bindi on the forehead?! We’re a Christian nation dammit! What’s with all this respectin’ of them Hindooos.

    In India – I am talking of women only – among the non-Hindus the bindi is OK – no issue at all for RCs, but a v.v.v.firm no-no/taboo for CSI/CNI/ECI/Assembly of God/Pentecostal Christians. The position in Kerala I don’t know, because it has the largest diversity of Christian communities anywhere in the world. Anna moLey, what do you think? Jains are fine. Sikhs? It depends. Buddhists, it varies. Among the Muslims the bindi is rare, but surprisingly common at times. In Bangladesh…I will leave it to a Pakistani, “Where’s Pakistani girl with teep?”

    Maybe Huntsman sees the tilak thing as one more thing to be taken on in the Mormon quest for universality.

    • a v.v.v.firm no-no/taboo for CSI/CNI/ECI/Assembly of God/Pentecostal Christians

      Really? I grew up CSI, and always wore bindis for weddings and other dress-up occasions.

  30. There are other influences than religion on Huntsman. For example, you could’ve run a picture with the tagline, “Really, a Dreamtheater and Camel fan?” His freak flag does not consist solely of mormon colors.

  31. Susan,

    I’ve see CSI all over the South, and only in Kerala have I ever found any woman wearing a bindi. I’ve known women who have wanted to wear it, including one who tells me that Varsha Pirappu (April 14th) is as important to her as Easter and Xmas. But wear it? Never! While it is taboo (including flowers in the hair like mallippu which some CSI women wear anyway) there may be some. So maybe I could change it to verboten but rare. In my family and among my in-laws’ there are women who have studied at about 7 different CSI/CNI colleges around the land. WCC in Chennai, I am familiar with, I have never seen a CSI woman wear a bindi. The choice of course is personal, and it is none of my business to advocate anything. Here in the US, at the few gatherings where I have officiated (like an India evening at school that hap’d to coincide with Diwali) I explained what the bindi is about to the non-Hindus (Indian and others) almost everyone lined up for an arti (including my Baptist prof from Texas) and tilak. Just as I expect to be left alone by harvesters, I do not want to, as much as, suggest any practice, observance to another. Explain if asked, suggest never.