The Haley bubble

meetnh.jpgUpdate: Nikki Haley’s rise raises tensions back home.

Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley pushes some peoples’ buttons on this weblog. In this way she’s similar to Piyush “Bobby” Jindal. But it seems that the shine has worn off a little on the man with the golden oeuvre. It began with an optically disastrous and widely mocked Republican response to Barack Hussein Obama’s State of the Union speech a few years back. But over the years his wunderkid reputation has moved to the background inevitably as he’s gotten caught up in the same muck which afflicts most politicians who’ve been in the public eye for long enough.

Of course one can’t say that Nikki Haley has avoided muck in her short time in the national spotlight. But she’s new yet, and the media needs a human interest political story, and she certainly presents well.

In the wake of the announcement of her memoir The New York Times gives her the full treatment, South Carolina’s Young Governor Has a High Profile and Higher Hopes:

Nikki Haley, at 39 the nation’s youngest governor, loves her iPod.

When she signed a long-fought bill to bring more transparency to legislative voting, the Black Eyed Peas blasted through the Capitol rotunda here.

Joan Jett, a personal hero because of her fight to prove that women can rock, provided inspiration when it seemed impossible that a relatively inexperienced, deeply conservative woman with Indian immigrant roots could win a bid to govern the state where the Civil War began.

But Ms. Haley’s most enduring theme song, as it was when she campaigned on Tea Party politics and a nod from Sarah Palin, might be Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”

386px-Aziz_Ansari_2011_Shankbone.JPGIt hasn’t been a year since she’s been in the governor’s mansion, so it isn’t as if they had that much to work with. Aside from the specific reference to her parents’ immigrant background and her difference from the run of the mill South Carolina Republican as an Indian American woman there isn’t much to the profile which is brown-tinged. One aspect of this is which is rather noticeable is that Haley is very light-skinned, and could probably “pass” (This is not an opening to assert how awesome you’re “brown-dar” is and how clearly brown she is to anyone with eyes. I have read enough instances where some South Carolinians were surprised about her Indian background, assuming she just liked a good tan. This could not have been the case with Jindal). Additionally, with her name change and conversion to Protestant Christianity she has assimilated to her cultural background a great deal. Contrast her with another brown American raised in South Carolina, Aziz Ansari. More saliently brown in appearance and name, instead of assimilating to the Christian majority Ansari is an admitted atheist. These are obviously different paths!

Granted, I don’t want to overemphasize the depth of Haley’s conversion. There is a fair amount of evidence in the public domain which suggests that her shift to an identity as a Methodist was more of a transition than a rupture. The exigencies of politics in the “Bible Belt” are such that it would be professional malpractice to deemphasize Christian bona fides. That she emphasizes her positive beliefs in the Christian religion, as opposed to a strong negative contrast with the “darkness” before she accepted Jesus Christ as her savior, suggests to me that Haley’s personal orientation is more toward that of moderate mainline Protestants than that of evangelicals, let alone fundamentalism. That seems obvious in that she’s a member of the United Methodist Church in Lexington, which is comfortably mainline. I also infer the nature of her beliefs in part from the What We Believe section of her church’s website. Contrast their sparse set of principles with the belief statement with that of the First Baptist Church in Lexington. Those congregations with a fundamentalist or evangelical orientation are more prone to having a precise “laundry list” enumerated in exactly such a fashion. Haley’s church does not.

But if Haley is going to be remembered in the future her religion is going to be a marginal issue. Who today recalls the curiosity that the first Italian and Jewish mayor of New York City, Fiorello La Guardia, was an Episcopalian? During his lifetime this was a major topic of discussion, but a mayor of New York with an “ethnic” background no longer merits raised eyebrows. The salient human interest points at any given period of time differ. But policy is what is the measure of a politician. In that domain it is safe to bet that Haley will follow Jindal’s path toward being entrapped by the reality that remaining popular is difficult when you have to enact changes which might anger some. It is simply a statistical fact that most politicians are like shooting stars. Only a rare few last in our imaginations. Already Haley’s approval rating is at parity with her disapproval This is probably in part due to the generally difficult economic times across the nation. And yet like many states in the South the governorship of South Carolina is a weak position. The most tangible benefit is the access to the bully-pulpit, but without cooperation from the legislative branch the executive is not going to be very effective in influencing policy in a positive sense. Haley’s predecessor, and original political patron, Mark Sanford, may have gotten a lot of national press for his conflicts with other politicians in the state over fiscal issues (not to mention his personal life!), but from what I gather he was viewed in the end as an ineffective governor.

Nikki Haley may want to be a fiscal conservative who vetoes spending, but the Republican legislature has been overriding them! This is great as far as national optics go, she can take credit for trying to cut spending, all the while the state will continue to operate as planned. Right now this detail is not relevant for national press profiles, but if Haley is elevated to a higher level this pattern will come under scrutiny. Instead of glowing puff profiles she might be faced with articles which imply that there isn’t any substance to the style.

This is a fine direction by me. A focus on a politician’s biography, their race, religion, and class origins, are natural human reactions. Personal history matters to us. Period. But it is the substantive political planks and policies enacted which will echo down through the generations.

Personal note: My own normative preference is toward a lean and humble government with minimal ambitions. But from what I can gather those politicians who believe they can push through changes through force of personality fail. Mark Sanford and Jesse Ventura are case studies in this. The institutions of America’s government are such that yelling louder or making a firmer stand does nothing over the long run. So my expectation for Haley having a lasting effect on South Carolina politics are dim. I hope to be wrong.

Addendum: I’m prone to deleting long accusatory rants about Nikki Haley in the comments. Just so you know. Diminishing marginal returns on that sort of thing.

Image credit: Dave Shankbone

72 thoughts on “The Haley bubble

  1. Arnold Schwarzenegger is probably the most high-profile example of someone who came into office believing that he could bully-pulpit his way into changing a state with a fundamentally screwed up political system, and he failed.

    As much as I dislike nepotistic, dynastic politics, sometimes I suspect that being born into it makes people more effective at knowing how to negotiate their way through the system rather than expecting they can bulldoze it. Andrew Cuomo’s success in getting same-sex marriage through a Republican-controlled New York legislature that had voted it down just a couple years ago comes to mind.

    On the other hand, I’d concede that Sarah Palin was having some luck with changing things in Alaska before the national spotlight blinded her, and she very much ran as an outsider who’d break up the good ol’ boy system.

  2. How about a short accusatory rant?

    Nikki is about as Sikh Indian as Hermon Raju is polite and considerate.

  3. I wonder: suppose Gov. Haley were a few shades darker. Say, as dark as a M.I.A. But she still went with the conversion. I wonder if she would still get elected? I personnaly think not. Nikki comes across as having Mediterranean features and non-Indic features and this asset in SC benefitted her greatly.

    • The fact that she looks more, say, Middle-eastern as opposed to Indian wouldn’t necessarily work in her favor, as the former are commonly stereotyped as terrorists here and the latter are seen as relatively harmless. I think if she was a Malayali Christian she probably would have been elected all the same; religion is what matters in the bible belt, as does the fact that her name doesn’t sound suspiciously foreign.

      As for looks, I don’t understand why the features of those from the northwest (or northeast) of the subcontinent are any less “Indic” than those from the south. It’s not like dravidians are the “real” indians and everyone else is just watered-down versions of them.

      • Great points to you and Razib Khan! I agree with you guys.

        On another note: I don’t agree with Jindal and Haley, but I’m convinced that they will do a great job for their states. They would open the path for Desis who won’t have to convert.

        Oh yes – hats off (or turbans off) to Aziz Ansari for not selling out. He talks incidentally about his Indian heritage without shying away from it.

    • “I wonder: suppose Gov. Haley were a few shades darker. Say, as dark as a M.I.A. But she still went with the conversion. I wonder if she would still get elected? I personnaly think not. Nikki comes across as having Mediterranean features and non-Indic features and this asset in SC benefitted her greatly.”

      Jindal looks very Indic and he got elected in a similar southern bible belt state.

  4. As for looks, I don’t understand why the features of those from the northwest (or northeast) of the subcontinent are any less “Indic” than those from the south. It’s not like dravidians are the “real” indians and everyone else is just watered-down versions of them.

    i kind of lean in this direction too. that being said, when people think “indian” there is a particular prototype/archetype in mind. i think that there’s no pope of who the ‘real indian’ is. but there are statistical distributions which inform our intuitions as to typicality.

    also, while i agree that religion is very important, do remember that blacks in the south are generally of parallel denominations as whites. that doesn’t mean that people are race-neutral in voting. but from what i gather outside of texas in the south it’s a white-black dichotomy, and people like haley and jindal are accepted as ‘honorary whites’ (there were interesting cases of this with chinese in mississippi during the segregation period).

  5. sometimes wonder if second gen desis, especially those in politics have to be more cruel & anti-immigrant than the average american to prove their native bonafides? Both Jindal & Haley have signed onto draconian anti-immigrant laws & emphasize/pat themselves back on how their parents did it the ‘right way’ etc withoput in the least acknowledging how infinitely more difficult it is to come in today than it was in the 60s-80s. when will desi politicians feel secure about their place and not more conservative than the conservatives themselves?

    • sri: …how infinitely more difficult it is to come in today than it was in the 60s-80s.

      It’s a lot easier, my friend, to come to the USA from the late ’90s onwards. There were VERY VERY few Indians in USA prior to ’65. Those Indians were ULTRA SMART, and eventually, they became Americans such as Nobel Laureate Chandrasekhar and Amar Bose who was a prof at MIT.

      Today, you just need mediocre Java and C++ skills, or marry someone with these skills and tag along with a spouse visa, or come here illegally like some of the desis.

    • This the great trick of the republicans and other organisations. They hire or put in power coloured people but those coloured people simply push the agenda that the party or organisation wants to push. They are just a PR stunt most of the time. In fact, this is so obvious, I’m surprised it is not commented on more frequently.

      Obama anyone?

      It is just cosmetics, most of the time.

  6. when she gets more bad coverage in national press it’s simply because she’s obliged to say, “here in South Carolina we do XYZ better and don’t want federal program ABC to ruin it” while the reality is that SC, by the metrics most media types favor (obviously not the ability to attract a major mfg like Boeing away from a high-tax, 4-corners state like WA), is not a state to boast about. Those great optics are just for her choir.

  7. Early immigrants put up with a lot and sometimes sold their souls to fit in. Overly ambitious politicians did the same until it won’t matter what your religion is. So recent immigrants just have to wait and watch until it’s safe for them to run for office without selling their souls.

  8. The quality of immigrant in the 60s and 70s was certainly smarter and tougher. You had to be because one had fewer friends and relatives to help one with in the journey to the US. Now an Indian immigrant has a much easier job in adjusting to t.

    As far as assimilation, I think Aziz Ansari does a fabulous job. He does not consciously shy away from his “desiness” as far as his personality is, but he very much does not feel obligated to prove his “desiness’. He grew up here, had a lot of non-Indian friends, like a lot of us do, and his outlook and jokes reflect that. While he doesn’t change his name, he will take on characters that have non-indian names, but that is part of acting. I think with Jindal the discomfort some of us have with him is there seems to be a calculatedness in him in almost every aspect except for his clothing and hairstyle, which for some reason looks very 80s era FOBish.

    For me, Nikki Haley does not generate those negative visceral reactions I get when I see Jindal talk. I do get a little wary of the what she did to assimilate, but it is no big deal in the big scheme of things. Is she faking her religiousness to score poilitical points? I have no idea even if I tend to be skeptical of the motives of people who convert to the majority religion as an adult. That’s because I am agnostic and while I can understand why people tend to be religious since it has been drilled into them since birth, it usually takes a life changing event for someone to convert to another religion.

    But the main thing is this . If they can improve governance of their states, that is all that matters. And she will open doors for more politicians of desi origin regardless of party affiliation.

  9. But the main thing is this . If they can improve governance of their states, that is all that matters.

    really…really? Politics in America like the Miss America contest, looks matter, presence matters, politically safe answers matter, and a little talent goes a long way.

  10. Pravin Praveen: The quality of immigrant in the 60s and 70s was certainly smarter and tougher. You had to be because one had fewer friends and relatives to help one with in the journey to the US. Now an Indian immigrant has a much easier job in adjusting to t. Great point. I’ve noticed this as well. The desis who arrived here in ’65-’70 were called “Mayflower Indians”, and they had to put up with SO much. Also, many of them, from what I have seen, arrived thinking that they’d go back. They had no friends or family, and I’m positive that all of them had racism directed against them. These desis probably met multi-ethnic Desis for the first time while in the USA. Those villagers from the ’60s only read about the different ethnic groups within India, but they have never have had to interact until they met some fellow Desis from different communities on the college campuses or work environment.

    As far as assimilation, I think Aziz Ansari does a fabulous job. He does not consciously shy away from his “desiness” as far as his personality is, but he very much does not feel obligated to prove his “desiness’. He grew up here, had a lot of non-Indian friends, like a lot of us do, and his outlook and jokes reflect that. While he doesn’t change his name, he will take on characters that have non-indian names, but that is part of acting.

    X2.

    But the main thing is this . If they can improve governance of their states, that is all that matters. And she will open doors for more politicians of desi origin regardless of party affiliation.

    I’m 100% sure that they will do a splendid job with their states. Jindal is exceptionally bright and honest, and nobody else in that hell hole called Louisiana is bright and honest.

    Nikki will also do a good job. She is a Jatt, and irrespective of her religion, I’m convinced that she’s extremely hard working, singularly focused – almost maniacal focused, very good at seeing the big picture without getting analysis-paralysis, naturally optimistic in outlook, and with great social skills. Oh, and don’t ever get on her bad side at noon time.

  11. This doesn’t quite go with the political tone of the discussion, but I’m in Columbia, SC, and I just got asked by an elderly African American gentleman whether I was “Hindi.” When I said yes, he said “Oh, I guess you’re Republican too.” I, of course, denied it. : )

  12. i find it interesting that aziz gets as a pass as not a sellout when he distances himself from his parents’ religion, islam. a white american religion blogger i linked to above in fact judges aziz, because he didn’t assert he was a “cultural muslim.” i think this is fallacious insofar as it analogizes too much with judaism, which is explicitly an ethnic nation as well as religion. if aziz’s close day to day friends were in the tamil muslim community and he was an atheist one could assert he was a cultural muslim, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. but there is an analogy here with jews, where if you are irreligious you don’t get docked the same “points” as if you convert to another religion, especially christianity.

    also, a reality check for some uninformed commenters: indian americans are overwhelmingly democratic and definitely tilt to the left. the prominence of two indian american governors is not representative (btw, i am not a democrat nor am i on the left, though i’m a bangladeshi american, not indian american, if you want to accuse me of cooking the books).

    • Razib Khan: i find it interesting that aziz gets as a pass as not a sellout when he distances himself from his parents’ religion, islam. a white american religion blogger i linked to above in fact judges aziz, because he didn’t assert he was a “cultural muslim.” i think this is fallacious insofar as it analogizes too much with judaism, which is explicitly an ethnic nation as well as religion. if aziz’s close day to day friends were in the tamil muslim community and he was an atheist one could assert he was a cultural muslim, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. but there is an analogy here with jews, where if you are irreligious you don’t get docked the same “points” as if you convert to another religion, especially christianity.

      Aziz would be a sellout if he changed his name to “Steven Whitley Bradford” and converted to Anglican. Sell-outs have an identity shortage and/or low self-esteem. So their conversion – religion, naming convention, or otherwise – creates an emotional distance and is how they deal with their low self esteem or identity crisis/shortage. One quality of a sell-out is that they never want to discuss their pre-American heritage. They may even westernize their pre-American heritage. But in general, they distance themselves emotionally from it.

      However, Aziz has an eclectic array of friends, and he was born/raised in SC. He could have been a “Steven” who takes Anglican communion, but he’s quite comfortable in his identity. He doesn’t even avoid talking about his relatives or heritage. He even has some jokes about how he tried to basically flirt with M.I.A. with his limited knowledge of Tamil.

      OTOH, Jindal or Haley never bring up their Punjabi identity. They downplay it. In Boston, if you were Indian Punjabi, your Punjabiness was central to your identity. So I know to what great extent these 2 are going to turning over a new leaf.

      • Aziz would be a sellout if he changed his name to “Steven Whitley Bradford” and converted to Anglican.

        I guess I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but why would 21st centuy Aziz changing his name to Steve and converting to Anglicanism be any worse than his Tamil Nadu ancestors adopting Arabic names, converting to an Arabic religion and following Arabic customers, a few centuries ago? Why does that Arabic identity have to be his “real” identity any more than his identity as an American Southerner? Identity is based on where you were born and raised and the customs you grew up with, not necessarily what your ancestors did 500 years ago.

        What I like about Aziz is he kind of pokes fun at this…in this clip he talks about how people are always asking him about Slumdog Millionaire, which he has nothing to do with lol:

        http://iamyourcoolguy.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/12-are-white-people-psyched-all-the-time_-explicit.mp3

        • Alina: I guess I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but why would 21st centuy Aziz changing his name to Steve and converting to Anglicanism be any worse than his Tamil Nadu ancestors adopting Arabic names, converting to an Arabic religion and following Arabic customers, a few centuries ago? Why does that Arabic identity have to be his “real” identity any more than his identity as an American Southerner? Identity is based on where you were born and raised and the customs you grew up with, not necessarily what your ancestors did 500 years ago.

          Hah! Great point. You see, for a Desi in the USA to Anglicize their names and convert and eat apple pie all day, this is an example of hyper-adopting America’s customs and selling out. The immigrant is adopting the customs/habits of the dominant culture. An example of this is when East Asians convert religions (from atheism or Buddhism to Protestantism) and change names (from Xialei to Angela) in LA. However, if these same East Asians migrated to India and converted from Confucianism to Protestantism, that shows moral conviction.

          On the other hand, for ethnic Tamils to change their religion from the dominant religion to a minority religion, which may or may not have been diametrically opposed to the dominant religion of the land, takes chutzpah, courage, and moral conviction. I’m not saying that I agree with the tenants of the religion, but I find it endearing to convert to a “recessive” religion – as opposed to a dominant religion to gain societal browny points. Another example of this is when, for example, a Jatt Sikh from Jalandhar arrives in the USA and converts to Islam (or migrates to Bangalore and converts to Judaism).

          • and to be clear, there are obviously cases where your model works. unfortunately the charge of “sellout” is liberally and ignorantly thrown about by those with malicious intent far more often than it is used to point to a real dynamic in my experience. i also think it is somewhat different for what canadians would term “visible minorities.” you can’t usually be a “crypto-south asian.” this in contrast to jews and catholics who may have converted to protestant religions and hid their backgrounds from their social peers.

  13. i find it interesting that aziz gets as a pass as not a sellout when he distances himself from his parents’ religion, islam. a white american religion blogger i linked to above in fact judges aziz, because he didn’t assert he was a “cultural muslim.”

    Would he expect White American atheists to assert that they’re “culturally Roman Catholic”, even if they’re not? Hmm probably not. But to him it doesn’t matter what Ansari’s beliefs are; the guy has brown skin and a funny name, therefore he damned well better identify as a Muzzer or cow-worshipper, and if he doesn’t, he’s lying…eyeroll I’ve gotten this attitude all too many times before fwiw, so maybe I’m overreacting here.

    You’re right that Jews don’t have to deal with this as much, but I guess that’s because they’re an ethnic group as well as a religion, not to mention a lot more secular, and mainstream American, compared to Muslims.

    This doesn’t quite go with the political tone of the discussion, but I’m in Columbia, SC, and I just got asked by an elderly African American gentleman whether I was “Hindi.” When I said yes, he said “Oh, I guess you’re Republican too.” I, of course, denied it. : )

    That’s surprising…I guess I took it for granted growing up in NY that most Desi’s are Democrat and most people realize that. I suppose in the South, a lot of folks who don’t know anything about Desi’s may look to Jindal and Haley as examples of leaders in our community, and not realize they’re hardly representative of the majority of Indian-Americans.

  14. I don’t think each act of removing one’s “desiness” or whatever one wants to term it is by itself selling out. With Jindal, it seemed to be a trend though. Sure, there are people who change their ethnic names to fit in. There are some who change their religion. There are some who develop a more native accent than one is used to hearing from that same person when he or she was a kid. But how many exhibit a combination of so many “sellout” type actions? Also, with Aziz, what is he gaining by becoming an atheist. So you know that by saying he is an atheist, it is more out of personal conviction than for any career minded means. Plus, part of it is simply visual and not purely logic based . Aziz just looks damn comfortable in his own skin. so that kind of a person gets a pass.
    And there are several “hindus” like me who are either agnostic or atheist. In fact, several Indians in India are atheists. So agnosticism and atheism are actually a legitimate part of indian culture.

  15. Hmmm, so the consensus here is that Bobby Jindal looks “Indic” while Nikki Haley looks “Mediterranean”. What we do know is that they are both punjabis: Nikki Randhawa Haley is a Jatt aka of low caste peasant stock while Bobby Piyush Jindal is an upper caste khatri aka warrior caste.

    So much for the “Aryan invasion theory” eh? :)

  16. Would he expect White American atheists to assert that they’re “culturally Roman Catholic”, even if they’re not? Hmm probably not. But to him it doesn’t matter what Ansari’s beliefs are; the guy has brown skin and a funny name, therefore he damned well better identify as a Muzzer or cow-worshipper, and if he doesn’t, he’s lying…eyeroll I’ve gotten this attitude all too many times before fwiw, so maybe I’m overreacting here.

    right. i get that sometimes too. i generally respond to people by asking if they would demand that i have a bone pierced through my nose if i was of papuan ancestry, at which point they’re so offended that the topic at least moves onto to something else instead of why i’m not spiritual and crap.

    some context, here is what mark silk said: Better an atheist than a Muslim these days. What Ansari wants to be known as is just “South Asian,” and that’s all that Kalefa Sanneh tags him with in his November 1 New Yorker profile. So Ansari grew up “South Asian” in South Carolina? That’s it?

    and:

    My colleague Homayra Ziad, who has made a study of Muslim comedians, notes that American culture does not yet have a place for the “cultural Muslim.” That goes for the “cultural Hindu” and the “cultural Sikh” as well. Cultural Jews there are aplenty. I say it’s time for the South Asians to step up.

    here’s a bio of the author of the above statements: “Mark Silk is professor of religion in public life at Trinity College (Hartford, CT), and a leading expert on how religion is covered in the media. He is the founding director of the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life and founding editor of Religion in the News, a magazine published by the Center. Silk is the author of Spiritual Politics: Religion and America Since World War II and Unsecular Media: Making News of Religion in America. He is co-editor of Religion by Region, an eight-volume series on religion and public life in the United States, and co-author (with Andrew Walsh) of the forthcoming One Nation Divisible: Religion and Region in America Today. Silk is also the co-editor of the upcoming book series The Future of Religion in America.”

    he should know better. my friend ed brayton, who blogs at dispatches from the culture wars once referred to ibn warraq as an “atheist muslim.” warraq notably wrote why i am not a muslim, and is an anti-muslim activist who freely fellow travelers with neocons. i asked ed if he would refer to richard dawkins as an “atheist christian.” i think that got the analogy across well and i didn’t have to argue any further.

    And there are several “hindus” like me who are either agnostic or atheist. In fact, several Indians in India are atheists. So agnosticism and atheism are actually a legitimate part of indian culture.

    yes, but i think the point is that atheist does not entail that you are not a hindu, because of the religion’s broadness of category. hinduism has somewhat of an ethnic connotation. though some muslim radicals (e.g., “the muslim nation”) and westerners do ethnicize the religion, it is radically confessional. the profession of belief in one god and muhammad as his prophet is central. in contrast, hindus can be theists, atheists, pantheists, monists, dualists, etc. and if you bracket the nastika traditions as hindu then even a materialist position is compatible with hinduism.

    You’re right that Jews don’t have to deal with this as much, but I guess that’s because they’re an ethnic group as well as a religion, not to mention a lot more secular, and mainstream American, compared to Muslims.

    about ~1/3 of self-identified american jews don’t believe in god. many love pork, don’t keep kosher, etc. the implicit definition of a jew in the USA is very broad. in contrast, islam has a more religious and observant connotation. there are cultural muslims who aren’t religious, but then you will get the expectation that you adhere to the practices and beliefs of other muslims. why bother? i know a guy who identifies as a cultural muslim but is personally agnostic who got asked by what masjid he belonged to at customs or something. he hasn’t belonged to a masjid in a long time. that sort of stuff can be a hassle, so i can see why aziz would want to get the world out there that he’s from a muslim background but he’s not religious at all since he’s a public person and people will be primed to ask him questions based on his background.

  17. also, i quoted this from mark silk: Better an atheist than a Muslim these days. What Ansari wants to be known as is just “South Asian,” and that’s all that Kalefa Sanneh tags him with in his November 1 New Yorker profile. So Ansari grew up “South Asian” in South Carolina? That’s it? because it’s funny that he seems to be implying that aziz ansari’s brown identification is a way to run away from being muslim! the scare quotes around “south asian” are kind of obnoxious.

  18. I guess I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but why would 21st centuy Aziz changing his name to Steve and converting to Anglicanism be any worse than his Tamil Nadu ancestors adopting Arabic names, converting to an Arabic religion and following Arabic customers, a few centuries ago? Why does that Arabic identity have to be his “real” identity any more than his identity as an American Southerner? Identity is based on where you were born and raised and the customs you grew up with, not necessarily what your ancestors did 500 years ago.

    there are more christians than muslims in tamil nadu:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamil_Nadu#Demographics

    many of them are church of south india, which is a catchall which includes anglicans.

    in general i lean toward your position that people should be taken for what they are. OTOH, there are a host of assertions and actions which do seem to make bobby jindal at one end of the spectrum, excepting the fact that his wife is also brown. my own first impulse is to say who are we to judge? but if it is true that jindal raises money from indian americans in a political capacity, then i think some scrutiny should be expected about the details of his biographical narrative. remember, this is a guy who has a robust background in evolutionary biology at brown university who has given the nod to creationism, even though this isn’t anything entailed by this roman catholic religion.

  19. Hmmm, so the consensus here is that Bobby Jindal looks “Indic” while Nikki Haley looks “Mediterranean”. What we do know is that they are both punjabis: Nikki Randhawa Haley is a Jatt aka of low caste peasant stock while Bobby Piyush Jindal is an upper caste khatri aka warrior caste.

    charming, if it wasn’t for this weblog i’d have no clue about the caste backgrounds of people! :-) in any case case, the harappa ancestry project has found that there seems to be little genetic difference across caste background in punjab. this is not replicated in other parts of the country.

  20. As if to hammer the point home further, I went to a 4th of July bbq at a friend’s today, and a stranger asked me why I was eating a hot dog, because aren’t I middle eastern and don’t we keep kosher? (although to be fair, kosher is pretty similar to halal…although it wasn’t a kosher hot dog).

    Oh well. Happy Independence Day to all you Amreekans! :D

  21. (although to be fair, kosher is pretty similar to halal…although it wasn’t a kosher hot dog).

    i think the rule of thumb is that everything that’s kosher is halal, but everything that’s halal isn’t kosher. though what is, and isn’t, halal seems to be strongly culturally conditioned. try and tell syrians who bring frog legs to the masjid on eid al-fathir that it isn’t halal, and you’re in for some trouble :-)

  22. An example of this is when East Asians convert religions (from atheism or Buddhism to Protestantism) and change names (from Xialei to Angela) in LA. However, if these same East Asians migrated to India and converted from Confucianism to Protestantism, that shows moral conviction.

    three points

    1) i think south asians routinely overestimate the strength of affiliation to east asians to world religions, period, because they own culture is so religio-communally embedded. religious shift is much more commonplace in east asia historically than it has been in the world of the west, islam, or india, of late. don’t project your own general categories. you assertion has some merit, but its valence is subtly shifted.

    2) as i have stated over and over, many non-chinese literally can not pronounce chinese names correctly to any degree of approximation. there is no equivalence between xialei and amit, because writing out a name phonetically ignores the importance of tonality (so chinese names have the problem that non-chinese can simply turn them into a real world by messing up tone). this is one reason that chinese have western names even in multinational businesses in china sometimes. non-chinese speaking coworkers need to be accommodated.

    3) in indonesia the ethnic chinese are converting to christianity. but that’s partly because conversion to islam means assimilation into the muslim majority (consider the importance of pork in chinese cuisine). the state in indonesian discourages irreligiosity, and until recently confucianism wasn’t given an official status. chinese are much more weakly attached to buddhism than the rest of the world understands. my point is that there’s a rather bigger constellation of possibilities than you’re giving people credit for. the conversion of korean immigrants to christianity when they arrive to the USA generally occurs through the korean church institutions, which proactively reach out to new arrivals, not the dominant society.

  23. You see, for a Desi in the USA to Anglicize their names and convert and eat apple pie all day, this is an example of hyper-adopting America’s customs and selling out.

    Sure, it is selling out. But no more than when my Paki ancestors converted to Islam because they were invaded by West Asian Muslims and they gave up their Hindu religion and names to adopt Arabic names, religion, and customs. And in fact, modern Pakis often hyper-adopt Persian and Arab customs to distance themselves from Indic roots; this too is selling out in a sense.

    As for E.Asians – I get your point about the religion, but as far as names, it seems that Chinese/Koreans are the ones who change their names, because they have a tonal language so when we butcher their names, we are “changing their names” in a sense (or this is how my friend Xiao-turned-Jennifer explained it haha). Japanese don’t have a tonal language, and I’ve noticed lots of Japanese-Americans keep their names.

    • OK – I stand amused and more learned. You taught me something today, Alina. Thanks. I agree with your point here.

    • “And in fact, modern Pakis often hyper-adopt Persian and Arab customs to distance themselves from Indic roots; this too is selling out in a sense.

      Oh? I am pretty aware of Persian culture and Pakistani culture seems extremely remote from it (I would admit though my experience with Pakistani culture is limited). Heck even Pashtun culture seems radically different. How exactly are they adopting Persian culture? Is everyone celebrating Nowruz now or something?

      • also, note that the pakistani elite views themselves customarily as the heirs to the mughali culture. which was persianate in the civilian sphere (i qualify because urdu, turki, etc., were used in military contexts). this may be changing with a more thoroughgoing islamization which may view the mughals themselves as too kuffar, i don’t know.

      • I agree with Alina: I believe that Pakistanis attempt to distance themselves from their eastern neighbors, to the point of being manic about it. Re. Nowruz: Pashtuns, Shia and Ismailis of Pakistan – all 3 are not exclusive by the way – celebrate March 21st. After all, Pashtuns are an Iranian people and Punjabis aren’t.

        • it’s pretty much a never-ending discussion on brownpundits re: this topic (cuz we have paki contribs).

      • Oh? I am pretty aware of Persian culture and Pakistani culture seems extremely remote from it (I would admit though my experience with Pakistani culture is limited). Heck even Pashtun culture seems radically different.

        I’m not saying traditional Pakistani culture is the same as Persian. I’m saying that Pakistani’s often try to distance themselves from their Indic roots by adopting bits of West Asian (Arab + Persian) culture to “Islamify” themselves in a sense.

        Language: Hindi and Urdu are one language, but the latter uses the Perso-Arabic script, rather than traditional Sanskrit, to distance it from Hindi. This was done after the Mughal invasion of India. Urdu has also borrowed a lot of words from Arabic, Farsi, and Dari. Pakistani’s have incorporated Arabic and Persian words into everyday speech. As Razib mentioned, prayer is now “Salaat” and the traditional goodbye has become “Allah Hafiz” or “Assalamualaikum”. There is a trend of adopting words from Dari/Farsi/Arabic to replace the Hindi word. In Peshawar, I noticed calendars often had Arabic names for all the months and holidays. People used to refer to the holy month as “Ramzaan” (Persian/Urdu) and now it’s “Ramadan” (Arabic).

        History: Pakistani schoolchildren learn little about pre-Islamic history. They do however, learn a lot about the Islamic Golden Age, focusing on Arabic and Persian Empires. Some Pakistani’s are even taught that Mohenjo Daro, the archeological site that is a remnant of Indus Civilization, was an ancient society called Hud; in the Quran it’s written that Hud was destroyed by Allah because they wouldn’t follow Islam. There is a sign near Mohenjo Daro in Sindh, stating this. This is an example of Pakistani’s trying to change their history to “Islamify” it while making the Hindu civilization look bad.

        Culture: You brought up Nowruz – sure it’s Persian New Years, but this holiday is celebrated in South Asia as well. Aladdin Park is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Karachi. Aladdin in a Middle Eastern folk tale, originating from Persia and Arabia. The Arabian Nights stories have been adapted into Pakistani culture and are like Harry Potter for Pakistani kids. My great-aunt in Peshawar says lots of Arabic and Persian literature are taught in schools, whereas I doubt much Sanskrit is.

        Architecture: I guess it started with the Mughal invasion, but Arabic/Persian architectural elements are everywhere.

        Here’s some more examples of Persian culture being incorporated into Pakistani and Muslim India: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indo-Persian_culture

  24. Razib Khan: the harappa ancestry project has found that there seems to be little genetic difference across caste background in punjab. this is not replicated in other parts of the country.

    Hey wait a minute! Cavalli Luigi-Sforza and Malhotra did a study on S. Asia genetic variances around ’98. They determined that the MOST genetic diversity was in the NW of Indian Subcontinent, Pakistan, and from what I remember, S. Afghanistan.

    The most homogenous is S. and E. India, I believe.

  25. There was a time when ABDs went out of their way to be seen as non-Indian. Then the late 90s hit and India was everywhere. It become beneficial to be Indian again and many ABDs embraced their Indianess. Similarly, Politicans and religious converts will quickly convert to the religion most beneficial to them. (and it is not always the dominant religion).

  26. Oh? I am pretty aware of Persian culture and Pakistani culture seems extremely remote from it (I would admit though my experience with Pakistani culture is limited). Heck even Pashtun culture seems radically different. How exactly are they adopting Persian culture? Is everyone celebrating Nowruz now or something?

    i’ll let alina elaborate in detail with her personal experience, but you might want to read a little on mughal culture. the mughal court and administrative used persian as the language of civilian life. indo-islamic culture was extremely persianate after the 16th century due to the mughals (to some extent before too, as persian culture was the “high culture” of the islamic east, but less rigorous than among the mughals who suppressed the shift toward local vernaculars occurring in some regions such as bengal). that is why muslims in much of india use terms like “namaz” for prayer, instead of the arabic “salat.” in a rather funny and sad recent turn of events islamic fundamentalist in pakistan are purging the persian elements and substituting with arab ones in their speech. so “khuda hafiz” is transformed into “allah hafiz.”

    overall i’d say that persians perceive a large distance between themselves and pakistanis, while pakistanis perceive a small distance :-)

    • “overall i’d say that persians perceive a large distance between themselves and pakistanis, while pakistanis perceive a small distance :-)

      I can vouch for the former, most Iranians I ask group Iranians, some Tajiks, and a few others as being “Persian” (basically Khorasan). Very few would regard Mughal culture to be Persian. Mostly the see the Mughals to have an Indo-Islamic culture with some borrowed Persian elements. Cultures east of Kabul or maybe even Herat would not be considered Persian and definitely no Arabs would be included.

  27. Hey wait a minute! Cavalli Luigi-Sforza and Malhotra did a study on S. Asia genetic variances around ’98.

    anything from ’98 is way old. give the paper link, cuz i couldn’t find it with the authors.

    • I looked very hard, and even I couldn’t find it. But I very much remember it from the past.It was a monochromatic color coded map.

  28. But I very much remember it from the past.It was a monochromatic color coded map.

    cavalli-sforza didn’t have indian populations in the HGDP data set. only pakistanis. i’m pretty sure you’re misremembering a conflation of west eurasian variance, where he aggregated mid east + pakistan vs. european, and noted the latter had less genic variance than the pool of the former. all i would say is that cavalli-sforza expressed low confidence in the assertion because of sample size issue with extra-europeans. he pooled them together unnaturally because to increase statistical power.

  29. Oh, I would like to include myself as one of those who had no clue Nikki Haley was a desi when I first heard about her.

    Then again, when I first saw Jeff Goldbum in the Big Chill, I had to wonder if there was any desi blood in him. Or the NZ actor from Three Kings and Once Were Warriors – Cliff Curtis.

    • Oh, I would like to include myself as one of those who had no clue Nikki Haley was a desi when I first heard about her.

      you’re no Rassenpapst!

    • Cliff Curtis is of Mauri descent, perhaps that may be reason for his “desi” looks.

  30. @Cronous – Just to clarify, I’m not saying Paki’s are part of Persian civilization by any means. I’m saying they try to adopt bits of Arabic and Persian culture to distance themselves from their Hindu roots, which are seen as embarrassing. The Muhajirs in Karachi seem to be the exception.

    • ‘I’m saying they try to adopt bits of Arabic and Persian culture to distance themselves from their Hindu roots, which are seen as embarrassing. ‘

      Interesting, you see the exact opposite among some Iranian nationalists who despise Islamic culture (basically viewing it as an agent of Arab domination) and want to return their Zorastrian roots. Oh well, not surprising that the narrative with which you are indoctrinated with plays big part in what you want to be.

  31. To play devil’s advocate myself, what is wrong about distancing oneself from certain aspects of one’s roots? Most white Americans are descended from non-English speakers. Is it so bad they their families adopted english? Are Mexicans bad because they don’t “play up” their Aztec and other Amerindian roots? Choices gotta be made. Let’s not try to create Pakistan as some sort of weird one-off in global terms. Putting aside whatever distancing I’m doing from Indic roots, I don’t read/write Punjabi as well as Urdu or English. Is that a tragedy?

    • “To play devil’s advocate myself, what is wrong about distancing oneself from certain aspects of one’s roots?”

      Personally I believe there is nothing wrong in choosing whatever identity you want, however, in the context of Jindal and Haley people view it as an elimination of ones identity to fit in.

      “Let’s not try to create Pakistan as some sort of weird one-off in global terms.”

      Pakistan is unique in that its distancing is not based on desire to fit in within a majority/dominating culture (as in the US or even with the Spanish in Mexico) rather it is due to a religious and nationalist narrative that wants to remove all things non-Muslim (something I regard as being very bigoted). There is nothing wrong with choosing alternative cultural norms because you find culture x or y more to your liking, but it is sad when other religious groups/cultures are being demonized to do it.

      • Yes, I agree that the choices shouldn’t come at the expense of demonizing others—and I agree Pakistan does far too much of that.

  32. strictly anecdotally, i have seen two conservatives (or at least non liberal) bangladeshi american people(Razib and the bald guy who shows up on Bill Maher’s show), I can say that they seem more sensible than their Indian American counterparts in the conservative world. Let’s not let the Indian American democrats off the hook. Our infamous whiner – Hermon Raju- worked for a Democrat as did one of my super bratty relatives.

  33. @Sahar – I see your point but I don’t think it’s fair to compare immigrants here. Immigrants to the US, whether they be White Europeans, Mexicans, or Pakistani’s such as yourself are assimilating to their new environment by learning the language and culture. That is very different than an entire country trying to distance itself from its own culture. Pakistan is pretty unique so it’s hard to compare to another country. After all, it was carved out specifically for Indian Muslims. I think someone said earlier that the most genetic diversity in the subcontinent was in the NW; Pakistan and S. Afghanistan. I think that goes for cultural diversity too. Modern Pakistan is a hodge-podge of different ethnic groups and cultures. I’m not saying it’s a tragedy…but I think it’s interesting that a nation would try to distance itself from its roots. That is not a uniquely Paki phenomenon obviously, but I’m not familiar enough with another culture other than American/Paki to have an opinion on the matter.

    Sorry to have gone so off-topic! Somehow every Sepia discussion goes off on a Pak tangent.

    • I see what you mean too, but the more I think about it the more it annoys me–why are “browns” supposed to remain “authentic” while white people can change their cultures in advantageous ways? It’s super-annoying that it’s other browns now telling this narrative. “Barbarians” throughout Europe adopted the Hellenized Roman/Christian, and increasingly English-language, toolkit and they are doing well. Why should desis linger over “authenticity”? We need wealth a lot more, and that is likely to come from adopting the successful toolkit not running down people like Haley or Jindal. Mexicans are smart to go with Spanish culture over Amerindian if they want to have a good life.

  34. We need wealth a lot more, and that is likely to come from adopting the successful toolkit not running down people like Haley or Jindal.

    Pakistani’s need wealth a lot more, and that is likely to come from looking to our neighbors to the East rather than to Afghanistan/Iran. There is a big difference between adapting the positive things about a different culture – for example, Pakistan would do well to adopt Western secularism and technology – versus trying to erase one’s cultural and simultaneously becoming more “backwards” in a sense. Islamic fundamentalism isn’t a natural part of our culture, it’s imported. I think we’ve discussed this thoroughly on Brown Pundits, so I’ll leave it at that.

  35. I see what you mean too, but the more I think about it the more it annoys me–why are “browns” supposed to remain “authentic” while white people can change their cultures in advantageous ways?

    in the USA this is an issue of white vs. non-white. i’m really kind of sick of having people be curious and confused as to why i’m curious about chinese history. the implication is pretty obvious that since i’m brown i should only rationally be expected to be interested in my “own” history. i doubt that the reaction would be quite the same if i was a white shade; i’d just be someone with broad interests.

  36. btw, i think there are some similarities between modern turkey and pakistan. ataturk famously wanted to refashion his nation as a european one. but one of the most concrete things he did to achieve this is by switching from arabic script to roman alphabet. this shuts off modern turks who aren’t specialists from their past ottoman history, ataturk’s intent.

  37. Razib and the bald guy who shows up on Bill Maher’s show

    reihan :-) he’s a friend. we’re the bangladeshi american center-right duopoly. he covers the east coast, and i cover the west.

  38. I think a difference needs to be drawn between the various types of “selling out”.

    If you emigrate to another country, I think, to a certain extent, you should sell out. That is you should try and assimilate as much as possible while maintaining your religious and cultural beliefs if that is important to you. Anglicizing your name in a business context is a smart move, and as has been pointed out many of the earlier “white” immigrants have done similar things (Italians, Germans, Polish etc). You don’t have to convert religion but you don’t have to go around stuffing your religion in other people’s faces either. It is simple common sense really. Socializing with all types of people is important, nothing wrong with eating apple pie and celebrating the fourth of july either.

    The problem with “selling out” as I see it is when you do it in your own country to the detriment of your fellow countrymen. That is a very different kind of selling out and much worse, in my opinion. I use colonialism as an example – there was so much selling out going on it was ridiculous. It was also to a power that really didn’t give a monkeys about the people who were selling out to them and thought of all of them as beneath them. These powers then proceeded to loot and rob the countries dry while not giving a stuff about the people.

    That is selling out to me. As an immigrant, adopting the local culture within the bounds of what you are comfortable with is just common sense.

  39. Why is it that nobody seems to even consider the fact that Jindal and Nikki converted to Christianity because they wanted to and not for political reasons?

  40. Some of us acknowledge that possibility. But this is a comments section and we go by our gut feeling. I have read excerpts of Jindal’s writings on his conversion and while it seems sincere, I wonder if it is his way of convincing himself he is doing it for reasons of faith and not some way to justify in hindisght why he decided to convert. Nikki’s reasons seem more for expediency but she does not go on and on about religion as much as Jindal. There are a lot of desis that convert. AR Rahman doesnt get bashed because a lot of people, even fundie Hindus, know that he did it for emotional reasons and not to fit in for advancing his career. But these are the only two under scrutiny because there is some questions on why they did it plus they are very visible in the public eye. A lot of the backlash is more than a mere checklist of desiness. I dont think Nikki Haley got even half the criticism of Bobby Jindal for the name change.Maybe because by the time Jindal got famous, for better or worse, he was seen as someone way too eager to distance himself from desiness in a calculated manner. Also Nikki is a nickname that is common in both the east and west. It also helps accept such stuff when the person is likable. I am guessing Nikki has a more likable persona than Jindal. She has an easy smile, and is decent looking. Jindal has a slight distant look and does not seem as down to earth.

    I think far more importance would be if she decided to prove her sincerity to her constituents by imposing Intelligent Design on SC schools. I know Jindal is in favor of it. I have no idea what Haley’s stand is on this issue.

    I do think that Will Folks guy is a jerk regarless of the veracity of his sexual claims.Even if you were to believe everything he said about his affair with Nikki, I am guessing she called it off because it was a heat in of the moment thing and he felt jilted and is acting petty now. I thnk Nikki has certainly some aspects of her life that are admirable. She has gone against a good ole boys network even if you take into account all the politically calculated stuff she is guilty of. I think she cares about her state. Let us hope she doesn’t become a Palin clone and go for the publicity thing. She is smarter and seems more sincere than Palin.

  41. “Why is it that nobody seems to even consider the fact that Jindal and Nikki converted to Christianity because they wanted to and not for political reasons? “

    Because Desis are highly opportunistic and self loathing… we know each others tricks.

  42. “Because Desis are highly opportunistic and self loathing… we know each others tricks”

    I think both Jindal and Nikki are remarkable people who we all should be proud of. I am just a bit put off by the snide remarks on this board mainly because they changed their name or religion. The assumption without any proof whatsoever that they were purely political ploys. I also see in blog posts/comments everywhere the insistent and unnecessary insertion of their middle names Piyush and Randhawa as though to remind everyone who they truly are. There is also the use of quotes around “Bobby” as though to say “Ha ha that is not his name even though he says it is”.

    “It began with an optically disastrous and widely mocked Republican response to Barack Hussein Obama’s State of the Union speech a few years back.”

    Why is the American media and public so shallow that they will judge a politician by the way he speaks and other external attributes? Thereby ignoring all of Jindals considerable achievements and qualifications? They should learn from the Indians and Chinese who have no problem electing dopey leaders who put you to sleep when they talk.

    • I also see in blog posts/comments everywhere the insistent and unnecessary insertion of their middle names Piyush and Randhawa as though to remind everyone who they truly are. There is also the use of quotes around “Bobby” as though to say “Ha ha that is not his name even though he says it is”.

      That’s because Piyush isn’t his middle name, it’s his first name. “Bobby” was a nickname he adopted as a kid, but his legal name that appears on the ballot is Piyush Jindal. It’s no more demeaning than referring to Haley as “Nikkita Haley” rather than her nickname, Nikki.

  43. Why is the American media and public so shallow that they will judge a politician by the way he speaks and other external attributes? Thereby ignoring all of Jindals considerable achievements and qualifications? They should learn from the Indians and Chinese who have no problem electing dopey leaders who put you to sleep when they talk.

    unless you are talking about the republic of china, the chinese don’t elect leaders. your comments makes a fair point in terms of their substance, but speaking of style, there’s an artless dullness to them which makes me uninterested in engaging. you can complain all you want about the american people and the media, but they’ll stay stupid longer than you can complain.

  44. That’s because Piyush isn’t his middle name

    right. when someone makes a reasonable argument as JJ did, but can’t bother to get a series of basic facts correct, that’s a serious discouragement to engagement. therefore, i think i’m calling it quits while i’m ahead. not in the mood of monitoring this thread anymore