Totally Pulled a “Nikki H.”

nikki_haley.jpgIt’s like Bhagat Singh Thind all over again. Are we White? Are we Brown? Are we Hindoos? Can I be white so that I can own property (as in Thind’s case)? Can I be White so that I can become electable as governor of South Carolina (as in Nikki Haley’s case)?

Haley — South Carolina’s first female and minority governor and the country’s second Indian-American governor — listed her race as “white” on her 2001 voter registration card… The state Democratic Party, which first obtained the public record, is calling Haley out on the matter and challenging whether her inconsistency on the card might have made her ineligible to voter under the state’s new Voter ID law. [postandcourier]

Oh Nimrata… As much as our politics and preference in alleged love affair diverged, I took a certain pride in knowing that we had our first South Asian American woman in governership. To marginalize yourself, when in leadership role, marginalizes the rest of us. Changing your name from Nimrata to Nikki is one thing, but changing your race? It’s skin. It’s blood. Unless you are Michael Jackson, it doesn’t rub off.

Now that I think about it, I think I have just the product for you, thanks to Sandeep Sood. This just may fit your need.

So Nikki, I’m going to give you the benefit of a doubt – like the 25% of South Asian Americans who marked themselves as White in the 1990 Census. This is your Public Service Announcement – No matter how great your dermatologist is or how much Fair & Lovely Inside you ingest, you are not White. You are a minority. A South Asian American. A woman of Indian heritage and Sikh parents.

And next time we hear someone Desi insist on their Whiteness, we can say, “She totally just pulled a Nikkie H.”

This entry was posted in Identity, Issues, Politics, Video by Taz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates MutinousMindState.tumblr.com and blogs at TazzyStar.blogspot.com. Follow her at twitter.com/tazzystar

34 thoughts on “Totally Pulled a “Nikki H.”

  1. OMG, that was so funny! “White on the inside” – eh? Hahahaha!!! Snow White cartoon.

    I wonder what else that they could add as being a “white on the inside” trait?

    The irony of this video is that the ending of this comedy skit has a song sampled from Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. Freddie Mercury probably didn’t need “Fair & Lovely on the Inside”.

  2. The video is hilarious. In addition to mispronouncing Yoga terms, needed to add the white-o-meter need to bash your own culture or religion as being primitive or backward and to mimic the likes of Pamela Geller and other white supremacists. Something along the lines of “I am Pakistani Muslim, and we are all women oppressing primitive terrorists! Down with the hijab! Am I rite or am I rite? Or should I say, am I white or am I white, rite?”

  3. Yogurt-covered raisins! Blech!

    Yogurt-covered espresso beans, on the other hand, I might spring for, but I’ve never seen ‘em.

  4. Was she married in 2001? since she married a white guy maybe she adopted his race too while signing up for jesus

  5. I can’t seem to find an official response from her or someone at her office. Granted more important shit is going on right now (and I didn’t look too hard), but I can’t believe that there wouldn’t have been — even a brief, dismissive — official response by now. It is unfortunate; I’m willing to chalk it up to a mistake (wasn’t there the chance that the clerk who filed it for her might have been the one who checked ‘white’ on the form?); and I’m highly skeptical of how the Democrats there are using this. I mean, it’s clearly manipulative, when I think that a good number of them probably don’t give a shit about the politics of recognition either. But is this much of a scandal right now, outside our desi bubble? I’m not saying it should or shouldn’t be, I just always wonder about things I come across on my desi blogs — that sadly aren’t always on others’ radar.

  6. I was right there with you until this:

    “No matter how great your dermatologist is or how much Fair & Lovely Inside you ingest, you are not White. You are a minority. A South Asian American. A woman of Indian heritage and Sikh parents.”

    No matter how good it may feel to say it, that was not productive. Surely people of color don’t need to be reminded that they are people of color. When you cross that line of becoming someone who chides an adult on an issue as complex as identity, then a bit of the legitimacy your message had is lost.

    • “No matter how good it may feel to say it, that was not productive. Surely people of color don’t need to be reminded that they are people of color. When you cross that line of becoming someone who chides an adult on an issue as complex as identity, then a bit of the legitimacy your message had is lost.”

      In most situations, especially related to cultural identification, I would agree. However in the instant case it is about racial classification. Checking the white box when you are clearly South Asian creates the implication that there is something wrong with being South Asian.

    • “Surely people of color don’t need to be reminded that they are people of color. When you cross that line of becoming someone who chides an adult on an issue as complex as identity, then a bit of the legitimacy your message had is lost.”

      As Indians we should chide and ridicule those who 1) change their name, 2) change their religion and 3) change their ethnic identity to further their ambitions. It is gross, and their kids will spend many hours in therapy trying to sort through why their parents had so much self hate.

  7. I think it calls for introspection if Desis do not want to identify as Desi.

    In this day and age no one can force anyone to be something they don’t want to be.

    Also it seem pretty self-evident that people will want to identify with the establishment and ascendant powers wherever possible.

    • “In this day and age no one can force anyone to be something they don’t want to be. “

      I think that confuses cultural identification with ones ancestry. I am “white” in a cultural sense though I cannot change my South Asian ancestry.

  8. To be fair to Gov.Haley, she had the following race categories to choose from: white, black, Hispanic, Asian or Indian. No desi has ever identified as being black. Not even the most gangsta’ ones from Edison or Devon Street with their gelled-hair, DJ-ing ways and slang. She’s definitely not Hispanic. Also, she ruled out “Asian” because “Asian” really means “Eastern and/or South Eastern Asian.” Would an Israeli put down “Asian” while applying for a driver’s license in the USA? No. However, they are indeed Asian! Israeli Jew’s language is Afro-Semitic; their ancestors have lived there for on/off millenium, but they would categorize themselves as “White”. Also, Haley isn’t a Native American (i.e. “Indian”). I hate the term “Indian” when you really mean “Native American”. I’m sure that if there were a “South Asian” category or “Desi” category that she would have checked it off.

  9. Taz,

    it’s not necessary to corral unwilling members into your cult of brown. There are many people, white included, who are enthusiastic about their membership, or even aspirations to, and about the drinking of the kool-aid itself. By all rights, i should be ‘white’ as well: I listen to music made mostly by white people, watch tv and movies made mostly by white people (and Koreans) and associate with nearly 99% white people–and I love that media and those people! “I’m sorry girl, but you have the same hang-ups and insecurities as I do, let’s pity-party intersectional-style!” is not a call to which any self-respecting person will answer in the affirmative.

  10. Politicians who like to play dirty try to dig up as much dirt as they can on the opposition. If this is the best they can come up with against her, then thats a good sign. Earlier “scandals” included “She was late playing taxes”, “She cheated on her husband during a convention”. Both failed to stick or resonate with the electorate.

  11. Does it matter? For f&ck’s sake, “Korean” and “Japanese” were listed as independent races on our NATIONAL census!

    http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/006124.html

    The whole concept and obsession with race is utterly jacked in this country, and inflammatory nonsense like this does not help. She is a coconut no matter what she checks, and that’s fine by me.

    Where’s Razib? We need some hard analytics with regard to phenotype and genotype.

  12. On 3 different cities of my metro area, by 3 different cops I have been cited for traffic violation over last about 10 years and EACH time they put “W” on race column. I do not look White from any angle under any lighting conditions. Arab or a Mexican may be but not W, no amount of airbrushing can make me W. Yet this has happened 3 times.

    This whole Nikki H. race issue is straight out of Democratic talking point. You talk about “South Asian” identity but there is NO option called SOUTH ASIAN in ethnicity column.

    And if you really want to go technical on this, a person of west Punjab lineage (may be Jatt), as seen on 23and Me and Harappa project is about 40% combination of European and West Asian ancestry. It is clear that Jatt have a lot smaller amount of Onge then lets say a person whose lineage is from South East of the Indian subcontinent. So if choices for ethnicity are Asian or White (Iranians are writing W for themselves) then White is a more appropriate choice.

  13. I noticed that the US Census now specifies Indians and Pakistanis are included in the Asian category. I’m guessing that it wasn’t so back in 1990. The racial boxes on the Census are pretty stupid if you think about it, because the categories are anthropological (Caucasian), geographical (Asian, African) and cultural (Hispanic/Latino) which doesn’t make sense.

    What’s considered “Asian” versus “Caucasian” is arbitrary and illogical. North Africans, Middle-Easterners, and Central Asians are included as “Caucasian” but where are the lines drawn? The Afghan side of my family can legally check off “Caucasian” whereas the Paks can legally check off “Asian” and we are all the same ethnic group (Pashtuns). This is an example of how ridiculous the racial classifications on the Census are. Fwiw we all check off Asian because no one is comfortable pretending to be White. I don’t think Ms. Haley is ashamed of being Indian; I believe she had a Sikh ceremony when she married and gave her children Indian names, right? We don’t know the whole story here and the Democrats are trying to dig up dirt on her.

  14. Not that I condone Nikki Haley’s behavior or politics in general, but this brings up an interesting point:

    I’ve worked at public schools or programs that are federally funded for a long time. What that means is that my in-take process involves a huge stack of paperwork – most of which accounts for demographic data and background checks. That’s all fine, but my issue is that I have to ask the HR person the same question every time (and this has happened to me at least 5 times so far):

    “What is my race?” And they always respond with “Aren’t you Indian?” And I always respond with “That is my ethnicity, not my race. My skin color is brown. (to which point, the HR person looks horrified b/c apparently this is not PC).” I do not fit these categories (and even if there is an open field for me write, I’m not comfortable saying my “race” is “Indian”). One time, the HR person was curious enough to look up the information in her own stack of paperwork and found that I have the option of saying “Caucasian”. Oh I don’t think so!

    It’s frustrating that I ask these questions in environments where we work with mostly minority populations…but nobody is comfortable talking about this out loud. In fact, the English language doesn’t really have a word to describe my race (I’m fine with brown, but I’m pretty sure that won’t be on the next census collection either).

    So I ask you, Sepia Mutineers, as a person of South Asian decent, what is my race? NOT ethnicity, my race?

  15. Not that I condone Nikki Haley’s behavior or politics in general, but this brings up an interesting point:

    I’ve worked at public schools or programs that are federally funded for a long time. What that means is that my in-take process involves a huge stack of paperwork – most of which accounts for demographic data and background checks. That’s all fine, but my issue is that I have to ask the HR person the same question every time (and this has happened to me at least 5 times so far):

    “What is my race?” And they always respond with “Aren’t you Indian?” And I always respond with “That is my ethnicity, not my race. My skin color is brown. (to which point, the HR person looks horrified b/c apparently this is not PC).” I do not fit these categories (and even if there is an open field for me write, I’m not comfortable saying my “race” is “Indian”). One time, the HR person was curious enough to look up the information in her own stack of paperwork and found that I have the option of saying “Caucasian”. Oh I don’t think so!

    It’s frustrating that I ask these questions in environments where we work with mostly minority populations…but nobody is comfortable talking about this out loud. In fact, the English language doesn’t really have a word to describe my race (I’m fine with brown, but I’m pretty sure that won’t be on the next census collection either).

    So I ask you, Sepia Mutineers, as a person of South Asian decent, what is my race? NOT ethnicity, my race?

  16. Not that I condone Nikki Haley’s behavior or politics in general, but this brings up an interesting point:

    I’ve worked at public schools or programs that are federally funded for a long time. What that means is that my in-take process involves a huge stack of paperwork – most of which accounts for demographic data and background checks. That’s all fine, but my issue is that I have to ask the HR person the same question every time (and this has happened to me at least 5 times so far):

    “What is my race?” And they always respond with “Aren’t you Indian?” And I always respond with “That is my ethnicity, not my race. My skin color is brown. (to which point, the HR person looks horrified b/c apparently this is not PC).” I do not fit these categories (and even if there is an open field for me write, I’m not comfortable saying my “race” is “Indian”). One time, the HR person was curious enough to look up the information in her own stack of paperwork and found that I have the option of saying “Caucasian”. Oh I don’t think so!

    It’s frustrating that I ask these questions in environments where we work with mostly minority populations…but nobody is comfortable talking about this out loud. In fact, the English language doesn’t really have a word to describe my race (I’m fine with brown, but I’m pretty sure that won’t be on the next census collection either).

    So I ask you, Sepia Mutineers, as a person of South Asian decent, what is my race? NOT ethnicity, my race?

  17. So I ask you, Sepia Mutineers, as a person of South Asian decent, what is my race? NOT ethnicity, my race?

    hmmm….check off “Other” and list: Human ;) Personally I prefer putting ethnicity to race; Indian is a more accurate term for ancestry than say, Asian or Caucasian or Mongoloid or Caucasoid or whatever stupid racial terminology anthropologists keep belching out.

  18. Sometimes Indians are so weak it disgusts me. Indians and skinheads are the only groups of people, who will devote a big chunk of time to the study of whiteness.

    Seriously, how could a white woman born in Italy be the most powerful politician in India? It is one thing if 25% of the population of India was Italian, but it speaks to different levels when a country can put their faith in an outsider. The faith is put not in her brain, but in her whiteness. Indians just dont feel comfortable with themselves.

  19. Sigh. Can we please drop the everyone named Nikki/Bobby is a sellout? Every third Punjabi person (even in India) is called Bobby, Nikki, Tony, Tina, etc. Some even have these as their given name. So when you want to chide someone for not being brown enough (and I am no Nikki Haley fan) can it be for her politics and positions rather than her first name? Otherwise your position, at least in part, boils down to you’re not brown enough if you’re Punjabi.

  20. The problem I have with Niki and Bobby, is I can’t tell my kids, ” Look in America, if you work hard you can be anything.” They are the twisted, distorted, dysfunctional example of the American Dream. Clearly, one must convert to Christianity, despite already having the the most tolerant religions on the planet, marry (or convert your spouse) to Christianity, and adopt a stupid “name.” Really, you want to be named after a character on the Brady Bunch? Jack Ass. I have contempt for these two because in their quest for power, they have proven that Indians really can’t be Indians in the political realm. Their precious little conservative party would abandon them in a sec, should they be perceived as having any Indianness to them.

  21. Then, there was the time Illinois removed the race checkboxes from speeding citation forms, but the Champaign police officer went out of the way to identify me as “ASIAN” in the margin. Got that ticket plead way down.

    Pointing out that Bobby Jindal’s and Nikki Haley’s first names are Piyush and Nimrata disappoints me as much as these folks’ desperate need/wish to be white. There is nothing wrong with reinventing yourself, as long as you don’t look down on where you came from and the people who didn’t change with you.

  22. I wouldn’t go so hard on Nikki… I would argue that perception of race varies significantly across parts of the country. I grew up in NJ (before Edison was big), went to Rutgers (as Edison was sprouting), lived in Atlanta, Portland and San Francisco. I could see myself classifying myself differently in different locations based on what the choices were and what the local demographics were. In Portland (predominantly white), Asian may be a reasonable answer. In SF (where it seems like every other person is Asian), not making the distinction between east and south asian seems awkward. In the South, the division is much more black/white.

    Which brings up a story… When I was in grad school in Atlanta, a buddy of mine who’s parents are chinese (but also lived in NJ) said that his mom had visited Atlanta in the 60s… She was going to the restroom, and saw the two doors – one marked “white” and the other marked “colored”…. My buddy said his mom stood there for a few minutes dumbfounded, until a little old white lady walked up behind her and said “You should come in here with me”…

  23. As Indians we should chide and ridicule those who 1) change their name, 2) change their religion and 3) change their ethnic identity to further their ambitions.

    and as americans we should pass the apple pie.

  24. Sellout Punjabis……..Hmmm, we do like power, but to sell out of religion, that’s a whole new level. I will give Jindal some benefit of the doubt, since many Punjabis have first names Bobby, Sunny, Jimmy etc. I can understand why he chose Bobby over Piyush. He also kept his last name even after converting to Christianity.

    Now, Nikki is a whole different story. She clearly made calculated moves to climb the political ladder. Randhawa is a prominent Jatt Sikh caste in Punjab. Jatts place great pride in their ancestry & hardly marry outside their caste. Switching religion is almost unheard of among Sikhs. I will speculate that her parents supported her marriage, religion and name change, so she could succeed politically. Could she have made it in South as Nimrata Randhawa? Well, we can only speculate.

    After learning that her older brother also converted to Christianity & served in US army, my old uncle pointed out that they must come from same blood line of Jatt Sikhs who sold out to British by joining their army for personal gains and power.

    • I don’t understand your hate for Ms. Haley changing her religion. Why should the religion her ancestors adopted centuries ago determine her beliefs? She did not choose that belief system, she was simply born into it. I think it would be far more disingenuous for her to go to temple weekly pretending to follow Sikhism for the sake of feigning authenticity. She had both a Methodist church ceremony and Sikh gurdwara, so it’s clear she still honors her parent’s faith.

      As for names – the reason Jindal didn’t change his name is exactly a matter of principle; men don’t take on their wives names in this culture, it’s usually the other way around. Haley also gave both her children Hindi names (Rena and Nalin) whereas Jindal gave his children European names (Selia Elizabeth, Slade Ryan and Shaan Robert). As for “Bobby”, that is something he got from the Brady Bunch, not a Punjabi thing. So it’s odd that you label Haley a sellout while giving “Bobby” a pass.

      Now I will say that it’s a shame politicians still need to “Anglicize” themselves to get elected in this country. I mean if a man whose middle name is Hussein could get elected, I think the public would’ve been fine with Nimrata. Though admittedly I’m not from the South.

  25. So I found the video funny and all (esp. the white guilt side effect), but why do women have to be white to express their sexuality?

    • A comment in three parts…

      1. So I found the video funny and all (esp. the white guilt side effect), but why do women have to be white to express their sexuality?

      Good point, Vivek.

      2.

      Spotted this on FB today:

      http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/8317/fda-bans-23-more-whitening-products

      Lede: “The Food and Drug Administration ordered the banning of 23 more cosmetic whitening products found to contain mercury exceeding legal limits.”

      1. Indian is not an ethnicity.