Who’s That … Brown?

The San Fransisco Bay Guardian has an easy to read voting slate that you can take to the polls when voting today! But as I looked through it, I did a double take. It looked like a slate of all white faces. But wait a second, is that Kamala Harris in the middle? The Kamala Harris running for Attorney General with a Jamaican father and Indian mother? Kamala Slate.jpg

What is up with the white washing? She looks whiter than the other folks on the slate. Who actually are white. Do they really think people in San Francisco have that much of an implicit racial bias that they had to make her this washed out to get their vote? I’ve seen this Kamala photo used several times on the materials here and find it disturbing. This campaign photo reminds me of the campaign photos of Bobby Jindal and President Obama where their skin color was messed with.

After working a candidate campaign this election cycle and understanding how much of a person’s image is sieved before public exposure, I find it hard to believe these pictures were not touched up deliberately by a consultant or two. But…why? Don’t they know brown is beautiful? Don’t they know we have a black President?? Kamala with Obamas.jpg See? Here’s a picture of Kamala Harris with the Obamas. A photo where she actually is brown! What was that? Who’s That? Brooown!

Today is Election Day. GO VOTE. Whether for a white guy named Brown or a brown girl washed white. Go to smartvoter.org for your polling location, you have the right to ask for a provisional ballot, you can contact 1-866-OUR-VOTE if you have polling issues and you can read my 2008 Election Day post if you need more voting rights info. Continue reading

From Macacas to Turban Toppers…

I have been flipping through the thorough new report released on Wednesday by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) titled, From Macacas to Turban Toppers: The Rise in Xenophobic and Racist Rhetoric in American Political Discourse. The report catalogs a great many derogatory statements directed at South Asian Americans. The vast majority of the statements cited are examples of anti-Islamic bias by elected officials, but recent examples include statements against South Asian Americans running for Congress (which was also touched upon in this good NPR story from Wednesday morning).

With the midterm elections round the corner, SAALT’s report, From Macacas to Turban Toppers: The Rise in Xenophobic and Racist Rhetoric in American Political Discourse, documents intolerant remarks made by elected officials and those running for office. According to the report, since September 11, there has been an unprecedented rise in xenophobic statements that have specifically targeted South Asians, Arab Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs…

“The details in this report are extremely helpful not only to the South Asian community but to the rest of the country as well”, said Hilary Shelton, Director, Washington Bureau of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the speakers at the briefing. Shelton compared the experiences of Muslims, South Asians, Arab Americans and Sikhs to those of African Americans, who have also been dehumanized and marginalized by a racist political climate.

Reflecting on the current climate of Islamophobia, lawyer, commentator and founder of themuslimguy.com, Arsalan Iftikhar, noted that “‘Muslim’ has become the accepted slur in America… Race, xenophobia, bigotry have now become a permanent political wedge issue in America.” [link]

Many of the examples cited in the report are incidents we have blogged about here on SM. To see them all cataloged in one place though results in an even more disturbing narrative. This is why it is important to vote.

Check out the full report and let us know what you think.

Continue reading

A gathering storm of crazy

This sounds like a really insensitive premise for a video game, right?

The year is 2014, and a new breed of neo-Islamic terrorism is rampant in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio … The current White House Administration is pro-Muslim and has ordered a stand-down against Islamic groups. The mission: Destroy the terrorist command post — or die trying. The fighters must go in “sterile” — without name tags or other identifying insignia — as a deniable covert force. ” [Time]

Guess what? We’d be lucky if this was just a video game. This is reality. There are people in this country with guns that are really this crazy and “training.” Time Magazine has the full scoop:

This August weekend of grueling mock combat, which left some of the men prostrate and bloody-booted, capped a yearlong training regimen of the Ohio Defense Force, a private militia that claims 300 active members statewide. The fighters shot blanks, the better to learn to maneuver in squads, but they buy live ammunition in bulk. Their training — no game, they stress — expends thousands of rounds a year from a bring-your-own armory of deer rifles, assault weapons and, when the owner turns up, a belt-fed M-60 machine gun. The militia trains for ambushes, sniper missions, close-quarters battle and other infantry staples.

What distinguishes groups like this one from a shooting club or re-enactment society is the prospect of actual bloodshed, which many Ohio Defense Force members see as real. Their unit seal depicts a man with a musket and tricorn hat, over the motto “Today’s Minutemen.” The symbol invites a question, Who are today’s redcoats? On that point, the group takes no official position, but many of those interviewed over two days of recent training in and around the abandoned Roseville State Prison near Zanesville voiced grim suspicions about President Obama and the federal government in general. (See Obama’s troubled first year.)

“I don’t know who the redcoats are,” says Brian Vandersall, 37, who designed the exercise and tried to tamp down talk of politics among the men. “It could be U.N. troops. It could be federal troops. It could be Blackwater, which was used in Katrina. It could be Mexican troops who are crossing the border…”

As militias go, the Ohio Defense Force is on the moderate side. [Time]

I urge SM readers to read the whole article. You’ve kind of heard rumors of all this before, but this just lays the crazy out across the table for you to examine.

Continue reading

Bant Singh Dub-ified

Earlier this year, I was traveling in South Asia collecting stories for a project I’m working on. Along the way, I met Taru Dalmia aka the Delhi Sultanate at a BASSFoundation drum and bass party in New Delhi. A dancehall/reggae/dub MC, I was surprised when he jumped on the mic. I didn’t even realize there was a reggae scene in India. For someone who hadn’t been to The Islands, he had a sick patois on the mic. At the time, he was telling me about a project he was heading out to start working on – a collaboration with a revolutionary singer out in a village outskirt of Delhi.

The project is complete. But after watching the video, it feels like maybe it’s just started. Check out the 12 minute short film, titled “Word, Sound & Power” about the dalit singer Bant Singh.

Amazing, right? The film production is so clean and the musical sounds are fresh and tightly merged.

Bant Singh from Jabbar Village in Punjab is a legendary singer and activist of Kisan Mukti Morcha… The film critically examines the need for the voices of dissent in todays capitalized urban society. Also a deeper look into Bant Singhs background, his lyrical inspirations, 20 years of the unsung dalit struggle in Punjab, followed by the mash up of genres between Chris, Delhi Sultanate and Bant Singh. A bold attempt to fuse socially relevant issues and lyricism across two different languages. [wordsoundandpower]

No word on if there are plans to turn this into a full length or if there is going to be a full length album to come out of this project. It seems that the film is making the rounds at screenings in India, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets picked up on the international film festival circuit. Keep an eye on their website at Word Sound and Power – I get the feeling the music should be downloadable there very soon. As soon as it is, I’ll be downloading it ASAP. I have a feeling you might too. Continue reading

Interview w/ Manan Trivedi at Netroots

He won his Democratic primary election for his bid for Congress by only 672 votes, affirming the importance of “every vote counts.” But that’s only half the fight as Election Day on November 2nd is only two months away. Manan Trivedi is a doctor, a policy analyst, an Iraq veteran and… my former classmate at UCLA. I was excited to see him at Netroots Nation, even if it was only for a day – he had to fly back to DC to sit on an IALI panel with Jay Sean. Manan was generous enough to give me a few minutes out of his busy day to do an interview for The Mutiny. Here’s what he said.

More from #NN10 to come… Continue reading

America has a Nativism problem, not a “Muslim Problem”

Does America Have a Muslim Problem?

…Islamophobia in the U.S. doesn’t approach levels seen in other countries where Muslims are in a minority. But to be a Muslim in America now is to endure slings and arrows against your faith — not just in the schoolyard and the office but also outside your place of worship and in the public square, where some of the country’s most powerful mainstream religious and political leaders unthinkingly (or worse, deliberately) conflate Islam with terrorism and savagery. In France and Britain, politicians from fringe parties say appalling things about Muslims, but there’s no one in Europe of the stature of a former House Speaker who would, as Newt Gingrich did, equate Islam with Nazism. [Time]

My answer to Bobby Ghosh, the author of Time’s cover story, is “no.” America, despite all the ugly rhetoric of the past several weeks, is not Islamaphobic. Instead, I would say that America is currently in the grips of yet another episode of ugly Nativism, this particular episode fueled by power hungry ideologues that have access to methods of mass communication not present during former episodes of Nativism in our country: the 24 hour media cycle and the internet. “Islamaphobia” is not what afflicts our nation. It is merely a symptom of the underlying malady which, like chronic malaria, can flair up and leave the collective “us,” the American people, weak until treated. It will never be totally eradicated. Treating the problem by adopting an “enlightened” us vs.”ignorant” them mentality will make things worse, as will appeasement (see examples of the latter here, here, and here).

Before continuing the discussion it is important to understand what “Nativism” is in the context of American history. History has always been my favorite subject because historians are like fortune tellers. Everything that has happened will likely happen again. Let’s start with the most basic place to learn about the history of Nativism in our country. You guessed it, Wikipedia:

Nativism favors the interests of certain established inhabitants of an area or nation as compared to claims of newcomers or immigrants. It may also include the re-establishment or perpetuation of such individuals or their culture.

Nativism typically means opposition to immigration or efforts to lower the political or legal status of specific ethnic or cultural groups because the groups are considered hostile or alien to the natural culture, and it is assumed that they cannot be assimilated. [Wikipedia]

Continue reading

TIME Makes a Mess of Past and Present

Have you seen this?

It’s the cover of the latest issue of TIME Magazine, and its story details the horrific ordeal of Aisha, an 18-year-old woman who was abused by her in-laws. Although she managed to flee to Kandahar, they found her and took her to a mountainside, where her husband mutilated her.

“When they cut off my nose and ears, I passed out,” Aisha said, describing the attack. “It felt like there was cold water in my nose. I opened my eyes, and I couldn’t even see because of all the blood.”

Aisha is now in the US for reconstructive surgery, courtesy of the Grossman Burn Foundation.

But Aisha’s haunting face isn’t alone on the cover. She shares it with

What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan

No question mark, no room for doubt, no opening for a conversation. Rather, a declaration – and accompanying a noseless face, a conclusion: This is how it will be when we’re not there to save them.

Continue reading

The people behind a polarized debate

Cross-posted on rawtheekuh.tumblr.com.

As an excited member of the American University class of 2014, I was ecstatic that the President of the United States had chosen MY future alma mater to discuss an issue that is both highly personal and politically polarizing: immigration.  Since I have a talent for stating the obvious, I will say that I simply would not be here without my parents’ fateful decision to leave their pyaare watan. I feel you, Mr. President – we’re both the children of immigrants. Indeed, the act of migration is an experience that bonds us.


Watching Dana Bash make googly eyes at the CNN cameras and tell the world how “angry” the Latino community is about the lack of comprehensive reform makes ME angry. Last time I checked, Latinos weren’t the only immigrants affected in this increasingly contentious debate . Why limit the discussion to just the impact on the Latino community? I’m from Houston where we have a substantial number of immigrants, legal and otherwise, Latino and non-Latino. The immigration debate hits close to home for me, not only as a Texan and a young second-generation American, but as someone who has seen her own friends and family members put through the ringer trying to find work, live an honest life, and stay out of trouble to achieve their version of the American Dream.
My parents, my sister, the Bhutanese Nepali refugees I met through my summer internship, the friendly Latinos who come up to my father at Fiesta and start speaking Spanish: all immigrants. They all represent sides of the immigration issue that I have experienced but that the American media has failed to show. Though each immigrant community has distinct challenges, they also have similar desires: independence, freedom, & security. I thought it was difficult for my family members, skilled & English speaking, to deal with the INS and wait to become citizens. I realized that they had it easy compared to many. What if you’re like one of the Bhutanese boys I met, 17 and translating between Nepali and English for your parents, relying on charities and social workers to help you fill out your green card application?
Continue reading

Not Just Another Nanny’s Diary: “Tell Us We’re Home” by Marina Budhos

I was listening to a new NPR series not so long ago: The Hidden World of Girls. That particular episode featured Nigerian novelist Chris Abani’s childhood memory of touring the Nigerian countryside with his mother, Daphne Mae Hunt:

My mother became certified as a Billings Ovulation teacher. And her job was to go and teach this to women. … Part of the problem was that her Igbo wasn’t good enough to discuss people’s uterus. She needed an interpreter and mother decided to ask me to interpret for her. I was eight years old. So we would set off, the two of us, and I would have a backpack. … We would go door to door. Everything starts with a greeting … It would be followed by an apology from me because I was about to discuss something sacred, taboo.tell_us_were_home.png

These women would never discuss [their period] with their husbands and here’s this eight-year-old boy … [See full transcript.]

The image of a young boy accompanying his mother to strangers’ homes and acting as a middleman stayed with me for several days, and when I recently heard Marina Budhos reading from her new, terrific young adult novel Tell Us We’re Home, I was reminded of it again.

In Budhos’s novel, we meet three young girls, Jaya, Lola, and Maria, all immigrants, who find themselves in a different kind of countryside than Abani — American suburbia — where they act as their mothers’ interpreters and translators.

Their mothers are nannies and housekeepers in Meadowbrook, a picturesque New Jersey town off the commuter rail, and these girls are the invisible teens who help their parents navigate a new culture while struggling to find their own place within it. They go to school with the same kids whose families their mothers work for.

Jaya is West Indian, from Guyana. She assumes the responsibility to help absolve her mother of the accusation of a theft that in her employer’s home. Maria is Mexican. She accompanies her mother on job interviews and acts as a conduit for her employment searches. And Lola is a Slovakian self-appointed revolutionary whose mother is a housekeeper at her classmate’s home and whose father is a depressed former engineer. Each girl’s story–and the story of their friendship–allows us to peer into the hidden world of working class immigrants. Until they meet, each girl lives in a lonely bubble of invisibility, but chance brings them together and their friendship saves each of them in some way. Though they are outsiders, they are outsiders together.

I was a fan of Budhos’s first YA novel, Ask Me No Questions, and am glad that this book more than lived up to my expectations. Continue reading

Desi Say What?!

From the folks at Cherry Sky Films, here is a video for you. There’s a cameo at the end by a Desi (Neil Sehgal) (h/t to Salil).

Cringe-worthy, no doubt, this short video reflects an inter-racial sub group struggle in self-identity versus external community identity monikers. In other words, the use of the word “nigger”. I thought the video was smart in that their use of the word “ninja” as replacement word and Asians as the replacement community really shifted the perception of the use of the “N word.” Plus, the video was hella funny.

What I loved most is when a brown kid saunters up on the basketball court to a group of Asian dudes and says, “What’s up my Ninjas!” The guys look like they are confused as to whether to accept him or not. But after a quick look to each other, they give him the bro-man hug and you hear “It counts.” As a South Asian, he may not be accepted immediately, but he can be accepted into the “in” group since South Asia is kind of Asian, if you stopped to think about it. Marginalized, a little bit, he can be accepted in the end. It was a simple interaction, but reflective so much of society’s deeper of inter-racial issues I’ve seen in the Desi meets East Asian communities.

As an activist in the Asian American and Pacific Islander movement, this attitude is something I see often, though a lot less brash and satirical as seen in the video. The South Asian community is often accepted into these AAPI space as an after thought, or even worse, as a token. Continue reading