Posted on 22-10-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

The tea party movement has been dogged by accusations of racism.  In the age of smartphones, racially charged (and sometimes outright racist) banners in the rallies to “take America back” do not help.  And then you get banners like the one below posted by a Daily Kos diarist.  Is this a jocular riposte at the charges of racism? Or, can people really be that obtuse?  You decide:

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Posted on 21-10-2010
Filed Under (Politics, Religion) by Rashtrakut

This is just embarrassing.  President Obama during his visit to India will be skipping a trip to the Golden Temple in Amritsar.  The Sikh shrine is a common stop for visiting dignitaries.  Unfortunately it requires visitors to cover their heads.  Sikhs have already been targeted by ignorant bigots in the past who confuse their turbans with the headgear worn by Osama Bin Laden, and evidently in this country any such covering is Islamic.

Singed by a previous controversy during the presidential primaries when pictures of him wearing traditional garb during a trip to Africa surfaced, the Obama administration is shying clear of any repeat performance.  The underlying politics are simple.  With increasing numbers of Republicans convinced that he is a Muslim and significant numbers doubting his citizenship, the administration wants to avoid adding grist to the nutjob’s mills.

While discretion may sometimes be the better part of valor, I am disappointed with this decision.  In an atmosphere of anti-Islamic bigotry ginned up over the summer by the likes of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin (and more recently with Islamophobic statements uttered by prominent Fox “News” personalities and bigots like Marty Peretz with no repercussions), the administration could have taken a bold stand for tolerance and common sense.

But instead we have an American President afraid to go into a Sikh shrine because ignorant bigots in his country will use it as further evidence that he is a Muslim – and thereby also lending credence to the viewpoint that somehow it is wrong to be a Muslim in American public life.  Here’s hoping that it is not too late to reverse this decision.

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Posted on 07-06-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

After a longer than expected gap, a couple of race related stories gave me the impetus to resume blogging.  Both stories have received considerable publicity.  The first story and the subject of this article comes from Arizona.  This is not related to the ill-conceived crackdown on illegals (opposed as counterproductive by many Arizona police departments because it makes cooperation by illegals in fighting crime close to impossible) which is almost certain to have the side effect of racial profiling  American citizens like me with brown skin and an accent (even Arizona’s governor failed to articulate just how exactly a police officer will identify illegal immigrants).

This is a more depressing story that stems from a brouhaha over a school mural in Prescott, Arizona.  The local school commissioned a mural using existing school students as the models.  Some local school kids were chosen as models and *shudder* the school had the temerity to prominently portray Hispanic and African American kids.  This raised the ire of local councilman and self-proclaimed non-racist Steve Blair because in his opinion the school (which is significantly more diverse than the largely white town) was engaging in unnecessary statements supporting diversity and picked an African American kid for the mural due to the skin tone of the man controlling the nuclear football.  Then according to the artists there were the local bravos who drove by yelling slurs (in the presence of kids).  To make it worse, the school initially bowed to the vocal but relatively minor local pressure and tried to “lighten” the faces of the mural.

Thankfully, since then the school board’s spine has been replaced by something firmer than Jello.  Operation bleach has been called off and a cringing Arizona can move on from the latest display of racial idiocy in the state.

I bring this sad story up to highlight a couple of points:

First, is this excellent column by Roger Ebert on the subject and his very personal account of the evolution of his views on race.  Definitely worth a read.

Second, this story just goes to go how far we are from a truly race-blind society.  It is very easy to dismiss Steve Blair and his cheering section as a bunch of prejudiced folk, but the truth is that racial stereotyping is alive and well today, and not just in the war on terror.  The image of an “American” typically brings up someone who is white.  Blair and his ilk could not believe that someone naturally picked this bunch of kids without another more insidious motive.  In a rapidly browning country, the worst perpetrators of racial stereotyping are the supposed liberals in Hollywood, particularly the studio executives.  While Hollywood no longer engages in blackface and occasionally casts minority actors in lead roles, racial typecasting is prevalent.  Starting with the recent “Prince of Persia,” Hollywood’s summer offerings are creating a whitewashing controversy for casting white actors in roles originally intended for minorities and touting diversity based on the supporting cast.  The financial risk with minority leads is often touted as the reason for race based casting decisions.

So Hollywood’s fear of displaying an America that comports to reality results in typecast minority actors.  Most Asians on TV speak with accents (Indian-American actors (with the exception of Kal Penn) typically speak with exaggerated Indian or British accents) and minority actors are relegated into race stereotyped careers and personalities.  A show like Friends could spend a decade in New York city with almost no minorities.  To the best of my recollection, the most prominent minority in the (also) New York based show “How I Met Your Mother” is the occasionally appearing Indian cab driver.  Minorities often get segregated off into their own shows like the George Lopez show or the Tyler Perry shows on TBS.  More shows need to follow the mold of “Grey’s Anatomy“, “Lost” and “Heroes“.

While I am glad to see that the people of Prescott ended up doing the right thing, far more needs to be done to combat the mindsets of the Steve Blairs of the world.  This does not involve racial quotas, but rather truly race-neutral casting that relies on the maturity of the viewing public instead of perceived racial roles.  Cable news and newspaper opinion pages could probably benefit from this approach as well.

Coming up next…South Carolina and its spotlight on “acceptable” racism and bigotry.

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Posted on 09-04-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

European Islamophobia masquerading as womens lib has made its way to Canada.  With the blessings of Canada’s prime minister Quebec is all set to prohibit Muslim women wearing face veils from public sector jobs or access to public services.  See link.  I tend to agree with the author.  This is an embrace of feminist thought that allows women to make choices so long as the self proclaimed guardians of women’s liberty approve of it.

As I noted a couple of months ago in this blog and as the author in the article above notes, this is conceptually not different from the Saudis and the Taliban forcing the veil. Obviously the right to veil yourself should not be absolute.  There are certain situations like security checkpoints where it is essential to have an unveiled face.  Also this should be a free choice and not a coerced one.

Canada has not yet got to the ridiculous French notion of banning head scarves in schools, but it will be a matter of time before someone raises it.

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Posted on 11-01-2010
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

The revelation of Senator Harry Reid’s use of the “n” word while describing Barack Obama’s strengths as a candidate has set off the typical Washington fire storm.  While President Obama has accepted his apology and the Democratic caucus has rallied around Senator Reid the Republicans are crying foul.  They point to the double standard on race that forced them to jettison Trent Lott of Mississippi a few years back (though a lot of the pushing came from the White House in that one).  As others have pointed out,  the situations are not analogous.  Se here, here and here for a detailed explanation on the subject.

But the Republicans are right in that there is a double standard.  It seems unfair but they can look in the mirror for why Republicans (particularly southern Republicans) get so little leeway on race.

As the heirs to the Whigs, the Republican Party was born in its opposition to slavery.  After the civil war the Party of Lincoln could count on the support of the freed slaves.  However, things started to changed under FDR.  The New Deal created a blue collar coalition that included black voters.  By 1956 the Republican share of the black vote was 40% and has been heading down ever since.  However, the addition of Black voters to the Democratic coalition and the resulting push for civil rights fractured the Democratic Party

Southern Democrats who had reestablished control over the region after reconstruction and disenfranchised large portions of the African American population bristled when Northern liberals started preaching civil rights.  The breaking point came during the 1948 Democratic convention when Minneapolis mayor Hubert Humphrey urged the Democratic Party to “get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”  Outraged Southern Democrats walked out and nominated Strom Thurmond as the presidential nominee of the States’ Rights Party (aka Dixiecrats).  Things got worse for them with the election of John F. Kennedy.  But the unkindest cut of all came when one of their own, former Texas Senator Lyndon Johnson rammed through the Civil Rights Act.  According to legend when Johnson signed the Act into law he remarked, “We have lost the South for a generation.”  He was right because the Republicans were waiting in the wings.

Richard Nixon made some clumsy attempts to court black voters in 1960.  After that Republican presidential tickets actively started courting the Southern white vote.  Barry Goldwater stumped against the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Richard Nixon deployed the Southern Strategy, or Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign kicked off in Philadelphia, Miss., site of the ”Mississippi Burning” murders with the message of “states rights” (though as noted in the link some have disputed whether Reagan’s appeal was targeted at Southern whites).  It worked.  By the 1990s the South had turned Republican.  On the flip side, by then the Republican share of the black vote had dropped to the low teens.  By 1992, the Party of Lincoln was the Party of Pat Buchanan and Jesse Helms.

Next the Republican Party turned its attention to destroying its share of the Hispanic vote.  Pete Wilson eagerly embraced Proposition 187 to secure reelection in the 1994 California gubernatorial election.  He won  the battle but the Republican Party lost the war and the Hispanic vote in California.  The home state of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan with its 54 electoral votes is now solidly Democratic.  Even though George W. Bush tried to win  (and in his own elections won) back the Hispanic vote, the racially tinged rhetoric unleashed by the opponents of immigration reform locked up the Hispanic vote for Barack Obama.  Had John McCain not been on the ticket, the Republicans would have lost Arizona in the 2008 Presidential Elections.

This is the current breakdown of minorities in the Republican Congressional caucus:

  • African Americans  – zero
  • Hispanics – 3 (three Cuban-Americans from South Florida, and even that once loyal Republican community is trending Democratic)
  • Asian Americans – 1 (Joseph Cao elected by fluke last year and who will almost certainly lose next year)

For a party that actively courts the Jewish vote, it has only one Jewish member in Congress (Eric Cantor).   Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted on 30-11-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

Displaying the flaws in holding fundamental freedoms hostage to the caprices of public referendums, Swiss voters in a distressing result voted to ban the construction of minarets.  One can understand the unease in countries that historically have not faced waves of immigrants from alien cultures (or from a religion with whom there has been an inherent sense of hostility for about 1,400 years) as they struggle to absorb these new immigrants while preserving a sense of national identity and shared cultural values. But as they complain about the refusal to immigrants to look outside their ethnic ghettos, one wonders why people think a vote like this would help the assimilation process (the same goes for the equally idiotic French decision to ban head scarves in schools).  As previously posted on this blog, integration is a complicated issue but rank fear based bigotry does not help matters.

It is tempting to point to the United States as an example, but this country has acquired experience absorbing immigrants since its inception.  Even here the process has been hard, from Benjamin Franklin complaining about the effect of rising German immigration on the use of English and the resulting political threat (sound familiar Mr. Dobbs?) to concerns a 100 years ago that Italian immigrants were importing their brand of seditious anarchism.  But this country survived and the original English culture grew richer by the addition.  It is not an easy lesson to transfer to the inherently more culturally conservative and homogeneous old world.

It will be interesting to observe whether the vote this weekend leads to a financial backlash.  The usual bunch of xenophobes in Denmark and The Netherlands have already piped up to call for similar referendums.  Just how far this spreads remains to be seen.  However, it is still unclear whether this referendum will be upheld by Swiss courts.

One final point in this imbroglio should be made.  While Muslim immigrant groups in Europe should speak up to combat discrimination, it is hard to extend the same latitude to the howls of outrage emanating from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc.  While some of these countries are all to willing to cast stones at Europe, they have been singularly unwilling to grant similar freedoms to religious minorities at home.   And the religious minorities in many cases are not foreign immigrants but locals.  As the old saying goes, people in glass houses should not toss stones.

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Posted on 27-10-2009
Filed Under (Religion) by Rashtrakut

Kudos to the Obama administration for clarifying that they oppose the ridiculous UN motion regarding defamation of religion.  It is understandable that Muslims are upset about the assaults to their faith by prominent western politicians and the infamous Danish cartoon controversy.  But this resolution undercuts at the very essence of free speech and the exchange of ideas, even obnoxious ones.  What makes this resolution even more offensive is that it is being sponsored by countries like Saudi Arabia which do not permit free exercise of religion, prevent the importation of religious texts of other countries and insult other faiths in their academic curriculum.  Many of these states also have blasphemy laws that are often used to abuse religious minorities.  Even with some of the offensive comments made regarding Islam in the last decade and the documented cases of discrimination against Muslims, the West does not have any reason to feel defensive about their record on respecting religious freedom (particularly given the track record of some of the accusers).  People have noted that while the Saudis have funded the construction of a mosque in Rome, they are unlikely to permit the construction of a church in Saudi Arabia.  Freedom should work both ways.

This brings up a conversation I had with an extremely religious neighbor a few years back that free speech should not allow people to offend.  Actually it should…otherwise the speech is not truly free.  The assault on free speech is not unique to any ideologies, but it should be pointed out that free speech also does not  prevent others from calling out bigoted or hateful comments.  There is some unintended irony in the attempt by Muslim countries to pass such a resolution.  All of the founders of the Abrahamic faiths (including Islam) would have likely violated this resolution by “defaming” the religious practices of their neighbors.  But then this is not really intended to be an ecumenical resolution.

The Canadian representative at the United Nations this March got it right, “Individuals have rights, not religions.”  The OIC would be better off in assisting the victims of discrimination, cooperating with the West in combating incidences of bigotry and cleaning up their own acts at home.

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Posted on 25-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

An interesting article by Time on the appearance by British National Party chief Nick Griffin on a BBC show last week.  An economic downturn combined with rising immigration seem to bring an upswing in the fortunes of parties like the BNP.

When mainstream parties latch on to this fervor it can backfire.  In the United States the California Governor Pete Wilson latched on to anti-immigrant fervor to win re-election in 1994.  When the fervor died down it emerged that he had driven Hispanic voters into the Democratic column for the foreseeable future.  Egged on by CNN commentator Lou Dobbs and Republican congressmen like Tom Tancredo, certain sections of the Republican party adopted a similar tack dooming the Presidential ticket in the Southwest and scaring off white middle class voters in the 2008 election.

But the Time article does raise a valid issue of how these concerns are to be addressed.   This issue has affected many other European countries like France, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary etc.  The fundamental problem in Europe has been that as non-immigrant societies they have struggled to integrate their immigrants.  Even though the United States has had nativist outbreaks dating back to Benjamin Franklin grumbling about German immigration, the immigrant populations have generally integrated into American society.

The burden does fall both ways.  While immigrants should have a right to have their religious and cultural traditions respected, they must also understand that their is a reason why they left their homelands to settle down far away and the inhabitants of the country can feel unsettled by a sudden influx of people who look, dress, eat, worship and talk differently.  A healthy dialogue of communities is essential to prevent repeats of stories like this one from last month.  For the follow up click here.

Ultimately a lot of the BNP’s support appears rooted in economic malaise.  Immigrants are likelier to compete for jobs with people at the lower rungs of the economic ladder.  The added competition in a shrinking job market provides a simple breeding ground for the type of emotions the BNP feeds on.  And job creation is not an easy task in the current economic climate.

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I will let these two articles speak for themselves.  First is the column by two Republican Party county chairmen in South Carolina.  Next is an editorial by the Palmetto scoop.  One would think that after a year of racial gaffes by Southern Republicans a memo about using ethnic stereotypes would have been circulated by now.  Evidently not.  One hopes that the inevitable apology will be a genuine one, instead of the meaningless “If I offended someone, I am sorry” that public figures seem to think constitutes an apology.

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Posted on 14-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Religion) by Rashtrakut

This story and the comments by the anonymous Internet warriors is disgusting. A bunch of Republican congressmen felt it incumbent upon themselves to have the House Sergeant at Arms investigate the “infiltration” of Congress through Muslim staffers and interns. Oh the horror!!!

This post brings up the question from General Powell quoted in a previous blog. “Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?” The bigotry spewed from the right wing now reaches such proportions that Republican congressmen (albeit from the extreme fringe of an already fringe party) seek to initiate a McCarthyesque search for “infiltration” of Congress by the practitioners of a religion with over a billion practitioners world wide.

In this world view Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and Wahhabi inspired fundamentalist preachers somehow represent the religious spectrum of an entire faith in a way that Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell could never do so for Christianity. While lashing out at the bloody history of radicalized Islam, they conveniently forget the violence wreaked elsewhere by other religions.

This must stop. Substitute Arab or Islam in these screeds with any other race or religion and even the supine Republican leadership that kowtows to these purveyors of hate would have to step in. The Republican Party attempted to re-brand itself with a new website this week, only to find that all its civil rights heroes dated before the Civil Rights Act or back to the Civil War and that baseball hero Jackie Robinson was an independent who turned against the Republican Party after the 1964 convention that nominated Barry Goldwater. The Republican Party lost its moral high ground on race when it embraced the Southern strategy. It is time it rediscovered its civil rights roots and displayed the moral fortitude to stand up to the rank bigotry some of its congressmen displayed today.

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