Daily Notes on Literature, Pop Culture & Media, and Academia

There’s something about Joel Stein…

Posted by litdaily on August 19, 2010

According to the Wall Street Journal, Joel Stein’s article in Time, “My Own Private India,” was the second most read column on the website…more>> and >>

The article, in bad taste and bad humor, caused an uproar in the South Asian American community nationwide.  Mainstream blogs, magazines, and newspapers hankered to offer their opinions regarding the offensive stereotypes of one of the most “successful” immigrant groups in America.  SAALT, a leading non-profit advocacy and public policy organization, even demanded a public apology…more >>

While most were offended by Stein’s racist article, others had a “hearty laugh” and suggested that instead of “sulking in public,” Indians should come back with a matching reply…more >>

I’m curious, what would that reply look like?   Would South Asians reply by slandering, stereotyping, and minimizing the efforts of other communities?  Would South Asians mock, racialize, and demean white, yuppy, Ivy League male media personalities as their comeback?  Would South Asians simply laugh it off and let racial attacks continue?

Aside from the reply itself, where’s all the anger the community felt? In less than two months, it seems to have already dissolved.


2 Responses to “There’s something about Joel Stein…”

  1. ND said

    My initial reading of Joel Stein’s “My Own Private India”, left me very disturbed. The whole article smacked of bigotry and racism. Maybe it was the opening sentence that rubbed me the wrong way, “I am very much in favor of immigration everywhere in the U.S. except Edison, N.J.” Or maybe it was the line about how “not-as-brilliant merchants brought their even-less-bright cousins, and we started to understand why India is so damn poor.” The fact that such an article was written by a journalist such as Joel Stein boggled my mind. And then I started thinking about what the article was trying to say instead of reacting to it.

    First, it exppresses an individual’s discomfort at the change that has taken place where he grew uu to the point that his town is completely unfamiliar to him. And while the changes may have been culturally and financially positive, bringing engineers and doctors and eventually, the ‘less-bright cousins’ that staved off the decrease in wealth that Edison has undergone, it still wasn’t his town, Joel Stein’s town that he knew as a child. To some extent, “My Own Private India” is about mourning the loss of his childhood home. Were his sentiments expressed in the most sensitive manner? Probably not, at least in my opinion.

    Second,I believe this article is trying to address is the subject of assimilation, or lack there of. Our culture and traditions are too different from mainstream American culture for us to pretend that it is similar. Our food and the multiple arms and legs-Gods make us too foreign, too different. Our emphasis on education and bettering ourselves, even for the ‘less-bright cousins’, tend to set us apart (though many other immigrant groups share this characteristics). But instead of hiding our uniquness, most of us embrace it. Hence, Joel Stein’s assertion that the ‘Indian’ have taken over Edison has some merit because we can not hide our ‘Indian-ness’.

    Finally, I think what makes us uncomfortable about this article is some of the sterotypes that Joel Stein blazely states. Yes, dot heads is a derogeratory term. Yes, there is racism against Indians, the group of people who are looked upon as ‘model’ minorities. Just because we as a group may be better off economically and professionally does not mean that to a racist, we are any different than ‘wetback’ or ‘nigger’. Colored is COLORED. This is proven again in Joel Stien’s article as he remembers a kid that he “knew in high school drove down an Indian-dense street yelling for its residents to “go home to India.” Also, while most of us know that India is poor, it’s something that we dont’ really think about or focus on. India to us is more than just about poverty. It is a culture that has given us astronomical number of bad musical-movies and few great ones that we watch over and over again. It is about the unique clothes and jewelry and accessories that sets us apart and makes us feel Indians. It is about the spicy and hot food, the flavors of which differs depending what part of India you are form. It is about our family and extended families. And yes, it as also about our religion and temples. But in all this richness, most of us tend to forget and/or ignore that almost 40% of India’s population live below the poverty line. So regardless of how well we are off here, Joel Stein’s article forces us to remember that India is a poor country.

    The debate of whether Joel Stein is racist or whether TIME should have published it pales in comparison when I think about what else besides the rampant sterotypes is the article trying to say.


  2. litdaily said

    You’re right in the sense that, at the very least, the article shed some light on issues the South Asian community wants to sweep under the poverty and lower class South Asian immigrants.

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