Indians are a GREAT target for laughs. We eat particularly pungent foods, watch the cheesiest movies, and have the thickest accents. Indian men have a weird talent to grow ear hair, and Indian women can hold grudges and gossip beyond a normal life span.
And yes, the kids, namely my generation, are just as hilarious. A third of us think we're White, a third think we're Black, and a third win the spelling bee. We all want to be doctors and lawyers -- at the same time.
My non-Indian friends sometimes tell me, "Indian racism is bullshit, you guys get all the good stereotypes." We get called smart, rich and tan. Not exactly fodder for the Anti-racist Alliance.
But something is rotten in the state of New Jersey and Indians are pissed off.
Not because Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley converted to Christianity, or because yoga was secularized. Not because Sikh turbans are compromised at airports or because the only TV show we have is about outsourcing.
Indians across America are mad because one article by one semi-funny columnist has somehow catapulted minds back to the 1960s, when many of them first crossed into the West and found a new home despite a culture of segregation and intolerance.
Joel Stein, a regular humorist for Time magazine, published a clearly racist, insensitive and largely pathetic piece last week called "My Own Private India".
I came across the piece because someone was citing my own article in India Currents as "burn cream", an oasis after the fire that Stein created. When I clicked on the Time link I was hoping it would just be a case of oversensitivity. Funny guys often get cheap laughs by derailing other people. And honestly, I hardly get offended.
Basically, Stein is whining because his hometown of Edison has become "Little India". Once a slightly rundown spot where he could get away with stealing shit and lying and saying racial slurs, now Edison is a bustling baby-Delhi.
If you've been to Edison, you will know that this is true. My family goes there to work (dental and medical practices, go figure), wax nostalgic about eating bhel puri, and buy the lentils and spices that you don't get at A&P.
But this article was not just a lame joke. In one fell swoop, Stein managed to offend me on political, social, cultural, religious and academic grounds. He was anti-Hindu, anti-immigration and anti-intelligent all on one page. Not one line of his screed applied to me, but it was clear that these were the rantings of someone who couldn't handle change -- not to his hometown, his country, or his obvious flair for wanting to be a badass.
The only redeeming moment in the entire piece was quoting the mayor of Edison, NJ, who said flat out that Indians had brought prosperity to an otherwise dwindling economy.
C'mon Stein. I chuckled along plenty of times as if you were that obnoxious guy in the back of the classroom. But this was ridiculous. Would you say this about Black people? Or White people? Or Jewish people?
We shouldn't have to prove ourselves to America, because we are Americans. We shouldn't have to be smarter or richer than others just to claim that we have the right to be here. We shouldn't have to tout the beautiful things from our culture so that people understand why we're an asset to this country.
Regardless, at some point we did prove all of these things. At some point people got right off the airplane and went to work so that I could feel comfortable in my own skin, with my own background, in this country.
Guess what Joel Stein, you belong here, or in Edison, only as much as I do. Not more, not less.
Well, maybe a little less because you're a pain in the ass.