I used to believe people were confused about the meaning of words involving social justice. I figured when someone referred to any discussions about race as “racist” he or she was simply misinformed.
Now, I know better.
Some people have redefined words like “racist” in order to avoid talking about race. Others do so purposefully in order to maintain the power and privilege that come with being in a racial majority. And you can actually find people who are members of racial minorities in both of these groups, even when it works against their own best interests.
Reading Piyush Jindal’s article on the end of race, I’m lead to believe the Governor’s over-simplified and out-of-date ideas about race and how it’s lived are simply a function of his naiveté, and not a conscious effort to maintain racial inequity. Case in point, this quote:
“Under what logic would any intelligent, logical, or decent person give any thought to the pigmentation of a person’s epidermis? It’s nothing short of immoral, not to mention stupid…”
What about someone like me? I like my skin color. Does that make me “immoral” or “stupid” for doing so? I like my brown skin, my thick lips, the texture of my hair (though it only grows on the bottom and front parts of my head at this point in my life), and the association of “being Black” that comes with those physical features. I don’t like them because they make me feel superior to anyone who doesn’t share them; I like those things about myself, quite frankly, just because I like myself.
At the same time, I’ll purposefully avoid engaging in the same type of naiveté of which I’ve accused Governor Jindal, and make clear that I’m not pretending as if “race” is simply a set of “paint jobs” people have, which carry no further meanings or implications. It’s why I mentioned the association of Blackness in the above list. There are exceptionally clear and often vicious power dynamics at play when it comes to how we view race, and Blackness in particular. Jindal’s view ignores both the idea of race as a lived circumstance with complex power relationships, and the idea that people can engage with race in ways that are positive. There are many other ways to “live race” as well, but it is telling that the only one he addresses is racism. That’s short-sighted. But Jindals’s name itself may give us some insight into more nuanced ideas about race that could be floating around in his subconscious.
What’s in a Name?
Though he goes by “Bobby”, I’ve referred to Governor Jindal by his given name of Piyush. Jindal got the name “Bobby” because of his identification with Bobby Brady from The Brady Bunch, and has apparently been known as “Bobby” since the mid to late 70s. I don’t have any reason to doubt the governor’s story. At the same time, I can’t ignore the very common practice of choosing an American-sounding nickname by people whose given names don’t fit Western traditions, and the idea that “Bobby” is more electable in Louisiana than “Piyush”. He sure didn’t choose “Devante” or “Jadeveon”, two names that are as American as you could possibly get (how many Devantes and Jadaveons on this planet do you think aren’t American?). All jokes aside, being nicknamed “Bobby” has helped Americanize Governor Jindal in ways that move his perceived ethnicity away from Indian and toward European, with the racial implications of the shift being undeniable. And while I do find Jindal’s views about race unsophisticated, I don’t believe for one minute that he doesn’t understand how “Bobby” trumps “Piyush” in our society’s racial hierarchy. He’s a Rhodes Scholar. He didn’t use it to his advantage by accident.
The Melting Pot: How You Too Can Become White
Where Jindal’s opinion piece takes a turn for the sinister is in his stated desire to return to the concept of American being a “melting pot”. As far as antiquated ideas go, I thought the notion that destroying each individual American’s culture in order to create one undifferentiated new one had officially been thrown out. For people like me who enjoy our cultural heritages, I have no desire to give it up, hide it, or watch it get erased. There’s also the reality that the “default settings” for culture in the United States are White, male, Christian, heterosexual, middle-class, and able-bodied and minded. That is, when we don’t specifically address people’s cultural aspects, those become the assumed and prevailing ones. So what happens to “race” in the melting pot analogy is, everyone gets to become “White”, and “non-White” becomes “the other”. It’s why “Bobby” can be assumed to be culturally White and more electable, while “Piyush” is “not-White” and must therefore be melted away.
The Colorblind Society
In the sci-fi book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the whimsical technological inventions is a pair of “peril resistant sunglasses” called the Joo Janta 200. At the first sign of danger, the sunglasses turn so dark, the wearer can no longer see through them. Completely blinded from danger, the wearer no longer has to worry about it. The social commentary of these glasses applies directly when it comes to Jindal’s desire to “end race in America”. By ending any discussion or even acknowledgement of race, Jindal implies, we can eliminate racism. What he and others who long for a “colorblind” society are really trying to end is the very real pain of honest and forthright discourse about race. I know just how difficult that process is, and I actually welcome it. I love race as a concept, I love my own racial characteristics, and I want a society in which those things can be embraced and celebrated, rather than erased and melted. I’m Black. And I like that about me.
This article orginally appears on alineinthesand.com
Maurice “Mo the Educator” Dolberry has taught grades 6 through 20, and has worked at both public and independent schools from Minnesota to Florida to Washington and other places in between. Maurice is currently an adjunct college instructor while working on his PhD in multicultural education at the University of Washington. He’s also a Black dude.
Maurice “Mo the Educator” Dolberry ©2013