Friday, July 23, 2010

Not In My Backyard, Thanks

I spent the better part of last week with my relatives in a town just outside of Edison, N.J. Imagine my delight when I heard that Time magazine, a publication I have always wished I could work for, printed an article about Americans of Indian descent in Edison. I was delighted to discover that Edison has one of the largest Indo-American populations in the United States; some figures I have seen have estimated that about 20% of residents there are Desi, and I was intrigued to see how it would be recognized.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to the read. Then I found out a little more about it. Joel Stein's "My Own Private India" came out at the beginning of the month, so if you're a Desi, some irate friend or relative has most probably forwarded this to you. Since I was in vacation LaLaLand, I totally missed all the controversy, which is interesting when you consider that I was in the area ... you'd think I would hear about this on the news.

What was advertised as a humor column reads as a xenophobic rant. Writer Joel Stein grew up in Edison and is shocked to find his once "mostly white suburban town" overrun by Indians. He said he intended this piece to be a satirical look at immigration, but the language he uses is often times nothing more than offensive.

You can read the article yourself and decide whether it has any comedic merit:
My Own Private India

I've read some blog postings where young Desis toss around the idea that if comedian Russell Peters made these same comments, we'd all think they were funny. I have to disagree. While the bit about Guido-Indians is marginally funny, trying to make a joke out of the practice of Dot-busting is just not cool.

Here's a taste of his humor: "Eventually, there were enough Indians in Edison to change the culture. At which point my townsfolk started calling the new Edisonians "dot heads." One kid I knew in high school drove down an Indian-dense street yelling for its residents to "go home to India." In retrospect, I question just how good our schools were if "dot heads" was the best racist insult we could come up with for a group of people whose gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose."

In the late 1980s, a New Jersey gang known as "Dotbusters" attacked and killed a man. Last month, Indian immigrant scientist Divyendu Sinha was killed in what is suspected to be a racially-motivated assault. Sinha was murdered in Old Bridge New Jersey, a township that is located within 13 miles of Edison. His death came little more than a week before Time published the Stein piece. I'm not sure what the timeline is like between putting the magazine to bed and publishing it, but you'd think Time would have been more sensitive with this story given Sinha's recent death.

I could sit here and tear apart Stein's entire article, but it's been done before. The Huffington Post actually printed a series of guest columns in reaction to Stein's piece, so I will direct you to these:

Joel Stein's Beef With Indians Hurts Everyone

The "Hilarious" Xenophobia of Time's Joel Stein (This one's written by Kal Penn)

Joel Stein and the Curry Problem

I just want to say this: I'm all for freedom of speech. But I honestly can't find any merit in Stein's piece. It failed as a satire. And he just comes off looking like an ethnocentrist. Time let me down on this one. Intolerance (against any racial, ethnic, religious group) is not something I want to see splashed across my magazine.

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