“At times I’ve wondered if this isn’t a psychic workaround: is brown safer than black?”
Every South Asian reader knew the answer. When even whiteness is freighted in liberal circles with maudlin guilt, no color is safer than South Asian brown. No minority presence in the US is more reassuring, or less likely to get angry or acknowledge your antiblack racism. The South Asian is sometimes the soft-spoken but intense professional— the alert-eyed and firm-jawed Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN. But just as often the television South Asian echoes the gestures of the standard fawning coolie of yore: palms clasped together, head shaking from side to side, mumbling “sahib” through an apologetic smile crowned with an anachronistic mustache. Or she is a cartoon auntie flinging her sari over her shoulder as she hovers over a pot of steaming aloo methi, yelling to her son in Rushdiean patois: “Eat-na, why you no eat! Food is spoiling-goiling,” et cetera. Nussbaum didn’t mention that the show that for a while came after The Office in the NBC Thursday night lineup was called Outsourced. The show followed the comic travails of whites stranded in an Indian call center, but was chiefly humiliating because its South Asian actors had lined up eagerly, in possession of free will, to portray racist stereotypes. South Asians have done this proudly for years, chiefly in film: from the many who played monkey brain eaters in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to Kal Penn as the repressed nerd in the Van Wilder movies, Dev Patel tomming through The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and the guy who literally played a coolie in The Royal Tenenbaums. Such minstrel figures paved the way for and now coexist with the accentless, “American” desi nebbish who fills the minority quota on TV.”
Go read. It’s so good. No words.
I agree with this for most part but the author is pulling the same trite move of depicting South Asians as a homogeneous community when the truth is far from that. Re: safe South Asian brown. “No minority presence in the US is more reassuring[.]”
If we’re going to use South Asian here as a general term, keep Pakistanis out of it. It is clearly obvious, whether through US domestic policies against Pakistanis or foreign policy that attacks the people abroad, that we Pakistanis are not considered the ‘peace loving’ type. Have a look at Pakistanis in film and literature: We are always seen as a group carrying moral and political hazards. We are stuck in terrorist tropes. This doesn’t account for Pakistanis as far as the general perception of individual minority groups is concerned and I’m raising this point because South Asian is being used here a blanket description. No Pakistani is considered ‘safe’ in terms of South Asian brown. When you hear Pakistan and you’re white American, you don’t think of coolies and head-bobbling subservient brown chai-maker. Like it or not, you think of IEDs, bearded mullahs, terrorism and white-accented Al-Qaeeeeduh.
I just wish these essays - all important and critical - would differentiate between the experiences of South Asians because South Asians are not treated on holistically pleasant terms. Progressive Indian writers genuinely need to address their automatic literary style of viewing South Asia = India because, trust me, the rest of us aren’t really at the receiving end of the same ‘positive’ Orientalism. At least we across the western border aren’t perceived as ‘safe brown’ at all.