Thursday, October 28, 2010

Beyond FINESSE: South-Asian American Candidates Carry on Despite Discrimination

I switched on NPR yesterday morning with the funny feeling I was going to learn something new. Not a rare occurrence, I readily admit, but during my short drive home this story—“South-Asian Americans Discover Political Clout”—happened to be aired.

I’m still shocked when I hear about blatant discrimination in this day and age. Though this story was told in a light tone as it discussed increasing numbers of political candidates of South-Asian descent now vying for offices across the country, it shared a number of troubling details regarding obstacles some of these politicians have to face simply because of their backgrounds, appearances, and names.

According to Priya Murthy, policy director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (a Maryland-based nonpartisan, non-profit organization), at least one candidate has faced public ridicule regarding his perceived lack of electability due to nothing else but his long and obviously Asian name. While another has been accused of not being Christian as he claimed (sound familiar?) and at one time was called a “turban topper,” another—a woman—has been referred to as a “raghead.” The same (elected!) official who used this insulting slur also expanded it to include President Obama in the same breath. “We’ve already got a raghead in the White House,” declared Jake Knotts, a Republican state senator from South Carolina, “we don’t need another raghead in the governor’s mansion.” What year is this?!

Kudos to all U.S. candidates from diverse backgrounds, especially those who hope their efforts will make the way easier for others in the future. One such current candidate, Dr. Ami Bera of California, is quoted in the NPR piece as saying it’s “a privilege to be in a position to inspire a generation.” I’d say we’d all be privileged to have people like Dr. Bera in positions of influence in cities and towns across our increasingly diverse, wonderful country.

Photo of Dr. Ami Bera, a state congressional candidate in California, with his family originally posted on