Thursday, January 08, 2004

Stop the Tape: Hillary Rodham Lott's Racist Joke

Hillary Clinton's Gandhi Joke/Foot in Mouth

Alot is being made, well at least in the blogosphere, about Hillary Clinton's statement this past Saturday during an event in St. Louis for Senate candidate Nancy Farmer, Missouri’s state treasurer, where she stated/joked that Mahatma Gandhi used to run a gas station in St. Louis. She then continued, after laughter from many in the crowd, by stating, "No, Mahatma Gandhi was a great leader of the 20th century." In a nod to Farmer's underdog status against Republican Sen. Kit Bond, Clinton quoted the Indian independence leader as saying: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

To view the CNN story on her apology, click here.
To hear her make the somewhat offensive statement (with commentary by Rush Limbaugh--I know, I know--just ignore him), click here.

Basically, I think it is important to understand why this has struck a chord with Indians, and also why I think this really is not that big of a deal. Essentially, one of the stereotypes of Indians and South Asian-American's is of course that we own business's, often in the motel/hotel industry, convenient stores, and yes gas stations. To label an Indian (and an international) hero, who really is a source of pride and inspiration for people everywhere (including Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr.) as nothing more than a silly stereotype is indeed offensive and hurtful to a community that lacks hero's with such an international and historic appeal. It is in this vein, a huge dig to Indians.

There is no need however, as some have done on the MeFi site (link via Om Malik, via Turbanhead), to make this into a classist issue or to even compare this to the Trent Lott statement--these comparisons are not just unfair, they are wrong. If you would like to read about classism re South Asian immigration, click here for an article I wrote a long time ago in the Satya Circle. (I know I keep on promising that SC is making a comeback--it really is, I swear!)

We know that Hillary and Bill are not anti-Indian nor anti-immigrant. My personal feeling is that she really just did use bad judgement in how she was going to introduce the quote. It seems the only reason she made that statement was so that she could lead into the Gandhi quote to emphasize the fact that Nancy Farmer was an underdog, who was being ignored, and then laughed at, and then was going to eventually win. Trent Lott's ode to Strom Thurmond, who ran for office on a platform of segregation, falls more in line with blatant racism.

I think a some kind of stink should be made, to Hillary, to her speechwriters, and also to the mainstream press who seem to have given her a pass. Obviously though, I don't think this needs to elevate to the level that the Trent Lott incident did. I really hope it doesn't because I don't need to see Hillary Clinton on TV Asia, saying, "I have lots of Indian friends, and in fact, two of my employee's are Indian." (Do you think one of them pumps her gas?)


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