Why I’m Embarrassed to be Indian

As readers of The Pop Culture Historian’s sister blog, The American Foodie, may know, my other hobby is food. As much as I like going to restaurants, tasting food and reporting what I think about them, I also like cooking food. With that in mind, I tend to hunt YouTube for handy tutorial videos; my learning style is such that I have an easier time knowing how to do something when I see it done. I stumbled upon a video where Emeril Lagasse shows an Indian-American woman how to make tandoori chicken; I would’ve embedded the video here, but PlanetGreenTV’s channel disabled embedding. It is a very helpful video! But I digress.

What got to me was when I saw this:


As any Indian-American worth his salt, I know that “ABCD” stands for “American-Born Confused Desi”; for those of you keeping score at home, “desi” (pronounced kind of like “they see”) is a way of saying “from India”. I’ve also come to realize I fit precisely what any “homegrown” Indian defines to be an ABCD. I’ve been born and raised in America. I’m basically a non-practicing nominal Hindu. As I tell all my friends here at Cornell, my Japanese is a lot better than my Bengali, which is technically my native language, and that’s more of a statement of how bad my Bengali is than how good my Japanese is. I’m generally uncomfortable eating rice with my hands, usually opting for a fork or even a set of chopsticks. I eat beef (I make a mean hamburger, but that belongs in a different post).

In other words, in the eyes of Indians, I have been tainted by America, as this woman was in the eyes of user “aditya shah”. While I feel this guy was perfectly within his right for criticizing Lagasse for making inauthentic tandoori (which I suspect it is when compared to a Gordon Ramsay tutorial I saw), it’s his saying the woman needs to “act like an indian” that I, quite frankly, found rather hurtful. I took a look at this guy’s YouTube channel, and found he’s basically a pro-India fanatic, liking any video remotely related India and criticizing Pakistan (because if you’re a proper Indian, you’re supposed to hate Pakistan and all it stands for) wherever he could. It’s obvious he has an extremely limited education (and is very likely a 12-year-old), but I’m very aware that he is not alone in having such sentiment.

Since I am of Indian descent, I think it’s ok for me to say this without backlash: I think Indian people are extremely racist. This ties back into my earlier post about political correctness, where I embedded a clip from the Indian movie Fashion. I’ll reiterate that Fashion is about a woman who rises in a career of modeling, and winds up living a life of sex, drugs, and fashion. As the main character continues her downward spiral, she goes to a club, gets high on drugs, and starts dancing with a black man. She wakes up the next morning and finds herself, to her horror, in bed with the same guy. You can see the movie treats her having sex with a black guy as her, “Damn, I really f*cked up this time!” moment. I’m guessing it would’ve been ok if she slept around with proper Indian guys, but a black guy is a big no-no. Fashion was a very mainstream movie, and that scene made it past the Indian censors; have fun getting a kiss scene into your movie and getting it past the Indian censor board.

It’s an example of a cultural trait I find simultaneously very quintessentially Indian and very unattractive. I’m quite bothered by the inherent hypocrisy because I know the same Indians are more than likely extremely sensitive toward racism they perceive to be aimed at themselves. A few years ago, there was an infamous humor piece written by Time columnist Joel Stein (one of my high school’s favorite sons, but that’s besides the point) about how Edison, New Jersey has basically been transformed into Little India. Needless to say, there was a serious outcry from Edison’s (very large) Indian community.

What I see is a classic example of the “I’m ok with racism as long as it’s not pointed at my group” double standard. If I had to drop my two cents on the matter, I feel like Indians have no more right to hold prejudices against “Americanized” Indians or blacks than Joel Stein does to Indian Americans.

I know Katy Perry’s yellowfaced performance as a Japanese geisha stirred up some controversy, where “white privilege” was a buzzword that was thrown around. What do people think of this song from the hit Indian movie, Love in Tokyo? In case you’re wondering, the movie is more or less totally devoid of Japanese characters, despite being set in Tokyo. I’m curious what the Japanese people who were observing this video being shot from a distance thought of the whole thing.