There are a few things that stood out in Joel Stein’s Time article on the Indianization of Edison, New Jersey, his hometown :
1. There is the casual, drive-by racism:
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.
While Stein’s lame attempt at humor falls flat here, I wonder whether he would even dare to make fun of Jesus or Mohammed in this manner. What’s even more curious is the way he implies that the New Jersey residents who called Indians “dot heads” were somehow not going far enough. Does he not remember the gang of “dotbusters” who prowled the streets and killed Indians in hate crimes in Jersey City and Hoboken? What’s his point – that the “dotbusters” should have changed their name?
There are Indians in NJ who can still remember those terrible times, and no, they will not find the “dotbusters” any funnier if they had a different name.
2. There is the casual ignorance of history:
Whenever I go back, I feel what people in Arizona talk about: a sense of loss and anomie and disbelief that anyone can eat food that spicy.
Of course, by “people in Arizona”, he means the people who displaced the original inhabitants – the Hispanics. Surely Stein knows that what is now Arizona was once part of Mexico ? So the new people of Arizona feel a sense of loss of what, exactly?
Besides, (as others have noted) what’s his point in bringing up Arizona in the time of SB 1070?
3. There is the casual attitude to offense and racism: (from his response on twitter)
Didn’t meant to insult Indians with my column this week. Also stupidly assumed their emails would follow that Gandhi non-violence thing
Now, if I had written an article that was unintentionally racist, demeaning, malicious and offensive to a lot of people, I would be horrified, and I would apologize. The words “I am sorry” would be part of what I would say. What I would certainly not do is turn around and ask readers why they weren’t following Gandhi and turning the other cheek. That’s a classic blame-the-victim strategy. Besides, of all the wrong things to say, playing on one more stereotype (Gandhi = all Indians) should rank among the worst.
Is that why he targeted Indians in his article, though – because he believed they would turn the other cheek and not object?
(If he is actually receiving any threats, that would be different, but doesn’t seem to be the case here).
I also wonder if he would have dared to write a similar article about any other demographic – like say, Jews, Muslims, or WASPs ?
When I first read Stein’s article, I thought it was a very lame attempt at humor, and only served to showcase his ignorance and prejudices. I was willing to believe, though, that Stein himself wasn’t racist, even if his article did sound rather racist.
But after reading his unapologetic tweet, I wonder if Joel Stein is really racist. Either that, or he is completely clueless, insensitive, will write anything to stir up controversy, and is unapologetic about his rudeness. Not someone whose column I will read anymore.
Either way, I can see why Joel Stein will never apologize for this article. He is obviously incapable of seeing how offensive and racist his words are, whether or not he intended the insults/ racism.
Even more surprisingly, TIME magazine has chosen to take the same unapologetic attitude – as the Wall Street Journal notes:
On the scale of apologies, “We’re sorry” is the strongest, “mistakes were made” is the wishy-washy version preferred by politicians, and “we regret you are offended” is the not-so-apologetic apology. That last option appears to be the route the magazine took with its official response Wednesday: “TIME sincerely regrets that any of our readers were upset by Joel Stein’s recent humor column ‘My Own Private India.’ It was in no way intended to cause offense.”
I hear though, that the article is not part of TIME’s International edition which gets sold in India. I wonder why?