Why Joel Stein will not apologize

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?

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23 thoughts on “Why Joel Stein will not apologize

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Why Joel Stein will not apologize | The Imagined Universe -- Topsy.com

  2. Hi Lekhni,

    Couldn’t resist commenting on this one. I agree with all the valid points that you brought up. Especially loved the ‘Arizona-Mexico’ reference!

    Obviously, in the process of trying to appear funny and witty (seriously???) Mr. Stein has ended up seeming completely obnoxious, insensitive and boorish.

    • I am really comfortable with this article…Because what if thousands of americans come and start living in my neighourhood…may be thats what we would write in my daily newspaper.And also please Indian people dont get hurt by…this is for those Indians who like to benefit USA more than India.So why even give it a second thought.

  3. “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?”

    Speaking of casual ignorance of history, the original inhabitants of Arizona were Native Americans, not “the Hispanics.”

    • Sure, I was only taking it two steps backwards – to the time when AZ was part of Mexico (and before that, colonized by Spain) and I lumped both periods to call them “Hispanics”. But as you say, if we go further back, the Spaniards displaced the Apache, and before the Apache were the Anasazi, and before them, the Paleolithic, mammoth-hunting people…which is my point. When Stein talks about “people of Arizona” he is just talking about the latest in a long line of people who lived there,

  4. As is evident from Stein’s own webpage, he is just a shock-jock on paper, trying to garner attention to his writing with sophomoric humor. I wonder if we have overblown the response to him, rather than focusing on Times magazine and its happy acceptance of his piece for publishing.
    Maybe it says more about the editorial board at the magazine ( which I used to respect, sadly diminished now), than it does about one small-minded columnist.

    • I agree Time’s standards seem to be declining (along with the quality of magazines and newspapers in general). Too much “humint” and hardly enough analysis seems to be the norm.

  5. What is all this fuss about “racist”? Who exactly is racist? Is a community like the Indians not racist when they take over entire neighborhoods, spelling bees, geography bees etc based on their notion that they MUST stick to their own kind, excluding all other kinds if they are to succeed/survive in a country that is a melting pot of diverse cultures/races?

    Stein was just trying to highlight this sense of clannishness(can also be thought of as racism) in Indians and the loss mainstream American feels when he sees and entire community that does not want to merge its identity with the mainstream, rather wants to displace the mainstream American culture by making its own clan go bigger and bigger.

    How would you feel if you were in his boots?

    • You are mistaken. Success in Spelling bees/ Geography bees is a function of preparation and hard work, not of race. Assimilation (or not) has nothing to do with race either.

      As for Stein, I’m not sure even he knows what his point was.

      • How then would you explain spelling bees and other bees open only to “south asian” kids or only for Indian kids, though held here in USA?
        Stein’s writing is an honest reaction and description of the sense of loss he feels at the drastic change and strangeness of the surroundings that were once familiar to him.
        If you say non assimilation and the fact that Indians form their own organizations exclusively for Indians to prepare for spelling bees is not racist, then what justifies your calling Stein’s writing racist? Let us therefore not assign more meaning to Stein’s writing than what is due. We would only be creating more problems for ourselves this way. Let us not create problems for the community which thankfully do not exist.

        Again how would you feel if you were in his boots? Think about it honestly then you would understand Stein’s writing for what it is.

  6. Dear Members of our Indian-American community,

    As a long time NJ Indian-American resident who has friends of all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds, I am proud to uphold our Indian culture and bring members of all races to experience our amazing culture. I have converted many of my non-Indian friends to our amazing food, dance, songs, and Bollywood films! So I am as shocked as each of you of Joel Stein’s article and have joined the public outcry. Privately, though, I am more concerned on a deeper level. I hope you will understand:

    I have been increasingly disturbed to defend our kind as ‘not racists’, based on some of the sick ignorance that happens within our own community as well. I know for a fact that most Indian-origin people do not participate in this ignorance and are amazingly loving people to all color and races. But by allowing the ignorant members of our community to be public, it falsely represents all of us as accepting it.

    For instance, on pinkvilla.com (a blog site targeted at desi girls to experience Bollywood and Indian fashion), young Indian-American teens lambaste duskier Indian stars, forgetting that Indian beauty comes in all colors… (i.e Freida Pinto is too brown to represent India ; ‘dark maid’ comments to dark-skinned models..; fair vs dark wars..). These sorts of racial color comments and glorification/bashing of Indian stars based on their color are accepted as a-ok on that site. The moderators who are adults and should know better, accept and publish comments, and let it continue among these kids. The net result is that many of them who may suffer from self-image issues based on their skin color!

    And more shockingly, I got several emails from my white and black friends saying there was a racist making Indian restaurant reviews calling Indian waiters ‘chimps’, dark, idiots, and all sorts of nonsense (http://www.njindia.us ). After vowing to get to the bottom of this, I decided to write to the NAACP to stop this. Imagine my shocking embarrassment when I realized the reviewer was an Indian-American!

    In this case, how can I properly battle the Joel Steins of the world, when in fact, many members of my community are facing similar cultural self-hated, resulting in a similar ignorance to Joel’s? Furthermore, many members of our Indian community too in fact dislike Edison (and honestly, Oak Tree could use some trees, flowers and major cleaning up… to show our pride.. ). So here is my ‘intended’ imagined letter to Joel to show you the deep dilemma I believe we in the Indian-American community now face. I believe the solution is to clean up our backyard together. I know we can grow and change- making this painful episode, a positive step forward for our community.

    Sincerely, Rini.
    —————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————
    Congratulations Joel!

    After master-minding the reaction response, you disappear like Garbo. Call us desis dim for not getting the satire that you’re making fun of racists and not us, but… hey!
    Brilliant method, I must say: smack yourself a bit for the safety net of political-correctness.. then smack us harder. Guess what you did?

    YOU OFFICIALLY HERALDED THE NEW HIP COOL FACE OF IGNORANCE BEING LED BY MINORITIES NOW:

    WASPs across the globe must be rejoicing, as minorities like you rip us Indian-Americans up. Reading the blogdom, Indian-Americans are ripped by folks of all shapes, sizes and colors.. heck including even their traitor origin country, India! -> Some African-Americans say hey.. Indians are racists against us.. so let’s make two wrongs a right and rip em! Some NJ Chinese-Americans residents conveniently forget their Chinatowns..and on your facebook, agree with ya! Some liberals are saying Indians are just outsourcers so it’s ok to diss em.. (conveniently forgetting the difference between Indians in India and those who have legally immigrated as Americans is the difference between an American and a Brit).

    And just to jump in this party, our own desi community joins joins racist humor restaurant reviews of Edison itself, via the infamous comedic NJ Indian restaurant reviewer from http://www.njindia.us/! Examples of this dude’s humor matches yours quite well: Ahhh, the good old fashioned humor of the melanin fear factor separating the whiter Indians from the darker ones, calling his waitress the ‘dark, fat girl’ & rude: http://www.oaktreeroad.us/urban-spice-review.html . This guy keeps this up in review after review, often remarking on the dark skin color and calling waiters chimps and all sorts of racial names that the Brits once chose for Indians. Write to the site to stop the ignorance, and they fire back that you’re a disgruntled restaurant owner reviewed badly (brilliant!). So we’re thin-skinned to not laugh (brilliant!). He must be taking a page out your humor book, Joel. brilliant!

    Looks like you found your your twin soul this Indian-American humor reviewer…. we’re all more alike than we think, aren’t we?
    The funny thing is, unlike the huge outcry from SAALT and the Indian-American against you, there is no outcry for this dude…

  7. Rini,

    The last line of your letter tells it all. “When you point one finger accusingly at someone, three fingers are curled back pointing at you”.

    So indeed the Indian American community must not ignore those three fingers pointing towards itself as it points a finger at Stein. This would be the Gandhian response that Stein was talking about. “If you want to change the world, first change your self”. The Indian American community has a lot to gain by looking at those three fingers than it has by focussing on that one finger accusing Stein.

  8. I think we should spread the word out that we are going to pick one day to call TIME magazine and cancel subscriptions to magazine, due to the stupid article that it published. Every Indian coummunity member should do that. And we can pick August 16th 2010, right after independence day.

    I will spread the word with my local community.

    “STOP THE TIME” – SUBSCRIPTION – AUG 16th 2010

    ALL INDIANS AND OTHERS OFFENDED Cancel TIME Mag, or these will continue, in other magazines.

  9. http://www.mycentraljersey.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=20108120349

    Please look up reader comments and reactions to the recently held south asian spelling bee held exclusively for kids of south asian racial descent (therefore is accused of being racist by non Indian American readers). There are bigger bees like this held only for kids of Indian American descent like the north south foundation contests which actually mandate that only kids who can trace at least one parent or grandparent of Indian origin are eligible to participate.

    Can the Indians or Indian Americans who would like to condemn Time for publishing Joel Stein’s article also condemn these exclusive practices?

    • We have been through that discussion, on this blog. (You might want to read the comments section on this post about the Spelling Bee).

      In my opinion, if any institution (or competition or scholarship) is funded exclusively by a certain community (however you define community), then you cannot call it racist just because it benefits its own community exclusively or in large part. That is like calling Catholic schools racist.

  10. “This is like calling catholic schools racist”. This line of reasoning to equate the discriminatory practices of the bees to religion based schools does not hold any ground.

    No catholic school or any religion based school including the first islamic college in USA restricts its admissions only to people of that particular religion or community whose values it seeks to promote.

    Secondly the expenses of the bees are hardly underwritten only by Indian community as can be easily gathered from their websites.

    Thirdly, if your line of reasoning were true then there is nothing to stop a “Caucasian only” bee or an “African American only” bee or an “Islamic” bee or a “Christian bee” and any number of such bees……
    What if hypothetically Scripps were to announce tomorrow that the Scripps bee is only for Caucasians because the organizers and the sponsors are all Caucasian, the South Asians better compete in the South Asian bee!!!!!!!!!!

    Is this what USA stands for?

    • Let’s be clear – a community that defines itself solely on race and excludes all other races can be criticized as racist. South Asians are not a separate race ; they are just a community based on shared geographic origin. So a “Caucasian bee” would not be the same as a South Asian bee. That apart, I really don’t have a problem with a Christian bee or a Jewish bee. If people feel a need for such bees, who am I to criticize their participation?

      My point is – religion-based is not racist. Geography-based is not racist. Only race-based can be called racist. However, I get that there are people who treat Indians/ South Asians as a separate race (e.g. references to brown skin, or in case of Joel Stein, his comment about “dot heads” not going far enough as a racist insult.) That shows their individual racism, but it still doesn’t make South Asians a separate race.

      • The borders between racial, regional or religious discrimination are very narrow and therefore open to interpretation. After all Caucasia , Africa, Asia are all as much regions as South Asia is. So who is to say “dot” was a reference to religion, region or race? Or whether African or Asian or South Asian refers to region or race? Does that make a difference? (There are reports that South Asians have themselves been asking for South Asian to be defined as a separate racial category in the census in order to differentiate themselves from Asian(which most people understand as people of Chinese, Korean, Japanese Thai .. origin)).

        Discrimination is discrimination when there is exclusion of all others based on a differentiating factor no matter what the basis for defining the differentiating factor for selection be.

  11. Joel Stein, you show your complete racism and ignorance toward other cultures. As for his article I would say he humiliated himself with his horrid apology. Joel, If you ever read this please learn more about people before you openly disgrace them. This attempt at ” humor ” is disgraceful. I know many Non Indians who appreciate our culture. But this failed attempt at humor does not excuse his racism. Joel, please think about what you are writing before you say it.

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