Identity politics; or, why Indians supported Trump

Let me start by saying that as a child of Indian immigrants (father came here to do his postdoc, ended up in industrial R&D), the hate crime in Kansas and hateful vandalism in Visalia, Queens, etc. are, yes, more personal than the hate crimes/vandalism against, well, pretty much every other group.

Thing is, this isn’t even news — I lived in Wisconsin back in 2012, when a terrorist shot and killed multiple people at a Sikh temple in Milwaukee.

And let me also point out, if you somehow missed it, that Indian-Americans are one of the few groups that have been represented by more than a single token person in this administration. Ajit Pai, former Verizon lawyer, is now FCC head; Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor, is now UN ambassador; Seema Verma, a consultant who oversaw Indiana Medicaid for a huge profit, is nominated as CMS director. Or — hey — how about the shoutout to Hindus on election night.

The former should contraindicate the latter, right? You’d think that even rich Indians whose social circles receive every single invite to Paul Ryan’s secretive GOP fundraising events would maybe stop a moment and go, ‘This campaign is openly attacking Muslims and Hispanics. They’re brown. We’re also brown. Isn’t this a terrible idea?’

Hate crimes? Not in my backyard.

Now, the thankfully miniscule Indians for Trump Facebook group hasn’t said anything yet (their most recent post is February 23rd), much like their god-king. But that said, I’m not even sure they will.

Why?

Because identity politics — when it works — is internal.

I’m a good case-in-point for this. I seriously, seriously hate the term ‘people of color.’ To me it implies that my experience, and my 1,000 year old culture, can be validly lumped in with all the other ancient or forced-relocation-new cultures, as long as they aren’t ‘white.’

In short, my Indian heritage is part of my identity. What isn’t a part of my identity is the nebulous concept of not being white. Not to mention that, if you look at the global population, Asian is the default.

We embrace the identities we choose, and resent the identities that are imposed.

Given the prevalence of the term, a lot of people disagree with me. They’ve had experiences that, to them, justify this sort of broad singling out; or they have their own definitions — I’ve seen it used explicitly to mean black Americans as well as socioeconomically disadvantaged groups (in short, if you’re privileged then you’re ‘white’).

I would never march under a banner that said ‘PEOPLE OF COLOR FOR SCIENCE,’ even though I strongly support science. But, even though I’m a natural-born US citizen, I would consider joining an ‘IMMIGRANTS FOR SCIENCE’ march.

Because, for me, ‘people of color’ is an externally imposed identity, whereas I am connected to immigrants and see that experience as having affected me internally.

So back to our Indians for Trump. Leaving aside the ferocity of hatred between Hindus and Muslims — remember that India’s PM Modi was banned from the US and UK for his failure to act on massacres in Gujurat state — these people, despite endorsements from white supremacists like David Duke and Richard Spencer, just didn’t see themselves as affected by racism.

David Duke? Richard Spencer? Not a problem for these Indians.

The thing is, identity politics is an infinitely sliceable thing. Much as a bigot can have a working-class friend and still think all working-class Americans are low-information voters, someone who’s seen as LGTBQ by outsiders doesn’t necessarily have to think that being gay is part of their identity (and they definitely might not support the rest of the initialism, even though the external imposition lumps the whole group together).

You also can’t tell someone they have to care because of their identity and expect them to listen. I mean, I don’t think that anyone who calls themselves a ‘progressive’ gets to keep that title if they think transgender individuals are being too whiny right now, but I also don’t have the right to say they aren’t a progressive. I can say they’re inconsiderate, insensitive, etc. with the understanding that these are relevant to their behavior in this instance, not the core identity.

At the end of the day, supporting various identities is important. That’s supporting civil rights. But we can’t automatically assume identification.