I should feel more proud than I do that Bobby Jindal was just inaugurated as the governor of Louisiana.
In a state where 55 percent of white voters gave former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke their vote in the 1991 race for governor, the odds of an Indian-American man sitting in Huey Long's office seemed remote. Yet Jindal won with 54 percent of the vote in November, making him the first Indian American to be elected to the highest office in any state.
But the thrill for me, as an Indian American, is dampened by Jindal's politics.
He has attached himself to the socially conservative wing of the Republican Party. Anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-secular, pro-war, anti-science . . . the list is endless. Jindal is not only at the extreme end of the Republican spectrum, but he continues to be a loyal soldier in the Bush army.
Worse, he used coded racist language to woo Louisiana’s white electorate. During the protests around the outrageous prosecution of black students in the town of Jena, Jindal told the press, "We certainly don't need any outside agitators coming in here."
The phrase "outside agitator" has a long lineage in the anti-civil rights movement and within the White Citizens' Councils. Shortly afterwards, Jindal carried LaSalle Parish, which houses Jena, a solidly white zone that overwhelmingly voted for Duke. The code was understood.
As with Sen. Barack Obama, Jindal's personhood is more compelling than his actual political program. Young and charismatic, with a promise to be post-racial and yet with dark skin, Jindal is selling the same package as Obama.
They want us to believe that their politics are not part of the equation, only what they represent. As men of color, both need to be taken seriously for who they are, not simply what they look like.
If we take Jindal seriously, then he is to be more feared than admired.
Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and director of the International Studies program at Trinity College, Hartford, Conn. His most recent book is “The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World” (New Press, 2007). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.