Wednesday, September 6, 2006

VU prof Thatamanil: whiteness and American identity are too closely aligned

John J. Thatamanil, assistant professor of theology at Vanderbilt Divinity School, penned this editorial reflecting on his father's advice to him as a child about being an "American," in the context of Senator George Allen's "macaca" comment. Here are excerpts:
"From adolescence on, I heard a constant refrain from my Indian father: 'Don't ever believe that you're really American.' I found his advice peculiar, especially as I had been living in America since age 8 and had largely forgotten my time in India. To him, it didn't matter that the only language in which I could think a complex thought was English. It didn't matter that the only music I listened to was Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees and Billy Joel."
"My father's dictum infuriated me, in part because I took his comment to be racist. Did he mean that only white people count as real Americans? What about African-Americans, let alone Indian-Americans? I have insisted ever since that in America, what makes someone an American is citizenship, not race or ethnicity."
"Last month — after hearing Sen. George Allen call an Indian-American, born in this country, 'macaca' — I better appreciated my father's sober wisdom. What he meant to say is now apparent: 'You will never be accepted as truly American.'"
"Indian-Americans and other affluent immigrant groups would do well to remember the civil rights struggles of African-Americans and others without whom a racially inclusive American nation would have been impossible."
"Only by making common cause with African-Americans, only by joining with other immigrant groups that have not been as fortunate, can South Asian immigrants resist America's troubled racial history and embrace its best aspirations for a truly democratic and inclusive future."
"In the near term, what this means is that Americans of color should work together to ensure that politicians who can see the many shades and hues of American life only as exotic, foreign or even un-American have no role in shaping our common future."
Focus: Justice

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