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Wisconsin Sikh Temple shootings

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News first started trickling in, mostly via Twitter, around noon East Coast time about a shooting incident in a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, WI. My first reaction, unfortunately tempered from years such attacks directed at Sikhs, was that this was one of those post 9/11 incidents, where the perpetrator attacks Sikhs thinking they belong to the Taliban or Mujahideen. Based on current report, this may very well turn out to be the case.

Initial reports were of multiple gunmen taking hostages at the temple. But when the dust settled, it turned out to be a lone gunman, Wade Michael Page, ex-Army and alleged skinhead. The first responding cops exchanged fire with the gunman; one was hurt and the other killed the gunman, but not before Page killed 6 others on the temple premises. These cops, “prevented a tragic situation from becoming even worse”. Satwant Kaleka, the temple’s president succumbed to injuries he sustained while trying to restrain the attacker, perhaps saving more lives.

Now on to the (American) media coverage of the situation, CNN had some decent updates about the situation itself but the reporters and anchors showed an appalling lack of knowledge about Sikhs, the worlds 5th largest religious group. For some reason, the CNN reporters and anchors were strangely defensive, almost hostile, to the victims’ and their families’ suggestions that this could be one of those typical post 9/11 hate incidents directed towards Sikhs. Additionally, CNN anchors and reporters, played thought police, insisting that this incident should not be classified as a terrorist incident (the FBI later classified it as domestic terrorism) and CNN anchors also were quite emphatic that this was not the time for debate on issues like gun control and hate crimes (the two major issues that most likely led up to this carnage). Having said that among cable news outlets, CNN was the one with the most coverage of the incident.

Fox News, when they were not discussing topics like “Liberal Media attacks against Mitt Romney”, had intermittent coverage of the incident. Even with lesser coverage, Fox still managed to commit a faux pas as one the reporters asked a member of the Sikh temple if there had been any “anti-Semitic acts in the past against the Sikh community”. MSNBC, the other media outlet, was busy covering the Olympics and had breaking updates now and then, but largely failed in it’s mission as a “news channel”.

The other troubling fact on the media coverage was the fact they kept mentioning that this was “misdirected hate” aka “hate directed towards Muslims but incorrectly targeting Sikhs” which leads one to believe that targeting Muslims would be “normal”, which speaks to the sad state of affairs in this country.

As of this posting, Wade Michael Page has been identified as ex-Army, 1992-98, (Toma)Hawk Missile repairman, and “psychological operations specialist”. Reports are also starting to flow in that he legally owned the guns he used in this massacre and was the leader of a neo-Nazi band called End Apathy.

Largely, the media coverage and outrage among Americans has been miniscule compared to the ones we witnessed after the movie shooting incidents in Colorado. Call me jaded by post 9/11 America but none of this comes as a shock.

For updates, please follow our Twitter account http://twitter.com/uberdesi

Who hauuun Williams?

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The media and now infrequently haunted blogosphere seems to be ablaze with news on Juan Williams firing from NPR for his remarks on Muslims. [NPR]

NPR has terminated its contract with Juan Williams, one of its senior news analysts, after he made comments about Muslims on the Fox News Channel.
NPR said in a statement that it gave Mr. Williams notice of his termination on Wednesday night.
The move came after Mr. Williams, who is also a Fox News political analyst, appeared on the “The O’Reilly Factor” on Monday.
He continued: “I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”

**** time off for #facepalm moment ****

My question to the decision makers at NPR is how did they hire Juan Williams in the first place or why was he not terminated (for ignorance/stupidity) after confusing Indian-Americans with Native-Americans (which we tweeted about here). [WSJ Blog]

Nikki Haley ran far ahead of all other contenders for South Carolina’s Republican gubernatorial nomination, though the official returns give her 48.9%, just shy of a majority, which sets up a runoff against Rep. Gresham Barrett, who got 21.8%. Haley is a woman. She is 38. She is Indian-American, which by some lights makes her nonwhite (although South Asians are “Caucasian” in the traditional racial taxonomy.) We witnessed an amusing moment on Fox News Channel last night when Juan Williams observed that Haley would be “the first native American governor.” It was left to host Bret Baier to explain the difference between Indian-Americans and American Indians, and also to point out that Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal (also a 38-year-old Republican, albeit a man–hey nobody’s perfect) is in fact the first Indian-American governor.

Who hauuun Williams is now full time with Faux News. We wait with bated breath for Who hauuun Williams to confuse Nikki Haley’r origins, for Muslim instead of Sikh.

A desi, Harrick Connick Jr, the Jackson Five and a blackface skit

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Anand Deva, a Sydney-based doctor, is in the middle of a major racial controversy after performing a blackface spoof of the Jackson Five on an Australian show ‘Hey Hey its Saturday’. [TOI]

This story seems to have garnered worldwide attention as Harry Connick Jr was one of the judges on the show and ended up protesting the performance and rating it a zero. The offender, Dr. Deva expressed surprise over the controversy and made a rather weak argument trying to justify it.

“I am an Indian, and five of the six of us are from multicultural backgrounds and to be called a racist … I don’t think I have ever been called that ever in my life before,” he said. Anyone who knows us as a group, we are intelligent people, we are all from different racial backgrounds so I am really truly surprised,”

I disagree with him, racist acts are exactly that, whatever color your skin is. Judge for yourself from the video below.

Racially profiled

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Ravi Shankar

Prof. Ravi Shankar is a published poet, and a faculty member at the Central Connecticut State University. On July 10th this year, he was arrested on false charges, and detained for more than 30 hrs in a NY detention facility while being hurled with racial epithets. His record only had an unpaid speeding ticket, but he was being arrested as he ‘fit’ the description of a 140 pound caucasian male, while being a 200 pound, East Indian male.

After being produced before a magistrate after 30 hrs of detention and being denied access to a phone call or a lawyer, he was let go as the original lookout notice was for a person of different physical description.

While, we do sympathize with Shah Rukh Khan being stopped for questioning because of his name, or race, or Prof. Gates fiasco – which was not anywhere close to a case of racial profiling (in my view, after reading the facts of the case in the media), the case of Prof. Ravi Shankar  can be judged the worst possible experience among the three, and something we need to understand and analyze, because of the unjust experience he had to face, for no fault of his and the insults that a few cops intoxicated with their power in the situation took unnecessary advantage of.

We decided to follow up with Prof. Ravi Shankar and fire him a quick set of questions, to see what his thoughts were and how his experience could help from avoiding someone else go through a situation like this. It’s also quite disturbing to see no media focus on an individual whose basic rights were completely ignored by the cops, and someone with a respectable job and background had to spend 30 hrs in a detention facility.

If there was one thing that you would do differently, on the day you were arrested on false charges, something that you have control over – what would you do differently?
I think I would have reacted both initially and subsequently differently towards the police officers. Feeling like I had done nothing wrong, I was still being completely cooperative. Nonetheless I was perhaps struck subconsciously with a sense of righteous indignation that coupled with longstanding apprehension of cops based on my experiences with them as a youth in Northern Virginia made me come off as less than completely deferent. This feeling was not helped by their bellicose manner and barked commands, which veered ultimately to racial slur. I called them ’sir’ and ‘officer’ but once I tried to give them my card, a new dimension of disgust crept into their dealings, and some class quotient seemed to enter. They were, if anything, more barbed and authoritarian after they found I was a professor, as if they wanted to put me in my place. I should have perhaps kept my head down and pleaded, but I’m not really even sure if that would have helped. One other thing I would have done immediately is call a lawyer. With my one phone call to my family, I should have instructed them to contact an attorney right away to help get me out of there. I had no idea that another thirty-odd hours was waiting to ensue.

What could your family have done to prevent you spending nearly 30-hrs in detention?
They did all they could because they were not given any information. My wife kept calling Central Booking and was told that I hadn’t been processed yet and that they wouldn’t take any request seriously until it had been at least 24 hours. They can keep you for up to 72 hours for “investigation,” so a day is nothing to them. They should have contacted an attorney who would have gotten me out earlier. It’s obviously one of those things that you don’t want to broadcast until you know the circumstances, but in a case like this, you need to be sure that you know what you’re allowed legally. Once inside there was little I could do and we were privy to such subtle moments of psychological barbarism as the officers telling us sometimes the files were dropped or shuffled intentionally, that the only order down there was lack of order and indeed in such chaos, in seeing those who had been brought in after me be called and leave for their arraignment while I waited and waited and waited, my perception of time altered forever and I grew despondent. At that point, there was no one I could communicate to except myself and even the occasional two hours meditation sessions only went so far. I wanted to keep my wits and senses about me anyway, being in there with 35 other guys.

Assuming that, you did not have communication problems (related to accent), were the cops fair enough to give your explanation any weight, or was there no opportunity to express yourself?
No – my attempts at explanation were taken as subordination and they didn’t want me to ask any questions or defend myself in any way. I was told to be quiet and listen, was made to go through a sobriety check that I passed only to be administered a breathilyzer as if they were always going to give it to me, and was called an “idiot” and a “sand nigger.” It was beyond shabby treatment but in that situation you have no rights and anything you say to provoke or further inject rancor into the encounter will only result in bad things for you in the short term.

Have you received a formal apology from anyone or any invites for beer summits with Mayor Bloomberg?
No – many friends contacted the NY Commissioner of Police and I will lodge a formal complaint with the CCRB (Civilian Complaint Review Board) but I have received no notice from any NY institution or person. Even the NY Times demurred on running the editorial. I am weighing my options now and having conversations. Mayor Bloomberg is surely too busy basking in Plaxico Burress being put behind bars than to have beer with me, but I would accept any invitation, for beer, wine or chai. I would be glad to discuss my experience with any politicians or social organizers who are willing to listen, especially if it can result in a change in this policy of racial profiling. According to the Rand Corporation , 89% of traffic stops by the NYPD in 2006 were for non-whites. Nearly 90%! That’s mind-boggling. I would love to help investigate why this is and what part Indian-Americans and others can play in making this less the case. What happened to me happens regularly to a mostly African- and Hispanic-American underclass and they don’t have the chance or venue to advocate for themselves. Having experienced this, I do and I want to shed light on this epidemic. From Professor Gates to Shahrukh Khan there’s something happening that needs to be openly discussed.

Are there any important lessons you learned from this ordeal?
Keep an attorney’s number in my wallet. Count each moment as invaluable because hours yawed into days while I bid my time on a concrete bench and I never missed those I love more that time. And Metro North is always, always the better option.

Ravi Shankar is Associate Professor and Poet-in-Residence at Central Connecticut State University and the founding editor of the international online journal of the arts, Drunken Boat .

He has published a book of poems, Instrumentality (Cherry Grove), named a finalist for the 2005 Connecticut Book Awards, and with Reb Livingston, a collaborative chapbook, Wanton Textiles (No Tell Books, 2006).

He currently serves on the Advisory Council for the Connecticut Center for the Book, reviews poetry for the Contemporary Poetry Review and along with Tina Chang and Nathalie Handal, he edited Language for a New Century:  Contemporary Poetry from Asia, the Middle East & Beyond (W.W Norton & Co.). He is a recipient of a Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism (CCT) FY09 fellowship in Poetry, an occasional commentator on NPR and will have two chapbooks of poetry coming out in 2010.

Whats that they say about Roses and Names?*

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The latest in the “foot in mouth” chronicles starring  Texas Rep Betty Brown:

Rep. Betty Brown suggested that Asian Americans might want to adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with” when they want to vote so their names will match what is on registration rolls (link: via angryasianman.com)

To be fair, the hon. representative was definitely *not* addressing Indian names because as every school kid in America knows – Indians are not Asian ! ( ASIDE: This was one of the biggest culture shocks for me when I moved to the USA. All my life I thought of myself as Asian, until I moved to California where I suddenly metamorphosed into an unknown entity “The South Asian”. No-one – media, politicians wants to acknowledge us as “Asian”.Is it because we look different?Isn’t that kind of racist too?)

Of course if Betty Brown had met my friend Venkata Ramanan Shivaramakrishnan Ganapathy Subramanian- she may have changed her mind and been more …er…”inclusive” in her sweeping condemnation of ethnic names!
To quote the rep ( watch the video in the link for more gems!)

Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese – I understand it’s a rather difficult language – do you think that it would be to you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?

I don’t make this stuff up – I just report it!

As always, when I am a loss for words , I turn to “Catch-22

“Yossarian? What the hell kind of a name is Yossarian” “It’s Yossarian’s name sir”


“Yossairan….an odious, alien, distasteful name, that just did not inspire confidence.” It was “…not at all like such clean, crisp, honest, American names as Cathcart, Peckem and Dreedle.”

As part of Uberdesi’s eternal quest to make life easier in the USA for our devoted readers, here is a link to widget that will generate a nice, pronouncable, American name for you. This comes to you courtesy of another Texas Rep Trey Martinez who at least proves that not all reps are racist, unthinking jerks!

I tried it and my Betty Brown Approved Name is LaVerne “Lunchables” Brown.
Take Betty Brown Name Generator today!
Created with Rum and Monkey’s Name Generator Generator.

Just call me “Lunchables”!

(* “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”- William Shakespeare)

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