Statement on TIME Magazine’s article “My Own Private India”

By July 8, 2010DoSAA, News

Dear Editors and Chief of Time Magazine,

As the Division on South Asian Americans (DoSAA), we feel that we need to express our concern over your decision to publish Joel Stein’s opinion editorial “My Own Private India.” His characterizations of Indians and their immigration history into the US is misinformed and characteristic of underlying resentment towards the changes in our country’s immigration rather than humorous nostalgia reflecting on the town he grew up in. It is our belief that derogatory and stereotype ridden opinion pieces harm the integrity of a news magazine and inflame an already divided country about the issue of immigration.

In addition to the negative stereotyping of Indians, Mr. Stein feels the need to negatively characterize “Italian Guidos” and the implication that Edison is town where “white children ….learn crime.” The writer’s negative assumptions and devaluing of populations that are not reflective of his own background are conveyed in his article and belie an underlying sense of entitlement as to who should be in Edison, NJ. We are indeed perplexed as to why Time Magazine would choose to support this type of sentiment.

As professionals in the mental health field, we feel we must make a statement to assert that opinion pieces such as this incite further distrust and non‐acceptance and are professionally irresponsible, not humorous, and unacceptable. This particular piece not only mocks a history of racial violence (Mr. Stein’s reference to “dot heads” and the violent attacks against South Asians in the 1980’s), but overall discounts the value of South Asian contributions in the United States since the 1800’s.

To the members of the South Asian American community:

In reaction to Joel Stein’s piece, individuals have shared the article with others, written directly to TIME magazine, expressed their sentiments through online media, and have also chosen not to respond. What is behind these various reactions? Is it because we feel an attack on Indians in Edison, NJ is an attack on us all? Are we upset that Indians are portrayed in a negative light or in an embarrassing fashion?

The common argument against Stein’s description of the “even‐less‐bright cousin” who immigrated to the U.S. is embedded in the notion that Indians work hard, are well‐educated and prosperous. While this holds true for a majority of Indians who arrived in the 1960s and 70s (due to the Immigration Act of 1965 which made provisions for more skilled individuals to enter the country), it does not fully represent the characteristics of recent Indian immigrants. To argue against Stein’s description of the changing trajectory of Indian immigration by extolling the prosperity of our community does not erase the fact that there still is an Indian man working the night shift at the gas station, who is one of many. We should be proud of what our community has achieved, but should ask ourselves this question: What do we really know about recent Indian immigrants to the U.S.? There seems to be an emerging divide in our community between Indian‐Americans in varying economic categories. They appear to be living in different worlds, with different opportunities to advance, socio‐economic outcomes, English speaking abilities, and rates of adjustment to the majority culture.
As a mental health organization, the Division on South Asian Americans advocates for viewing individuals from multiple perspectives and contexts. As mental health professionals we want to address the need to develop a critical consciousness about racial, ethnic, gender, and homophobic biases in the media, social conversations which continue to be “acceptable” in our culture. Developing the skills to have conversations about the stereotypes and biases in the South Asian community is a precursor to addressing these negative comments from outside the community. Research has shown that this type of racial discrimination and stereotyping has the potential to create psychological distress such as increased anxiety and lower self‐esteem among members of the Indian American community. Our own communities’ subconscious biases and prejudices may have allowed Joel Stein to feel he can mock and stereotype Indians living in Edison; as long as he doesn’t take the same tone with the “model minority’ who came over with the credentials to become doctors, engineers and IT professionals. The prejudices and biases that South Asians face from their own community may in fact be more psychologically damaging that those we face from outside the community.

We strongly encourage all South Asians to work towards becoming a unified and collective whole in the U.S. and to not allow inflammatory remarks from either inside or outside the South Asian community divide us. We therefore urge members of the South Asian American community to view one another from differing viewpoints. There is a great and precious diversity within our immigrant community and it is our responsibility to become familiar with the varied dimensions that exist. Learn about, confront, understand, and acknowledge both the strengths and weaknesses of our community. To borrow from President Abraham Lincoln’s great quote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,”‐‐a community not aware of itself cannot endure and prosper.

Division on South Asian Americans (DoSAA) is a community of students and professionals committed to understanding social, emotional, political and personal influences affecting South Asians in psychology and creating a forum to impact change for the betterment of South Asian mental health.

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