Is using Governor Bobby Jindal's given name really the best wisecrack critics can come up with?
Can we put “Piyush” to rest as a reference for our governor? Its use has grown as a sarcastic identifier for Bobby Jindal by his critics, and this weekend, Tucks rolled with not one but two “Piyoush” floats in the parade, and yesterday I found an email newsletter in my inbox that started with a line about what “Piyush” is doing. The name gained currency when a photo surfaced of a portrait that presents the white Bobby Jindal. Jindal is running from his ethnicity and pretending to be white, the narrative goes, and why can’t he just keep it real?
For me, one problem with the term is that “Piyush” has a strong racial undertone. It draws attention to his foriegn-ness and not in a good way. It’s also out of touch with the non-native experience. When I graduated from a university with a strong engineering program, many of the Vietnamese students had adopted American names as well. Jindal becoming “Bobby” isn’t uncommon, and as much as we want to assign political motive to every Anglicization he undertakes, a better choice would have been the more mature “Robert.”
If “Bobby” was a politically motivated decision, it was also the right one. Look at the political landscape and you’ll see a sparsity of Piyushes and other overtly foreign-sounding names. Yes, we elected a Barack, but the cable news networks spend a lot of time covering John and Harry and Nancy and Joe and Ted and Scott and Mitch and Hilary. Yes, they also cover Marco, but Marco’s presidential ambitions are also struggling to get traction right now as well.
If you’re politically progressive, “Piyush” is also problematic because progressives tend to support an individual’s right to self-definition. If Piyush wants to be Bobby, isn’t that his business? Asserting that Jindal can only be what he looked like and was called when he was born implicitly asserts that identities don’t evolve and runs contrary to many of the concepts that support the LGBT rights movement.
Slurring Jindal as Piyush is also unnecessary because he generously gives his critics so much to work with. He encouraged his party not to be stupid and embraced the anti-science folks. He went to England to lecture another country about a problem that doesn’t exist. He has balanced his budgets with accounting gimmicks and one-time money with disastrous results. He has had the politically wrongheaded instincts to toe into national political waters by courting Christian conservatives, which hasn’t worked yet, and he has adhered to the conservative “starve government” mantra until we discovered the way Louisianans suffer from a malnourished Baton Rouge.
I understand the appeal of “Piyush” because I used to use it as well, but it is the low-hanging fruit of civic political humor: “What’s up with that dark-skinned guy calling himself ‘Bobby’?” The bottom line: If calling someone a foreign name is a term of derision, we ought not do that if we consider ourselves racially enlightened.
Thanks to George "Loki" Williams for starting me thinking about this.