Stars and gripes

The rise of Indian Americans in politics could spawn its own discontents

An United States Supreme Court Justice of Indian descent? It is not as unlikely as it may sound, especially for a community already imagining a President Bobby Jindal or Vice President Nikki Haley. Srikanth "Sri" Srinivasan is considered by both major political parties to be one of the best appellate lawyers in the US and has been nominated by President Obama to be a judge on the US court of appeals for the district of Columbia circuit. This court has served as a stepping stone to the Supreme Court for four current SC justices.

The nomination of Srinivasan is especially noteworthy as it furthers a judicial and political tide. To name just a few, Neal Katyal has served as principle deputy solicitor general of the US and then acting solicitor general. Preeta Bansal has served as solicitor general of the state of New York, both in the Obama and Clinton administrations. Kamala Harris, also rumoured to be a potential SC nominee, was elected in 2010 as attorney general of California. Harris joins a number of high profile Indian Americans in elected office. This political ascendency suggests a community that is finally "making it", using its economic and social integration within a meritocratic nation to exert widespread influence. Indian Americans often serve as further evidence of a "post-racial" America. Milestones have been reached, barriers broken, dreams attained.

How true is this national narrative that Indian Americans so often serve as major characters within, a narrative that supports America's desired image abroad as a fair and welcoming nation? The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s seems to have ushered in an America dedicated to equal opportunity and minority protection, overruling legalised discrimination and ensuring social equality. The history of Indian immigration has a similar narrative: Bengali, Gujarati, and Punjabi immigrants, from the late-19th century up to the mid-20th century, encountered race riots and open refusals for jobs. Today, things are different.

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