– Domani Spero
You’ve probably seen this last week, but if you haven’t, here is a newly elected member of the House of Representatives from Florida’s 19th district, who the Miami Herald called, the “latest inductee to the Sunshine State’s face-palming club. USAToday notes that the congressman won a special election last month to replace Trey Radel, who resigned following a cocaine bust.
Via The Cable’s John Hudson:
House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, freshman Rep. Curt Clawson misidentified two senior U.S. government officials as representatives of the Indian government. The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department, respectively.
The hearing was on U.S.-India Relations Under the Modi Government. Nisha Biswal is the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) at the State Department. Prior to her appointment as State, she was with USAID. Previously, she also served in the House of Representatives, as the majority clerk for the House Appropriations Committee Foreign Operations Subcommittee (HACFO) and as professional staff in the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), where she was responsible for South Asia. Arun Kumar is the Director General of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service and Assistant Secretary for Global Markets, International Trade Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
According to USAToday, Mr. Clawson said, “I made a mistake in speaking before being fully briefed and I apologize. I’m a quick study, but in this case I shot an air ball.” He has reportedly apologized to both A/S Biswal and DG/FCS Kumar according to Tampa Bay Times. On Saturday, A/S Biswal tweeted this:
Honest mistake by new Member of Congress -but the strength & beauty of America is its diversity. Proud to represent my country & Prez Obama
— Nisha Biswal (@NishaBiswal) July 26, 2014
Still, doesn’t that make you wonder — he wasn’t “fully briefed?” What was he doing there? He wasn’t listening to the introductions? He had a “dog ate my homework” moment? He never meet U.S. officials of color before?
Peter Beinart writes that the silly gaffe is revealing of our society where whiteness is still a proxy for being American.
He had trouble recognizing that two Americans who trace their ancestry to the developing world are really American.
In today’s Republican Party, and beyond, a lot of people are having the same trouble. How else to explain the fact that, according to a 2011 New York Times/CBS poll, 45 percent of Republicans think President Obama was born outside the United States? Is it because they’re well versed in the details of which kind of birth certificate he released and when? Of course not. It’s because they see someone with his color skin and his kind of name and think: Doesn’t seem American to me.
There’s no point in continuing to ridicule Clawson. Everyone’s entitled to a dumb mistake. But it’s worth noting how unlikely it is that he would have mistaken an Irish-American for a representative of the government of Ireland or a German-American for a representative of the government of Germany. Throughout our nation’s history, whiteness (itself a shifting category) has been used as a proxy for Americanness. And as Clawson reminded us last Thursday, it still is.
A couple related posts that you might want to check out — Video of the Week: Where are you from? Where are you really from? No, where are your people really from? and Video of the Week: “But we’re speaking Japanese” 日本語喋ってるんだけ
Maybe we’ll start a series of getting to know our official USG representatives.
As a side note, these Indian-American officials do not have it easy. When they go to India on behalf of the U.S. Government, they’re told, “It is a bad idea for the U.S. to send Indian-American diplomats here. They end up having to prove their loyalty to the U.S. more than others, and it doesn’t help us.”
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- Pol mistakes U.S. staff for Indians (politico.com)
- AWKWARD: Republican congressman mistakes State Dept. officials for foreigners (rawstory.com)
- Congressman Mistakes U.S. Officials For Indian Ones (time.com)
- Smirking CongressIdiot Curt Clawson Welcomes Exotic Foreigners To America, Where They’re Actually Top U.S. Officials (wonkette.com)
- Curt Clawson, congressman from Fla., mistakes U.S. officials for Indian diplomats (newsday.com)