People, Language And Controversy In The Headlines

Writer and comedian Hari Kondabolu speaks with NPR's Arun Rath about India being excluded from the Olympics, a controversial Coke commercial, and comments from Sen. Pat Roberts from Kansas during the confirmation hearings for surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

And now for something a little different. Hari Kondabolu is a writer and comedian. You might have caught his commentaries on the show "Totally Biased." Hari says some things in the news have been bugging him lately, starting with the Olympics. A lot of Indian-Americans, like myself, were sad to see India officially excluded from the Games, thanks to a dispute with the International Olympic Committee. Hari, though, will still be rooting for the three Indian athletes who are there. They're just competing under the Olympic flag.

HARI KONDABOLU: There's something nice about seeing someone with your skin tone or features do well. When Jeremy Lin was dominating in basketball, you know, when he was a Knick, when he just started, you know, I was all about that, you know, because that was the closest we'd ever gotten, even though he's, like, Taiwanese-American. That was close enough.

Because I knew people growing up, Indian kids were great basketball players, but then they went to pharmacy school. Sports shouldn't matter, and at the same time, there is a pride in, like, we got one. Like, there are these two brothers from Canada, the Bhullar brothers, and they're like, they're seven-feet Indian brothers. And I want them to make the NBA and dominate in sports, even though they're incredibly slow.

And they seem to struggle at dunking, even though they're, like, nine feet tall. I don't even care if they don't start. I just want them to wear a uniform. It could be a Bobcats uniform. It really doesn't matter.

RATH: Keeping on with sports, a little bit of a controversy over the commercial that premiered last week on the Super Bowl. This is the Coke commercial.

(SOUNDBITE OF COKE SUPER BOWL COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Singing) Oh beautiful for spacious skies...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Singing in Spanish)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: (Singing in foreign language)

KONDABOLU: Sounds very controversial, Arun.

RATH: What was it that upset people about "America the Beautiful" in so many different languages?

KONDABOLU: People got upset that it wasn't - according to Twitter - that it wasn't in our national language, American, which is not a national language. And apparently, they thought it was disrespectful that the national anthem wasn't being spoken in American. It's not our national anthem. And even if it were, it's kind of a bizarre thing when you have all these different people that make up the United States, and people are freaking out about it because it's not a white person singing "America the Beautiful" in English. It's kind of a absurd thing.

So there were these hashtags on Twitter that said boycott Coke. And that put me in an uncomfortable position because I had to defend Coke. Even though generally, if you said boycott Coke, I'd probably be on board, as would so many people who've been campaigning in Colombia and India and wherever Coke has done harm. That's how evil racism is where I have to defend the Coca-Cola Corporation.

RATH: So let's cap this off with some real news. This is something you noticed this week. These are the confirmation hearings for Vivek Murthy, who I believe is going to be the first Indian-American Surgeon General, assuming he gets confirmed. This is Pat Roberts from Kansas connecting with Vivek.

SENATOR PAT ROBERTS: You ever been to Dodge City, Kansas?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY: I have not, sir. But I would love to come.

ROBERTS: Well, good. I'm going to invite you, because we have a wonderful doctor from India - she is highly respected by the community - and another doctor from India that did my carpal tunnel. And so I think you'd be right at home, and we would welcome you.

RATH: I should point out for listeners as well that there were actual uncomfortable giggling in the background...

KONDABOLU: Right.

RATH: ...when he was actually saying that.

KONDABOLU: Pat Roberts from Kansas did not understand that at all. First of all, Vivek Murthy, if you're listening to this, do not go to Dodge City, Kansas. You don't need to get the hell out of Dodge if you never go to Dodge. There is something funny about, like, he's an Indian-American doctor who's finally going to be Surgeon General. So there's something about, like, ah, that's a stereotype, an Indian-American doctor, and I have to support the stereotype once again because of racism. He couldn't filibuster, right? But part of me is like, are you trying to filibuster by listing every Indian-American you know, and unfortunately you only know two? Is that what happened?

It reminded me of stories that my father told me when he first came to this country and went to a small town in Louisiana. A woman once came up to him - it was an older woman - and said: Excuse me, sir, are you Chinese? This is back in, like, the '70s. And they would say: Do you know Dr. Rau, who was an Indian doctor in town. And, of course, my father did because, you know, there's only two. But, like, there is something strange if it's 2014, Pat Roberts is a senator. Honestly, I wish Vivek Murthy said I know a few Pats. Do you know them?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: That's Hari Kondabolu. He's a writer and comedian, and he speaks for himself. We love you, Dodge City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RATH: And for Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Thanks for listening and have a great night.

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