A racist remark on Indians by an ignorant analyst on CNBC

Anchor Joe Kernen joins the pantheon of desi mockers.

By Sujeet Rajan

"Sujeet"NEW YORK: Indians working at 7-Eleven jokes have been going around for a while: from the then Delaware Senator who became later the Vice President, Joe Biden to Kwik-E Mart references on The Simpsons, and with radio DJs, who seem to find trying to emulate an Indian accent fascinating and hilarious.

So, it’s not that surprising that yet another tired attempt was made to highlight the fact that many Indians work at 7-Eleven, this time by CNBC anchor Joe Kernen. But more than that, the show where he made a feeble attempt at a racist joke and a puzzling, bumbling impersonation of a supposedly Indian way of talking in English, also highlighted his poor, flagging analytical skills. He needs help.

On September 20th, CNBC’s show Squawk Box had co-hosts Kernen, Becky Quick and Andrew Ross Sorkin start on a discussion on the Indian rupee, which is in the doldrums. That seemed to ignite Kernen (in a sophisticated, polished Ku Klux Klan way), who quickly became a chump on the show. He decided to practice some old fashioned racist skills, despite his co-hosts pleading with him to desist from making any inappropriate remarks (they seemed to be much more aware perhaps of being fired by their Editor-in-Chief Nikhil Deogun, who happens to be Indian American himself).

When Quick said she had some rupees in her wallet from a recent trip to India, Kernen the chump found that incredible. After questioning her repeatedly (as in why the heck would you have rupees in your wallet!), remarked: ‘You’ve got to be kidding…’ before pointing out the rupee chart, which compared the debilitating currency to the mighty Dollar.

Kernen the chump then made some odd noises – much like the name of the show, ‘squawk’ means ‘a loud, harsh or discordant noise made by a bird or a person’ – that sounded well, terrible (Aziz Ansari or Mindy Kaling won’t be hiring him anytime soon as the voiceover for a goose on their show), before commenting in a derogatory, jocular way on Gandhi’s photo which was on the rupee, finding that too, incredible (maybe he was intoxicated by a few large coffees from a 7-Eleven that day).

Kernen the chump then went on to deride the rupee and the (in his dictionary, lousy) Indians more by a flat punch line query: “Are they good at Seven-11.”

After Sorkin, who was trying desperately in his chair to be ejected to another time zone, and Quick, who was perhaps thinking about who is going to fund her next India trip, admonished the chump, the chump did a virtual somersault and came back to earth with a plea: “I’m sorry, I take it back. I apologize, before I have to.”

But more than Kernen’s racist remarks, was his inability, as well as the other two bamboozled co-hosts, to crunch numbers, that stood out in the show.

As Quick took out two notes from her wallet, a Rs. 50 and a Rs. 10 note, it seemed that the trio had wandered into the Land of Nod, with none able to decipher how much the notes co-related to the Dollar, even as the screen it front of them had the rupee at 62 plus odd paisa, to the dollar, with them having discussed the rupee’s nose dive a few minutes before.

Sorkin started off the ramble, by saying “How much are those worth, do we know?” to which Miss Quick (lovely name for these kinds of simple questions) came up with a gem: “I don’t remember.” Sorkin admired Gandhi a bit, by saying next: “Look at Gandhi.” Kernen the chump decided it was time for him to pitch his giant foot in, and give his cent’s worth of discussion (after all he makes more than $400 an hour than lawyers for this kind of rabid talk) and remarked with complete, striking intelligence: “Well, one’s worth ten and one’s worth fifty, what do you mean?” Sorkin then continued with his nimble banter, shedding more light on Gandhi: “Gandhi’s on the rupee. Look at that.” The chump decided to go all out then, poker style: “Gandhi. Gandhi. Now. No, I can’t make any jokes about that, I mean do they take –“

After a bit of quixotic back and fro – which might have had Wall Street honchos worried watching the show if some laughing gas had been sprayed by Syria on CNBC studios in New York – with the other two hosts now realizing that they should be talking fast of roubles than rupees, Kernen the chump delivered his blow: “Are they good at 7-11?”

Of course, the chump forgot to mention that 7-Eleven, Inc., the world’s largest retailer by store count, added close to 5,000 stores to its worldwide portfolio in 2012. It added around 1,000 new 7-Eleven stores in the U.S. and Canada, in 2012. End of last year, it operated, franchised and licensed more than 10,000 stores in North America (including Mexico), and over 39,000 7-Eleven stores were in Europe, Australia and Asia, for a total of approximately 49,500 stores in 16 countries.

But if Kernen couldn’t figure out how much Rs. 50 plus Rs. 10 is equal to, and how much combined they are worth a dollar, then how can you expect for him to know the giant contribution 7-Elevens have done to generate employment in the US and worldwide? How can he know that Indians who have worked there, then owned franchises themselves, become entrepreneurs, have given a great life for their children, generated employment for so many more Americans in turn. For him, probably the many Indians working at the hourly wages at 7-Elevens is what matters, what he scoffs at, just like he scoffed at the Indian rupee.

It might be good for CNBC to hire some Indian American kids, some fifth graders perhaps to crunch numbers for Kernen the chump, however, and whisper to him on microphones in his ear how much Rs. 60 is to a dollar when posed with such complex questions.

But hold on! He is used to working with fifth graders.

Kernen authored ‘Your Teacher Said What?!: Defending Our Kids from the Liberal Assault on Capitalism’ with his then 5th grade daughter Blake, two years ago.

Guess it’s pretty apparent who wrote that book.

But here’s one for Kernen the chump: if he gets this one, all is forgiven: how much is one Indian rupee, plus one Pakistani rupee, plus one Bangladeshi taka, plus one Japanese yen, plus one Polish zloty, equivalent to, in terms of dollar?

(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-Chief of The American Bazaar). 

To contact the author, email to sujeetrajan@americanbazaaronline.com

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