American culture has once again demonstrated its crass ignorance towards non-Christian cultures, especially that of Hindus. The Burnside Brewing Company is based in Portland, capital of Oregon state. On 15 May this commercial alcohol selling outfit is due to release its new brand of beer named ‘Kali-Ma’, named after the Hindu deity of the same name. Revered by millions and symbolising female power known as shakti, Kali Mata is one of the most popular of goddesses in Hinduism. The brewing firm openly admits plundering ancient Hindu culture to make money for its latest project:
“Kali-Ma, is inspired by the Hindu goddess… Kali-Ma the beer is an Imperial wheat ale or wheat wine made with toasted cardamom, fenugreek, and cumin spices added in addition to almost 400 pounds of apricot. Fermented with a Belgian ale yeast harvested from Upright Brewing. We then dry hop it with 8 pounds of scotch bonnet and native India dandicut peppers.”
The announcement further elaborated:
“Come worship ‘the black one’ Kali as the ultimate reality or Brahman this Tuesday!”
Hindu spokesman Rajan Zed said that this inappropriate use of sacred imagery for commercial exploitation was offensive to Hindus. Now America prides itself on freedom of speech as enshrined in the First Amendment. However this idealised view of a nation born with the eternal words “all men are created equal” as stated in the constitution written by the founding fathers never quite squared with the reality of a nation built on the sweat and toil of black slaves and the genocide of much of the indigenous inhabitants whose memory only survived in the names of football teams and decades of insulting portrayals in the media as savage people following a primitive culture – which of course could only find redemption through the white invader’s angry and jealous god. By 1870 the Native Americans had been forced onto reservations as their lands were stolen for gold deposits and use for farms – by white settlers of course.
Oregon in particularly stands as a poignant symbol in regard to racial intolerance when we realise that during a period of 188 years, federal and Oregon governments passed more than 30 laws that discriminated against individuals based solely on their ethnicity. 1844 territorial statute outlawed slavery but also mandated free slaves to leave the territory. After slavery was declared illegal in Oregon in 1844, residents passed the “Lash Law” requiring African Americans to be whipped twice a year until they left the state. That law was changed in 1862 to charge African Americans, Chinese, Hawaiians and multiracial people an annual tax of $5 to live in the state. In today’s terms, that would be asking primarily unskilled workers to pay an annual tax of $770.
Interracial marriage itself was prohibited by law between 1861 and 1951. The Constitution specifically denied blacks the right to vote, and the Donation Land Act of 1850 prevented them from owning land. These laws deterred blacks from coming to Oregon. In 1860, there were only 128 counted in the census. Small towns throughout Oregon displayed overt racism toward blacks, so the small numbers that did come in search of gold eventually moved to Portland. A public school in Pendleton refused admittance to black children in 1871. Chinese labour had been instrumental in bringing the railroad to this Pacific state thus helping the settlement by white immigrants. But the yellow man was as unwelcome as the ‘Negroes’ and ‘Redskins’. The Oregon Constitution excluded Chinese Americans from citizenship. State laws burdened Chinese miners and merchants with special taxes. Physical brutality toward Chinese workers was commonplace. When gold was discovered in the Snake River in 1887, a gang of whites robbed, tortured and murdered 31 Chinese American miners. The jury found the white perpetrators innocent. In the 1880’s, white rioters organized a movement to drive Chinese-Americans out of Oregon City, East Portland, Salem and Yamhill.
This north-western state was a hotbed for some of the worst form of bigotry and intolerance which America had to offer. Fiery crosses and marchers in Ku Klux Klan regalia were common sights in Oregon and the during the 1920s. Few Oregonians questioned the Klan’s doctrines of white supremacy, Protestantism, and “One-Hundred Per Cent Americanism.” Historians estimate that the national Klan attracted more than two million members during the 1920s, and by 1923 Oregon Klan leaders claimed 35,000 members in more than sixty local chapters and provisional Klans.
Hundreds of other Oregonians joined the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, the Junior Order of Klansmen for teenagers, and the Royal Riders of the Red Robe for foreign-born Protestants. In 1922, Klansmen won election to local and county offices throughout Oregon, some Klansmen won seats in the state legislature and above all the Klan helped elect LaGrande Democrat Walter M. Pierce as governor. Klansmen and their allies in the 1923 legislature of course enacted openly racist laws and religiously intolerant legislation. A bill prohibiting the ownership of land by aliens, aimed primarily at Japanese immigrants, passed easily. Numerous Protestant ministers joined or supported the Klan, and several became prominent spokesmen for its anti-Catholic crusade. As the official Klan Lecturer in Oregon, the Rev. Reuben H. Sawyer enthusiastically proclaimed “The Truth about the Ku Klux Klan” to many audiences, including a crowd of several thousand at Portland’s Municipal Auditorium in December 1921. Mobs drove Japanese-Americans out of towns such as LaGrande and Toledo. After the attack on Pearl Harbour Japanese-American residents of Oregon were ordered into interment camps. They were forced to liquidate their property and live in stalls in the Expo Center in north Portland for several months. They were then moved to isolated camps in the interior United States until the war ended. This caused not only immediate suffering, but lasting trauma with the fibre of the Japanese-American community destroyed. When the Japanese returned to their homes, they found them looted, desecrated, or destroyed. Their white neighbours were hostile while the Hood River American Legion Post even refused to recognize the sixteen Japanese-Americans who had fought for the U.S., including two who died. The former governor of Oregon announced his opinion that all people of Japanese descent should be deported. Many went back to Japan and never returned.
These historical policies of racial discrimination have had long-term effects on Oregon’s population. Even as recently as 1940, many Oregon towns would not allow blacks to live there, and even in Portland many employers would not hire them. The antagonism discouraged blacks from moving to Oregon, as evidenced by their population of only 2,565 in 1940. A 1994 report from an Oregon Supreme Court task force found minorities more likely to be arrested, charged, convicted, incarcerated and on probation than “similarly situated non-minorities.”The report put the onus squarely on institutional racism within the state and recommended multicultural training of the existing justice system personnel as well as diversifying the perspectives, backgrounds and demographics of future hires. Yet as recently as 2008 a Grand Jury in Oregon pardoned three white assailants for ripping the turban off a Sikh truck driver’s head, stating that this was not a hate crime.
At various times of American history crude and demeaning racial stereotypes have been employed. The natives were depicted as wild savages ready to scalp any white man that was trying to steal their land. African-Americans were parodied by white men singing in black face, the notorious black and white minstrel shows. Chinese were an unwanted alien element. Even whites were not always immune as Italians often found out to their cost. So once again we have another minority community, seen as vulnerable and whose culture is deliberately kept from the mainstream, only to be plundered when it suits the most brutal form of exploitative capitalism.
We must remember that for all its spouting ideals of religious freedom and liberty of thought America remains the citadel of hardcore intolerant Christianity. Missionaries and hardcore religious broadcasting export that narrow minded bigotry around the world while a substantial number of political and military leaders believe that they are waging a crusade against the devil in order to prepare for the apocalypse and a rapture where Christ’s select few will be transported into heaven leaving the rest of us to wallow in the quagmire of an earth ruled by ‘The Beast’. It is this mentality which meant that a brewing company in a state notorious as America’s most intolerant towards non-whites chose a revered Hindu goddess to promote its product in a nation where alcoholism is rife.