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Former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy became the butt of a joke with a racial stereotype earlier this week. The Babylon Bee, a satirical news site, published a story Tuesday with the headline “Trump Promises Vivek an Administration Position Running The White House 7-Eleven,” with a photoshopped image of Ramaswamy as an employee of the convenience store.
The article said the offer was Trump’s olive branch to Ramaswamy, a multimillionaire who made his wealth in the biotech industry. In fake quotes, the Babylon Bee article has Trump calling Ramaswamy “a great man, one of the greatest men, to be honest,” before saying, “That’s why I’ve graciously offered him this incredible opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime chance to run our big, beautiful White House convenience store.”
The Babylon Bee jokes Ramaswamy has started preparing for the position by “watching official 7-Eleven franchisee training videos on how to fix the Slurpee machine and offer fast service ringing up Big Gulps,” even though he acknowledged he was “very overqualified” for the job.
The provocative headline attracted 15.8 million views X, formerly known as Twitter, opening the floodgates to backlash, as well as some praise for the satire.
— The Babylon Bee (@TheBabylonBee) January 16, 2024
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-N.Y., who has engaged with Ramaswamy on policy, admitted he disagreed with the former presidential candidate “on foundational issues,” in a post on X.
But said he is “disgusted by this tired ‘joke’ maligning him for being Indian American,” before telling The Babylon Bee to “get some new material.”
But Seth Dillon, the CEO of the Babylon Bee, defended his publication: “Some of our readers have expressed concern about this report, suggesting it did not meet the high journalistic standards they’ve come to expect from us. We want you to know that we’ve listened to you. We’ve heard your voices. And they are stupid,” he quipped back in a post.
According to multiple reports, Indian Americans have the highest percentage of college graduates and make the most money when compared to other racial groups in the U.S., while holding coveted roles in Silicon Valley — but there is a duality in how they are perceived.
The flip side of the coin is their identity as convenience store owners, a label with deep roots. Even Ramaswamy, a multimillionaire who made his wealth from biotech, couldn’t escape being categorized as a 7-Eleven employee.
The stereotype is most famously portrayed by Apu from “The Simpsons.” In the 2017 documentary, “The Problem With Apu,” comedian Hari Kondabolu explores this character, who talks in a thick Indian accent, owns the Kwik-E-Mart — where he is known for saying his catch phrase “Thank you, come again” — and becomes ammo for jokes against Indians, young or old, living in the U.S.
The film forced the show to reckon with some not-entirely politically correct subject matter, leading the show to carve out a half-explained ending for Apu — “Some things will be dealt with at a later date.” said Lisa, a character from the show, in 2018, when addressing the controversy somewhat dismissively, “If at all.”
Perhaps Apu is problematic. But there is some truth to the stereotype. Research suggests South Asians dominate the convenience store industry. According to the numbers, nearly 70% of such stores are owned by this demographic.
The boom among Indians and Pakistanis entering this market has been hard to ignore, and in 2008, it even led to a remark from President Joe Biden. While campaigning for the White House, he joked, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.”
Working at such a store doesn’t require tons of experience or advanced language skills. Plus, it’s known to be a recession-proof business, as Tariq Khan, the former chairman of the National Coalition of Associations of 7-Eleven franchisees, said in 2007.
The median income of a 7-Eleven owner is around $116,000, as Saagar Enjeti, a conservative who co-hosts “Breaking Points,” a political podcast show, pointed out while talking about The Babylon Bee’s story.
“Many of these dudes have been saving relentlessly and rolling up stores for so long their net worth is in the millions after coming here with nothing,” he noted. Enjeti, who was born in the U.S. but has Indian roots, added, “We’re the richest people in the country after a single generation. We’re not victims.”
Matt Walsh, another conservative critic, said he guaranteed Ramaswamy isn’t “the slightest bit offended.” To the commenters, he said, “You guys really don't need to be his white knight to protect him from Babylon Bee headlines. He’ll be OK. I promise.”
Walsh’s assumption was right. Ramaswamy wasn’t fazed: He reposted Walsh’s comments and said, “I’m a ‘survivor’” with a laughing emoji.
In response to Yankees minority owner Patrick Bet-David’s video, where he is dressing a hot dog he got from 7-Eleven, Ramaswamy said, “Thank you for coming & don’t forget to grab a Slurpee.”
He is firing out these quick one-liners while continuing to make appearances on conservative shows, even though he suspended his presidential campaign after the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 16. Right now, he is positioning himself as Trump’s adviser, holding meetings with him and even standing next to him at rallies, like one in New Hampshire earlier this week.
It’s hard to rule out the possibility Ramaswamy is campaigning to land in the White House in the No. 2 spot.