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Unofficial Bobby Jindal Portrait Inspires New Internet Meme

A portrait of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal displayed in his office has a lot of people talking. Why?
An unofficial portrait of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, done by a constituent, sparked a Twitter firestorm this week over politics, race, and artistic liberties.
An unofficial portrait of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, done by a constituent, sparked a Twitter firestorm this week over politics, race, and artistic liberties.

America's interest in official political portraits is nothing new. First Lady Michelle Obama's 2013 portrait, featuring her much-talked-about hairstyle, made national news broadcasts, as did the unveiling of former President George W. Bush's official White House portrait. But the latest surge in curiosity surrounding Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's portrait, falsely assumed to be an official portrait, has set tongues wagging on Twitter for different reasons.

Louisiana blogger Lamar White, Jr. tweeted this picture yesterday, triggering dozens of retweets and comments in response, most of which focused on the fact that Jindal's skin tone is noticeably lighter in the painting than in real life.

Among those responses was a message from Jindal's Chief of Staff, Kyle Plotkin, who clarified that particular painting was not the Governor's official portrait, and accused White of "race-baiting."

The conversation between the two devolved from there, with White and his supporters accusing Plotkin of being obtuse, and Plotkin and his supporters accusing White of unfairly fixating on race.

But at the heart of their social media showdown was the debate over lingering criticism repeatedly lobbed at the potential 2016 presidential candidate -- that Jindal has altered elements of his identity to appeal more broadly to the GOP base.

A 2014 profile in the Washington Post focused on his conversion from Hinduism to Christianity: "he is harnessing his religious experience in a way that has begun to appeal to parts of the GOP’s influential core of religious conservatives." The man born "Piyush" who adopted the name "Bobby" as a child has been taken to task by fellow Indian-Americans for forgetting his ethnic and religious roots. And he's come under heavy fire for refusing to back down from claims that in the West, "non-assimilationist Muslims establish enclaves and carry out as much of Sharia law as they can." An MSNBC contributor was banned from the network after claiming Jindal was "trying to scrub some of the brown off his skin."

Jindal has defended his personal decisions by citing his parents' own immigration story from India.

"My dad and mom told my brother and me that we came to America to be Americans," he said in a speech last month in London. "I do not believe in hyphenated Americans."

Even after a Jindal aide confirmed the portrait was an unofficial painting, done by a constituent, Twitter users didn't miss the opportunity to run with a new #JindalPortrait hashtag.

For his part, Jindal has readily admitted that his view on hyphenated identities in America, "gets me into trouble with the media," and clarifies that he is, "not suggesting for one second that people should be shy or embarrassed about their ethnic heritage."

"I find people who care about skin pigmentation to be the most dimwitted lot around," he said recently. "I want nothing to do with that."

--Amna Nawaz