Feb. 7, 2015 05:11 PM
Gov. Bobby Jindal's "office" portrait (not to be confused with his "official" portrait below)
Photo by Robin May

It’s the first thing you notice when the elevator doors open on the fourth floor of the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge: a large, gold-framed portrait of Gov. Bobby Jindal prominently hanging on the wall behind his receptionist’s desk. It’s been there since 2008, shortly after Jindal was sworn in. According to a former staffer, it was known around the office as “the Michael Jackson.” Others simply called it “that portrait.”

Standing next to a large column at the Governor’s Mansion, a pale white man who looks nothing like our Indian-American governor is depicted in the painting.

In 2011 The IND’s Robin May took a picture of the portrait. Three years later, she stamped it with her name, and earlier this week sent it to me in an e-mail. I’d heard about the portrait for a long time, the only one hanging in Jindal's office, one that ­— presumably — was official.

I shared Robin’s photo. “Bobby Jindal’s official portrait,” I wrote. Within an hour or two, my tweet went viral, spawning its own hashtag and catching the attention of political reporters across the country.

Gov. Bobby Jindal's official portrait, which hangs in the Governor's Mansion out of public view

Turns out, I should have written “office portrait,” because, according to Kyle Plotkin, Jindal's chief of staff, the official portrait actually hangs in the Governor’s Mansion, out of view from the public at large. Plotkin, shamelessly, accused me of “race-baiting.” All I had done was post a picture of a portrait that had been hanging in the Capitol for many years.

I will let others more qualified discuss and unpack the racial implications of Jindal’s portrait. Time Magazine’s Jack Linshi did much better job than I could ever do:
For however inconsequential the object of controversy is, the portraits are capable of evoking a deeply unsettling reaction. That’s because they recall a dark history with lasting consequences. In a nation whose first lawmakers had constructed American identity based largely on whether European, Asian and African immigrants’ complexions appeared sufficiently “white”—a category that had been molded and manipulated from America’s early years — that Jindal’s portraits appear to have been scrubbed of his race matters greatly. A “white” complexion once afforded the right to a political voice; it was the lifeblood of the dominant majority.

It’s a damn good read. I urge you to check it out.

But given that the artist, Tommy Yow Jr., told Politico the photo I posted was a “hatchet job” and implicitly accused photographer Robin May and me of “using either light reflection or flash on [Jindal’s] head area to even further lighten the head area of the painting,” I think it’s important to note that neither Robin nor I altered that picture in any way.

Yow’s just wrong.

“No filter was used. No flash was used. It was taken in available light,” Robin tells me. “If you have any doubts about the photo, I’d encourage you to go see it yourself.”

I second Robin’s recommendation. Even though the portrait has been on the wall for years, chances are it won’t be there much longer.


Introducing The Current