By Andrea Plaid
This week’s Loved-Up is courtesy of former Racialicious owner/editor, Carmen Van Kerckhove-Sognonvi.
See, she invited me a couple of years ago to hear Dr. Prashad lecture about Asians and Asian Americans needing to participate in anti-racism struggles. And…what can I say? He’s was just sitting there on this panel, being this humbly brilliant professor, sitting on the edge of his seat, speaking in this way that galvanized just about everything we talk about here at the R for the need for political coalitions among PoCs and shattering the Model Minority Myth and all and all and all…
Since blackness is reviled in the United States, why would an immigrant, of whatever skin color, want to associate with those who are racially oppressed, particularly when the transit into the United States promises the dream of gold and glory? The immigrant seeks a form of vertical assimilation, to climb from the lowest, darkest echelon in the stepladder of tyranny into the bright whiteness. In U.S. history the Irish, Italians, Jews, and–in small steps with some hesitations on the part of white America–Asians and Latinos have all tried to barter their varied cultural worlds for the privileges of whiteness.
Yet all people who enter the United States do not strive to be accepted by the terms set by white supremacy. Some actively disregard them, finding them impossible to meet. Instead, they seek recognition, solidarity, and safety in embracing others also oppressed by white supremacy in something of a horizontal assimilation. Consider the rebel Africans, who fled the slave plantations and took refuge among the Amerindians to create communities such as the Seminoles'; the South Asian workers who jumped ship in eighteenth-century Salem, Massachusetts, to enter the black community; Frederick Douglass’s defense of Chinese “coolie” laborers in the nineteenth century; the interactions of the Black Panther Party with the Red Guard and the Brown Berets in the mid-twentieth century; and finally the multiethnic working-class gathering in the new century.
When people actively or tacitly refuse the terms of vertical integration they are derisively dismissed as either unassimilable or exclusionary. We hear “Why do the black kids sit together in the cafeteria,” instead of “Why do our institutions routinely uphold the privileges of whiteness?” There is little space in popular discourse for an examination of what goes on outside the realm of white America and people of color.
–Excerpted from Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections And The Myth Of Cultural Purity (2002)
I just sat there. I felt really, really wide open and all in my feelings about what Dr. Prashad said.
I turned to Carmen. “I think I’m pregnant.”
“Me, too,” Carmen replied.
This scholar/critic, when not making panel attendees swoon, teaches at Trinity College in Connecticut. And he not only wrote Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting…, he’s authored about a dozen books, including his just-released Uncle Swami: South Asians In America Today. Three of his works received major kudos: Village Voice named Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting… and The Karma Of Brown Folk their Books of the Year (in 2002 and 2001, respectively) and The Darker Nations: A People’s History Of The Third World (2007) won recognition from the Asian American Writers Workshop as the Best Nonfiction Book in 2008 and got the Muzaffar Ahmed Book Award in 2009.
Like his compatriots Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Dr. Blair L.M. Kelley, and Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry, Dr. Prashad moves his ideas across media platforms: he writes about global politics at, among other places, Asia Times, The Nation, Counterpunch, and Frontline and has commented on NPR and Democracy Now. And, yes, he’s on Twitter. (Thanks to Dr. Mark Anthony Neal for hipping me to Dr. Prashad’s presence on there!)
So, how did Dr. Prashad become so down for the people? In a 2006 interview he said:
Born in Calcutta in the middle of the Naxalite movement. I grew up in the affluent world of India’s metropolitan cities. My family forms part of the salariat, with a considerable section at work for the State or for old corporations in decline (in industries like jute, for instance). The generation born in the 1940s and 1950s tended to liberalism, with a few taking the road to communism. While the value placed on formal education was low, many of my family took a great interest in ideas. My father, for instance, had his studies disrupted by World War II and by the Indian freedom struggle, but till he died he read several newspapers in the morning and read as widely as possible from books and encyclopedias. This was our world.
I came to the U. S. in the early 1980s to live with my brother. I brought my inchoate political history to the struggles against Reaganism, which for me personally was formative. The three legs of that struggle: anti-apartheid, the dirty wars of Central America, and finally the Jackson campaign for president.
I am a Marxist who has an affinity with working-class movements around the world…
And we at the R have an affinity for Dr. Prashad. But no babies.