Beyond Gandhi and King
February 14, 2015 10:34 AM   Subscribe

The Secret History of South Asian & African American Solidarity. South Asians and African Americans have been standing up for each other for over a century -- and continue to do so. Race politics, shared heritage, and issues of caste and class are among the few examples of interconnected history that largely go untaught in the U.S. [via mefi projects]
posted by automatic cabinet (16 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is fascinating, and I get why these two cultures are singled out, but would you (the op or the creator or whoever) say that there was a more unique connection between blacks and SA freedom fighters than say Blacks and Chinese or Latin Americans and Feminists etc etc? Are there often-hidden connections between all anti-racist movements? Not dismissing the project just wondering!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:01 AM on February 14, 2015


I saw a book about this yesterday called Bengali Harlem. I read some. Interesting stuff.
posted by jonmc at 11:03 AM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


On topic, from Karma of Brown Folk:

Perhaps the most compelling section of the book is devoted to Prashad's analysis of the recruitment of desis in the war against black America. Desis, according to Prashad, are viewed as a "perpetual solution to what is seen as the crisis of black America" (6).

Prashad is conscious that he is a "weapon in the war against black America." He asks, "How does it feel to be a solution?" (6). Desis, according to Prashad, initially "came as techno-professionals to a land that emancipated its state from direct racism, transferred antiblack racism to civil society, and used them as a weapon to demonstrate U.S. blacks' inability to rise of their own volition" (171).

One of the more tragic consequences of this form of racism is that it erases a tradition of solidarity between South Asians and black Americans, a tradition that has existed for over a hundred years. Prashad points to the collaboration between Haridas T. Mazumdar, a Gandhian, and Marcus Garvey, Kumar Ghoshal and Paul Robeson, Dubois and Tagore. Of course, many more alliances were formed during the anti-colonial struggles, especially because of India's support of African and Caribbean decolonization movements.

Although Prashad does not mention alliances in the popular realm, one could also comment on the tremendous popularity of black athletes such as Muhammed Ali, Pele, and Viv Richards amongst South Asians. As C.L.R. James has shown, these alliances are equally important in understanding the anti-colonial sentiments of colonized nations.

Prashad does, however, offer us hope for a renewal of these forms of solidarity in the practices of the younger generation of desis who are turning to black culture to express their disenchantment with the model minority myth. Although he warns us that "musical fusion allows for a certain amount of social fusion, but one must not mistake it for political solidarity" (181).

posted by infini at 12:10 PM on February 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love this, and it looks well researched. Thanks for the FPP— I might've missed it otherwise.

Potomac Avenue: "This is fascinating, and I get why these two cultures are singled out, but would you (the op or the creator or whoever) say that there was a more unique connection between blacks and SA freedom fighters than say Blacks and Chinese or Latin Americans and Feminists etc etc? Are there often-hidden connections between all anti-racist movements? Not dismissing the project just wondering!"

It's not a competition. These things are not mutually exclusive. It's unfair to define african american or south asian american or latin american culture by their opposition to racist america. You're also conflating the culture with the movements that sprung out of the culture.

The article is about South Asian American and African American solidarity, and I think it's problematic to change the topic when one of the main points in the article is that we don't talk about this topic enough.

I realize you're probably engaging in this in good faith and I may be overreacting a bit... this topic hits home in a lot of ways. I have a lot of reading to do ♥
posted by yaymukund at 12:37 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've always admired Bayard Rustin a great deal, and I had no idea about his activism around India. Thanks for this!
posted by Itaxpica at 12:47 PM on February 14, 2015


This is excellent. I had no idea about this stuff, thanks!
posted by naju at 1:19 PM on February 14, 2015


Are there often-hidden connections between all anti-racist movements?

Can't speak for the author, but yeah, I do think this is the case (between many movements, since as yaymukund mentioned, "anti-racist" doesn't seem like the right framing there, especially when considering things like Dalit activism). Infini's comment covers the meaningfulness of the specifically South Asian focus really well -- the history of solidarity between South Asian Americans and African Americans set against the model minority divisiveness of today (of which East Asian Americans like myself are also a part).
posted by automatic cabinet at 1:33 PM on February 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


No mention of Master Fard Muhammad being from India (a part that is now Pakistan)? Now there's a pretty strong case of South Asian and African American solidarity.
posted by NoMich at 1:43 PM on February 14, 2015


It's not a competition. These things are not mutually exclusive. It's unfair to define african american or south asian american or latin american culture by their opposition to racist america. You're also conflating the culture with the movements that sprung out of the culture.

Hey that makes sense thanks for the response!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:53 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is relevant to my interests, as I've just read Vijay Prashad's Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting which is a great book with a great title.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:18 PM on February 14, 2015


Just wanted to point out that the service apartments I prefer to stay in when visiting Nairobi are on Marcus Garvey road.
posted by infini at 2:24 PM on February 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Have you ever noticed that a lot of West Indian food tastes a lot like East Indian food? There's a reason for that. The connection goes back to the abolition of slavery. When the import of African slaves stopped, the import of Indian indentured servants began, and that's how Indians came to be the largest ethnic group in Trinidad (the first place to ban not just the buying and selling of slaves, but the owning of slaves as well). It's much the same story, though not to quite an extent percentage-wise, in the British Caribbean and Southeast Africa.

These are the histories we were never taught.

Yup. There's a big blind spot in the education curricula in (former-ish) colonial outposts like the one I live in (hello from Canada) with regard to the completely global aspect of colonialism; what we get usually boils down to "John Cabot, England and France, beaver pelts, Confederation, the end." We're not taught in any real depth about the cultural mixing that was happening concurrently around the world and in our own country at the behest of and/or as a result of the whims of the colonial powers. We may use terms like "melting pot" or "salad bowl," but when we do, we're usually talking about current, or, at most, recent multiculturalism.

That blind spot has two effects: 1. It makes our country seem superior to all other countries (save the relevant superpowers Britain, France, and America) by their apparent absence from history; 2. It wrongly conflates and infuses our national identity with the racial and religious qualities of our erstwhile overlords and with the purpose that our nation and its first colonists served for them (i.e. people who refer to "our Canadian heritage" tend to mean white & Christian & anglo-/francophone & natural-resource-extracting & supportive of Britain in times of war & "civilizing" the world), while ignoring the immense contributions to the world and to our country of everyone else that doesn't fit that mould -- heck, it ignores their entire existence.

No mention of Master Fard Muhammad being from India (a part that is now Pakistan)?

If you have any evidence of that, it'd be quite the scoop!
posted by Sys Rq at 2:31 PM on February 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


As odd as it may sound, nobody has any real idea what ethnicity Wallace Fard Muhammad was. He seems to have to have passed between races and backgrounds at will. Black, white, Arab, Afghan, Pakistani, Turkish, Spanish, Māori, Hawaiian - all have been proposed at one time or another, mostly by Muhammad himself. He could be South Asian; there's some evidence to support it, but he seems to have created evidence to support lots of those backgrounds. Whoever he was, the man was incredibly good at what he did.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 3:11 PM on February 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I didn't see it in the links, but at least some of the South Asian response would have been conditioned by their own experiences with British racism--a lot of bigotry aimed at Indian peoples, for example, was pretty much indistinguishable from bigotry aimed at those of African descent (including the n-word).
posted by thomas j wise at 4:06 PM on February 14, 2015


During the early years of World War II, Japan won major victories (such as the capture of Singapore) against the British and threatened India. Japanese propaganda pointed to British racism and offered themselves as the defenders of non-white peoples. The British feared that non-white people in the colonies might side with the Japanese rather than their colonial masters. The British had to come up with a new justification for colonial rule to replace the unpopular and increasingly implausible idea that they were a superior race destined to rule inferior races. In response, they invented the concept of economic development.

This story is told in an undeservedly obscure book by Suke Wolton, 2000, Lord Hailey, the Colonial Office, and the Politics of Race and Empire in the Second World War, (I have this thing for obscure development history books; this one is ranked #4,399,430 on Amazon)

The Japanese charge of British racism was certainly correct. They were so racist they thought even nonwhites acknowledged their own inferiority, like when Julian Huxley referred to the natives’ “childlike belief in the white as an inherently superior being.” After World War I, the Americans and British shot down a League of Nations resolution for Racial Equality proposed by the Japanese. The Colonial Office said in 1939 “most Africans are still savages.”

But during the dark days when the British were losing World War II, the racism was no longer allowed to be so explicit. The Labor Minister in 1941 banned the N word for Africans and “coolies” for Indians. The Colonial Office further told the BBC that the N-word should be “discouraged” on the radio. A further breakthrough caused the BBC to drop the word “native.”

But something more positive was needed to put the Empire in a good light. A long-time colonial official, Lord Hailey came up with the idea in 1941 of redefining the Empire’s mission as “promotion of native welfare.” (I guess he didn’t get the BBC memo about “native.”) And he argued the colonies could only develop with Britain’s help (sound familiar?) In short, Hailey said:

A new conception of our relationship…may emerge as part of the movement for the betterment of the backward peoples of the world, which stands in the forefront of every enlightened programme for …postwar conditions.

To repress independence movements, however, Hailey made a distinction between political development and economic development: “Political liberties are meaningless unless they can be built on a better foundation of social and economic progress.” (A line that autocrats have been using ever since.) The Colonial Office thought many colonies “little removed from their primitive state,” so “they will probably not be fit for complete independence for centuries.”

posted by infini at 5:09 PM on February 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


No mention of Master Fard Muhammad being from India (a part that is now Pakistan)?

If you have any evidence of that, it'd be quite the scoop!


Hardly a scoop.
As strangely stunted trees mentions, there's no definitive proof, but I don't think it's a ridiculous idea.
posted by NoMich at 7:31 PM on February 14, 2015


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