Thirteen years into the War of Terror | Harsha Walia
While facilitating a youth workshop recently, I realized that this generation is completely shaped by the events and politics of 9/11. Though few of the youth were able to define terrorism (beyond “blowing things up”), most of them were quick to normalize surveillance, military occupation, online tracking, CCTV cameras, extraordinary rendition, torture, deportations and incarceration.
I would like to think that we are not just the people seen or looked at in photographs: we are also looking at our observers….we too are scrutinizing, assessing, judging. We are more than someone’s object. We do more than stand passively in front of whoever…has wanted to look at us.
Someone who is perennially surprised that depravity exists, who continues to feel disillusioned (even incredulous) when confronted with evidence of what humans are capable of inflicting in the way of gruesome, hands-on cruelties upon other humans, has not reached moral or psychological adulthood
"I became really jaded about connecting with other Indians. At university, it was point of pride to be Tamil Brahmin while Punjabi students would get drunk and start repping their Jat identity in hip-hop ciphers. Because their castes had never been stigmatised, this caste culture became coded as Indian culture. All of the Indian professors on campus were upper caste as well, and all, except one, refused to advise me on projects and blacklisted my work. I stopped getting invited to South Asian events. These are some of the structural manifestations of caste in the diaspora. Once you’re out, you’re… out. "
Still I Rise, Elle India
Every few years I teach a class called “Hippies.” The main theme of the course is to follow the white, suburban middle-class in its homage to Asia - from the 1967 Summer of Love debut of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his Transcendental Mediation to the 1990s version via Deepak Chopra and the Dalai Lama.We study the genuine sense of malaise among suburban youth (the condition that Paul Goodman called “Growing Up Absurd”), but we also tend to the way in which “Asia” functions as an alibi for a politics to transcend the condition of the suburb.
A bumper sticker that says “Free Tibet” seems to offer an entry into a transcendental politics, far removed from the social melancholy of suburban life. Does Tibet or Hinduism offer a coherent program to reconstruct the oppression of suburban capitalism? My own sense is that it facilitates an escape from the rigors of our world.
There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with the pursuit of spirituality under the sign of Hinduism; indeed there is perhaps much to be gained from it. However, as Hindutva-style cruelty devastates the landscape of Indian life, it is imperative for those who claim Hinduism to offer ruthless criticism of global Hindutva.…Do not allow liberal multiculturalism to give global Hindutva cover from secular forces.
— Vijay Prashad, Suburban Whites and Pogroms in India
To tell the story of America’s tangled history with South Asia is the first and most basic step in teaching South Asia critically…Elihu Yale, who lived and worked in India for nearly three decades with the British East India Company, donated to the Collegiate School of Connecticut three bales of goods - Madras cotton, silk, and other textiles from India —laying the financial foundation for their first building. The first seated chair of Sanskrit emerged at Yale. In 1800 when Alexander Dow negotiated yet another treaty with the Sindhi Mirs to establish ports and harbors on the Arabian Sea, he specifically noted that Americans were to be kept out of Sindh. The 1856 Guano Islands Act passed by Congress claimed for the United States any “unclaimed” island with sufficient supplies of bird waste (to be used as fertilizer by American farmers) by any American entrepreneur and mandated that this annexation should be defended by the U.S. Navy…That act of Congress is also part of the legal framework that created Guantanamo Bay and that enables drone assassinations in “remote frontier regions of Pakistan, where there is “no rule of law”. The opium trade network that sustained the East India company’s coffers in the mid-19th century by supplying Bengal-raised opium to China was remitted through American cotton, and that money seeped right into the Southern slave economy.
We lose our history so easily, what is not predigested for us by the New York Times, or the Amsterdam News, or Time magazine. Maybe because we do not listen to our poets or to our fools, maybe because we do not listen to our mamas in ourselves. When I hear the deepest truths I speak coming out of my mouth sounding like my mother’s, even remembering how I fought against her, I have to reassess both our relationship as well as the sources of my knowing. Which is not to say that I have to romanticize my mother in order to appreciate what she gave me – Woman, Black. We do not have to romanticize our past in order to be aware of how it seeds our present. We do not have to suffer the waste of an amnesia that robs us of the lessons of the past rather than permit us to read them with pride as well as deep understanding.
Whiteness can be understood as a wall in the sense that it keeps its place: even the attempts to modify whiteness can end up supporting it. Whiteness is like a shape that “bounces back” as soon as the pressure to modify it is eased. The experience of anti-racist work often feels like this: banging your head against a brick wall. If the wall keeps it place, it is you that gets sore. You come up against the same thing, over and over again.
It is necessary to question the presence of people in color in the academy as an unquestioned good. Does tenuring more native or ethnic studies scholars necessarily contribute to a decolonized academy, or does it serve to further retrench a colonial academic system by multiculturalizing it? Does our position in the academy help our communities or does it enable us to engage in what Cathy Cohen describes as a process of secondary marginalization, creating an elite class that can oppress and police the rest of the members of our communities? Have we fallen into the trap Elizabeth Povinelli describes of simply adding social difference to the multicultural academy without social consequence? Does our presence help challenge the political and economic status quo, or does our presence serve as an alibi for the status quo? In asking these questions, I do not suggest that there is politically pure space from which to work outside the academic-industrial complex, and yet still constitute a subversion that matters. However, it is an imperative to ensure our opposition within the academy is more contestatory and less complicit.